Last weekend, we attended a funeral Mass for a four-month-old baby girl. She was the beloved daughter of my husband’s cousin and his wife.
These are the kinds of life events that threaten to expose me for the faith fraud I fear that I am. It’s easy to say we have faith when all goes as we would choose. But when we face unexpected tragedy, we are left alone with our limitations. Our weak and vulnerable human hearts are laid bare.
When bad things happen, some of us might realize that while we’ve been praying the words, “Thy will be done,” what we really meant was “Thy will be done . . . as long as it’s not X, Y, or Z.”
Some of us might have to admit that when we prayed, “My God, I place my trust in You,” what we really meant was, “I trust in You, as long as X, Y, or Z never happens to me or anyone I love.”
The truth be told, many of us unconsciously consider protection from catastrophic events to be part of an unspoken “deal” we have with God: I’ll believe in You, and I’ll obey Your laws, so long as nothing bad ever happens to me or anyone I love. I know I have been guilty of practicing this kind of “faith,” and it’s uncomfortable when life events expose me for the weak and faithless creature I really am.
The day after I learned of our family’s recent loss, I stooped to tie my three-year-old son’s shoelaces.
“Where is God?” he asked me suddenly.
Where, indeed? I wanted to clutch him close and cry, “You tell me! Where is God in this mess of a fallen world where sinless babies die and leave their families grieving?”
But I didn’t do that.
“God is everywhere,” I answered, forcing a smile to convince him.
“Yes,” he nodded his head knowingly, as if he had been only testing me anyway. “But most of all, He’s in the tabba-nacka at church.”
Seeing his small mouth work its way around a mispronunciation of “tabernacle,” I felt a rush of confidence in his childlike faith. Christ tells us to have faith like little children; the older and more “grown up” I get, the more that makes sense to me.
I do believe. But that doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes falter. I sometimes feel like the anxious father we meet in the Gospel of Mark — the one whose son is possessed by an evil spirit. This is the man to whom Jesus said, “O unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you?”
I am part of that generation. The father’s answer to Jesus’ question becomes my own humble prayer when I find it hard to have faith.
“I do believe,” the man told Jesus shakily. “Help my unbelief” (Mk 9:24).
The Mass we celebrate for a small, baptized soul who left us before she was capable of sin is not a Requiem Mass. It is a “Mass of the Angels,” with a focus on confident joy.
Attending this Mass with grieving family members, I was particularly struck by the words of confidence and light that make up this rite. These stood in stark contrast to the darkness and the pain of loss that enveloped us.
At a Mass of the Angels, we thank God for a young life and sing Alleluia. Our loved one is with God. We know the Good News and it is cause for celebration.
We do believe; help our unbelief.
Where is God? He is right here with us. He is calling us closer to Him. When we are reeling from the pain of enormous losses, it can be excruciatingly hard to answer. We are crushed, broken, and sick with grief. Our small shoulders struggle beneath the weight of the Cross.
But we need not answer for ourselves. It is at times like these that the Church herself answers for us — with a song. Her sweet clear voice cuts through the cold and the dark as she sings: Alleluia. With the patient, tireless trust of a child, she sings alleluia, in the dark.