Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

The Good News Of Redemption

Published March 11, 2004

When I was a child, grocery stores doled out stamps with purchases, and it was fun running home and pasting the stamps into little booklets, then looking through the catalog to see what you could get. In college, when money was tight, I recall trading stamps for a lovely set of blue and white dishes, plus silverware and even a blender.

I never quite understood, though, why the process of taking the stamps to the catalog store was called “redeeming” them. It was a word I heard often in church, and I wondered about the connection between the stamps and the idea that Christ had come to redeem mankind.

My trusty dictionary tells me that the word “redeem,” when used with stamps or coupons, involves exchanging something for another thing of value. In the spiritual sense, redemption means rescuing someone from distress and releasing him from blame.

Symbols of redemption abound in nature. When I look outside and see the bare limbs of the wintry trees, I wonder what a visitor from outer space would think about our planet if he landed here in the dead of winter.

He’d probably conclude that the trees always look parched and shabby, and you can imagine how surprised he’d be come spring, when flowers started sprouting and leaves blossoming, restoring the scenery to a riot of colors.

My friend Rolando told the story of searching years ago in the classified ads because he wanted to buy a parrot. He found a promising ad and went to the person’s home only to meet a bird that was extremely meek, frightened and nervous. Evidently the poor parrot had suffered mishandling and abuse, which had caused his skittishness.

This was not exactly the kind of parrot Rolando wanted, but because he has a big heart, he took the bird home, named him Chico—and the rest is history. With plenty of tenderness and attention, Chico was transformed into a friendly and trusting creature, still thriving today.

It took a keen eye to see the potential value in a frightened and skittish bird—and it took love and care to redeem him.

Perhaps you can look back on your own life and see the people who have rescued you from harm, keeping in mind that God uses the hands of other people to reach out to us.

Looking back about 10 years, I recall how deeply entrenched I was in a secular lifestyle, how much I relished poking fun at religion, until one day, out of the blue, I started reading “The Seven Storey Mountain” by Thomas Merton. How startled I was when I began to feel drawn, once again, to my childhood faith.

Although Merton had been dead many years, somehow he redeemed me from my cynicism and helped change my heart. He has remained one of my favorite writers since that time, someone that I wish were still living so that he and I could sit down to a cup of tea and compare notes.

Some people literally save our lives. In my 20s, I lived a wild and wooly existence very much like Merton’s, and one night, after breaking up with my boyfriend, I fell into despair, got drunk and then gobbled down a handful of tranquilizers.

My rescuer was a friend who lived downstairs and heard me crying. She bundled me up and drove me to the hospital, and when I awoke, I was a very changed person because I realized that I had been given a second chance at life.

Often we take great risks when we try to rescue someone we love, as shown by countless stories of parents whose marriages have nearly crumbled under the stress of caring for a teenager who has become addicted to drugs or alcohol.

You see the steep price of redemption in the movie “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” where the hobbit Sam risks life and limb, time and again, to save his friend Frodo from the evil that is stalking him.

Redemption in the Christian sense can be messy and painful. An all-powerful God could have chosen to appear among us as a full-grown adult, but he came to Earth as a baby, willing to sample every moment of our humanity, from the dark mystery of the womb to the unimaginable chill of the grave.

That baby grew into a man who saved our world by turning our secular values upside down. We tend to scorn people who are childlike, meek, poor and simple, yet these were the folks that Jesus saw as blessed.

In his short life, he rescued the hopeless by ministering to lepers and outcasts, forgiving sinners, and restoring the dead to life. He reminded his friends that the first would be last, a message that makes me a little nervous, since I’m always scrambling to get to the head of the line.

He made the ultimate sacrifice to restore us to God when he willingly went to that brutal death on the cross. His resurrection showed us that death is not the final word. The tree that appears dead in winter can be revived, with help from sun and rain, in the spring.

And even if we fall off the wagon, land in jail, disappoint our friends, lose our jobs, or succumb to despair, we are still worthy of rescue in the eyes of God. The great news about redemption is that, no matter how often we have been abused, hurt, neglected or abandoned, we can, like my friend’s parrot, Chico, be saved through love.

A parishioner at St. Thomas More Church, Decatur, Lorraine Murray writes a column called “Grace Notes” every other Saturday for the Faith and Values section of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The author of two books—“Grace Notes” and “Why Me? Why Now?”—she works in the Pitts Theology Library at Emory University. You may e-mail her at