By JOHANNA BALDWIN, Special to the Bulletin | Published April 20, 2017
I saw the phrase, “The Son shines, the Father reigns,” on the marquee of a Protestant church during a particularly rainy week in March and thought “how clever.” In this Easter season, Father and Son together is a central theme, our heavenly Father having given to us his Son to be crucified, suffer death and be buried. Yet it is a joyful story because he was resurrected, and his story is the story of our salvation.
Jesus died on a cross so that we may have eternal life in him.
As I write this, just a few weeks later, an all-too-real, far from joyous, death-of-a-son story is playing out in my own family. My brother lost his 19-year-old son to a drug overdose. It is horrible … and unimaginable. And heart-wrenching for those of us who love him to realize that my brother and his wife now have to live with the gaping hole left in their hearts due to this senseless tragedy.
I have been trying to wrap my head around my nephew’s drug abuse, and I can’t. I have to recognize the contrast between his “recreational” use of drugs as a person of relative privilege with that of the very underprivileged people we serve in the Feed the Hungry ministry in which I serve.
Alcoholism and drug use are common among our clientele, most of whom are lovely people despite their addictions. Life is hard on the streets of the northwest Atlanta neighborhood where people are poor, and relatively few opportunities exist for them to rise above their circumstances. It is little wonder that many succumb to the numbing effects of drugs and alcohol.
And yet, “I’m blessed” is an oft-repeated phrase we hear from our regulars who, by all outward appearances, are far from blessed—at least not in the material sense. Still, their faith is strong in a God who kept them alive through the night and opened their bleary eyes to the promise of another day. They are the sons and daughters of a most loving Father, and they honor him with praise and thanksgiving. Their reliance on our heavenly Father inspires and gives me great joy.
“The Lord is my shepherd”
My nephew was raised in a faith-filled household. “The Lord is my shepherd, I have all that I need” (Ps 23:1), was a phrase that was part of their family life. His needs were fulfilled and then some. He was blessed with intelligence, good looks, musical talent and athletic ability. Having been in advanced placement classes all through high school, he entered college with enough credits to bypass many freshman-level courses. He had every opportunity to succeed, including supportive, loving parents with relatively deep pockets. He was a polite young man with a sweet disposition and a soft-spoken demeanor. All the more reason I can’t process the senselessness of his drug use, which was seemingly “just for fun.”
The gift of Easter
Like other families, ours will celebrate Easter by attending Mass together, honoring the Father for the resurrection of the Son. That joyful remembrance will be the foundation of the love and grief we will share as we prop up another father as he buries his own dear son, who will not be resurrected in this earthly life. We keep the knowledge of God’s love foremost: “This is how God loved the world: he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).
Johanna Baldwin, a network specialist, lives in Marietta and attends St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Smyrna. A cradle Catholic who once wandered from her roots, she has come back to the church and is studying to become a Stephen minister. Her passion is working with the poor in a mentoring program for at-risk youth and feeding the hungry on Hollowell Parkway.