Tuesday, April 22, 2014

GW senior: "We are an Easter people"

The following Good Friday / Easter reflection comes from Chris Crawford, a GW Catholic senior.
During my 22 years on Earth, I have never endured as much loss as I have between this Easter and the last one. Last June my grandfather, my hero, died at age 86. My Nana was never the same, and went home to the Lord just a few weeks shy of their 60th wedding anniversary. And in just one semester at The George Washington University, our campus has endured the tragic loss of four of our peers, one of whom was a new member of my fraternity, Beta Theta Pi.

It was easy to see God’s presence during the time in which my grandparents slipped away. The last interaction I had with my grandfather was to hold his hand and pray an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be. The last words we said to each other were, “I love you.”

When my grandmother passed away, she suffered a great deal on her final day. I was able to travel home to see her, and was taken aback by the difficult state in which I found her. But amidst the anguish that her body was enduring, I saw the greatest evidence of a soul that I have ever seen. Her body was fading fast, but her soul was strong. Though she could barely speak, she built enough strength so that her last words to me were also, “I love you.”

As the Little Sisters of the Poor often say, you can feel God’s presence as he calls the elderly home.

It is not as easy to find God when a life is cut short in its late teens or early twenties. The losses at GW, particularly Ben’s apparent suicide, shook my faith to its core. Even the most brilliant priests could not provide satisfactory answers to my questions.  

It’s true; we look for God during times of loss by trying to find greater good. But that’s easier said than done. Even with the medical miracle of organ donation, it’s hard to say that lives saved by a deceased donor outweigh the loss of an aspiring doctor who would have spent his life saving others. And this thought leads to another: why are we trying to process death like a balance sheet of good and bad, anyway? For so many people, those sheets will never balance. And they shouldn’t balance.

The truth is, there are some losses that are so tragic that it feels impossible to find greater good on this Earth. Even if a school shooting causes us to treasure our children more; even if an attack on our country inspires patriotism and heroism; even if one suicide means others choose to find the help that they need; we are left with the harsh reality that no matter how well we move on and move together, the loss will always remain on this Earth. So we have to move beyond Earth.

As I processed all these feelings, I was desperate for answers. And as is usually the case, I found them at the Cross. And I recognized that if we look at the story of the Passion in earthly terms alone, it is a story similar to the loss that we all endure. Jesus is humiliated. He carries his cross. He falls twice. He is nailed to a cross, stabbed in his side, and finally dies as he lets out one last cry to help. Even Christ shouted from his cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Haven’t we all muttered these words during times of great anguish?

If left to our own accord, that is the end of the story - a tragic loss to a life well lived. But as we know, that is not the whole story.

When we experience loss, Christ is with us. The pain he felt on the cross was our pain, and he shares in our pain here on Earth as well. We are united in suffering.

But even this thought is not enough to comfort us. We need more, and we have more. Before the Passion, the cross was a sign of death. The resurrection transformed it into a sign of life. Of victory. Of hope.

The story did not end when Christ was laid on the tomb. The story did not end when Nana and Nanu were laid to rest, side by side in a Shrewsbury Cemetery. And Ben’s story did not end in a George Washington University Hospital room. If we live for Earth and focus on Earth alone, this might be where each of these tragic stories came to an end.

Too often, we see only Earth. We trap ourselves in a “Good Friday” mentality.

But we are not a Good Friday people. “We are an Easter people, and Halleluiah is our song”, as Pope John Paul II has said. If we were a Good Friday people, our gaze would never glance beyond our humble Earth. But we are an Easter people with our trust placed in the resurrection. God is not just with us in death, he brings us to new life.

Christ did not remain in the tomb. He rose again. He gave us more than Earth. He gave us Heaven, and the ability to be close with him forever. As has been said before, when we look upon the cross, we see not what we lost but what we gained. When we suffer, we are closer to the cross. When we die, we are called to encounter Christ.

Sometimes it’s hard to see this, especially in our suffering. On Good Friday, when Mary looked upon the cross, she could not have known of the Easter Sunday that was to come.

The sorrow and suffering of Good Friday is not the end of the story; the joy of Easter Sunday reminds us that the story never ends.


Christopher Crawford is a register contributor and the Director of Pro-Life Ministry for the Newman Center at The George Washington University.

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