Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Our Easter Journey: Running Back To Christ

Published April 7, 2005

After that, I decided to switch to going without breakfasts instead. The second day, I broke down and devoured crackers from the vending machine at work.

There was no getting around it: I was a Lenten loser, and a big disappointment to God.

In despair, I begged my spiritual director for help in an e-mail. His reply seemed to come directly from Christ:

“The danger of all Lenten practices is that they can become … ‘Wow, look what I have done,’” he wrote. “You gain more from failing it than doing it, if it draws you back in humility to Christ.”

He went on to tell a story that St. Therese of Lisieux told, about a rabbit being pursued by a hunter. At some point, the rabbit stopped running and instead ran and hopped into the hunter’s arms.

“What hunter would kill a rabbit cuddling in his arms!” he wrote. “Just run back and start over.”

Tears of joy filled my eyes when I read this humble priest’s reply. Because I realized that when I break down and make a mess of things, I really can run back and jump into Christ’s arms.

This message comes back to me as Holy Week unfolds, and we all get an up-close and personal view of the cross. Isn’t it, really, the ultimate symbol of a terrible breakdown?

Everything broke down for Christ that day: One friend sold him to the authorities, while another denied knowing him. The rest went running away out of fear.

We still run away from Jesus today. Oh, we don’t mind going to Mass and putting money in the basket and trying to keep our Lenten promises.

But when the cross comes looming into our lives, we are tempted to say, “No thanks, God, I paid my dues already. No more crosses for me!”

This was my attitude when I returned to Christ in my 40s. I knew that He was well aware that I had suffered terribly in my 20s, when my parents died.

He also knew that I had survived, through His grace, numerous bad love relationships and even a suicide attempt.

When it came to crosses, I had carried quite a few and didn’t need any more, thank you very much!

I was certainly shocked when the cross was handed to my husband only a few months after he was received into the Church. Talk about irony: My beloved had finally committed his heart to Jesus Christ, and now he was flat on his back with a mysterious, debilitating back problem that seemed incurable!

It was only a short while later that we met people who would help carry that cross.

One was Father John Murphy, who was then the assistant pastor at St. Thomas More Church in Decatur. One day I was at Mass, all alone, sitting in the pew with tears filling my eyes.

After Mass, I told Father Murphy that my husband was at home in bed, in too much pain to walk. Father showed up a few hours later and anointed Jef with the holy oils of the Sacrament of the Sick.

He also sat and talked with him a long while, which was something my husband really needed.

That experience was long ago, and the pain is hardly remembered today. But the grace that we experienced through the mercy of one priest’s visit will never be forgotten.

No one is spared the dark night of suffering. As Pope Benedict XVI so beautifully put it in “God and the World,” a wonderful book: “(These nights) are clearly necessary, so that we can learn through suffering, so that we can acquire … a capacity for sympathy with others.”

As for crosses, my readers know that, nearly seven years ago, I picked up another one, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

I thought no one in the world had ever stooped under such a heavy burden. But, once again, God’s mercy flowed abundantly, as priests, friends and relatives rallied to help me.

On Good Friday, when I kneel down to venerate the cross in church, I remember the many crosses my husband and I have carried throughout our marriage.

On a selfish level, I would hope there will be no more to come, but I am smarter than that.

I also remind myself that Jesus’ story did not end with the cross. The journey continued for Him, as it does for all of us.

Even if we undergo the most severe test, we know that Easter holds a promise of resurrection and joy. And when we break down, and when we fail Jesus, as surely we will, we need only turn around and run into His arms. And start over.