December 20, 2011

Meditation of James Francis Cardinal Stafford on Infant Death

Following is a letter to Miki Hill from James Francis Cardinal Stafford on the unexpected passing of Miki's two year old grandson, Charles Daniel Hudson Hill, who died in his sleep on Sunday night.  It is shared here with permission:

Dear Michele,

C.S. wrote to me about the death of your two-year old grandson.  This represents a very harsh reality for you, your son and his wife, their innocent young son now dead, and the whole family.  Many stumble before it.  Encompassed by such darkness, many are tempted to reject outright the prophetic word of God and of His Son, Jesus.

 How do believers get beyond their anguish and numbness before such an event? They should rush to the word of God in long prayer and reflection begging for knowledge and wisdom. They should climb the steps of the "ladder" of lectio divina (holy reading). The four steps are the following: reading, meditating , praying, and contemplating the Holy Word of God in Sacred Scripture, both  individually and in community.

The call of the prophet Isaiah (Is. 6) is a good place to begin. It concludes with a definitive answer. Before reaching that ending, however, the text carries great irony. At one point we seem left with the question "How long???"  In reality, the whole text of Isaiah six is a part of the apophatic tradition of revelation. (God reveals himself through negation - e.g., the revelation of God's glory takes place on the summit of Calvary where we contemplete the Cross and the pierced Heart of His Son.)

So, before the cold indifference of the universe where innocent children die, believers are first driven to cry out to God, "How long?" We deserve something better than this. God's answer to this complaint is, "Until ......termination."  "'How long?......Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without men,and the land is utterly desolate, and the Lord removes men far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. and though a tenth remains in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth and an oak whose stump remains standing when it is felled. The holy seed is its stump.'"  (Is. 6: 9-13)

At first the story of the prophet's call  seems to oscillate between rejection and acceptance and finally terminate with divine destruction. But the very last words contradict that seeming interpretation. They need to be heard and studied closely. They indicate  that the final words from God to Isaiah's complaint are not of death and destruction, with only the dead stump remaining after a fiery conflagration. The divine oracle concludes with the stump and its unexpected, surprising hints of new growth.

That last line is brief, "The holy seed is its stump."  But, it represents the wonderful, enduring response of God: before the harshness of life, including the experience of the death of the young and innocent, a holy seed arises from the stump! God's response is not a quick and easy answer; it is not cheap grace. But, at the end, there is divine comfort, there is consolation; there is a holy seed  arising miraculously from the stump. After the terrible numbness and incomprehension, the stump of the great, felled tree is seen to give forth something completely unexpected. It will come in the form of those disciples (in this case parents, grandparents, etc.) who hear the word of God under horrific circumstances. They listen attentively to the words of Isaiah and attend to the mysteries contained in the life and death of Jesus and place their total trust in God. From their total faith in God the Father, there will be a new growth coming forth.

I will pray that the Spirit of God with whom disciples are anointed in Confirmation may plunge you deeply into the mystery of new growth from a dead stump.

+ Cardinal Francis Stafford

1 comment:

Pooks said...

Thank you for sharing this letter. I had been praying for the grandparents and parents, didn't realize it was Miki Hill's grandson. I found Cardinal Stafford's letter particularly comforting as our son was killed in a car accident 16 months ago and Christmas week is very difficult. His instruction is very timely.
Peace and all good...