Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

26 December 2013

The Light of Laney

I must confess a tendency not to "jump on bandwagons." Even as I say this, numerous exceptions come to mind. To qualify, then: I demonstrate a grumpy-old-man resistance to popular items or causes, only to capitulate to many of them in time.

Now not all such causes or items are equally weighted. Only the most heartless would intentionally ignore the untimely illness and death of 8 year old Delaney "Laney" Brown. I had been only mildly aware of her situation by my cursory reading of the local paper. Then I began to see information about a Facebook page dedicated to her. Perhaps my alleged aversion to bandwagons stunted my interest earlier; more probably, I was consumed with my own negligible concerns. Soon, however, I "liked" the page and joined in prayer for the accomplishment of God's will in her life as well as for the patient and joyful acceptance of that will by her loved ones.

(The latent "bandwagon" undercurrent sounded something like this: "There must be hundreds or thousands of children around the world dying from disease, famine, mishap, malice, or war; so why does this girl garner such compassionate attention?" Because I put this thought out there, I know I am subjecting it to your appraisal. Be consoled to know, however, that I was the first to condemn it! Better to divert my fickle attention to one person, than to withhold it out of a semblance of respect for "the many"!)

What makes Laney so special is what makes every girl and boy so special: she is the willed result of the Creator God. As devout Christians, Laney's parents evidently related her illness and death to their faith in Divine Providence, who sees more than we can see at any given moment of human history; who, with unfathomable simplicity, sees every person's unique and unrepeatable life, with its myriad matrices of interactions, in a most complex whole. "For those who love God all things work together for the good" (Rom 8:28).

Christians recognize each person as one created in the image and likeness of the Triune God, the eternal Communion of life and love. They consider each person as a brother or sister of Jesus, who in His tragic life as God-made-man, freely and consciously offered Himself to the Eternal Father in atonement for our sins, to reconcile us with God and one another. Each person is endowed with understanding and freedom that are fully and ideally actualized in the act of faith, the merciful cleansing of baptism, and in daily participation in redemption through worship and service.

When it comes to a 7 or 8 year old person, however--one whose understanding and freedom are only beginning to develop, in whom no sane person would posit serious sin--it becomes very difficult to accept suffering and death. Pope Francis himself recently declared that, if he could obtain one miracle, it would be an end to the suffering of innocent children.

Reference to departed human beings, especially children, as angels is rather common. People have assigned that designation for God knows how long. Artists portray portray cherubs with chubby, innocent baby faces. On Christmas Day, millions watch "It's A Wonderful Life" with its reference to virtuous people "earning their wings" upon death.

Be certain of this: Angels are pure spiritual beings, of a superior intelligence and will. They are, and forever remain, distinct from human persons. Death does not graduate human persons (young or old) to the existential rank of angels. I respectfully exhort a reconsideration of this practice out of respect for the uniqueness of the human person, who, unlike an angel, is material as well as spiritual: a creature of body and soul. The body is not a hindrance to human fulfillment, even though it seems to cause people so much trouble, so soon in life.

The consummation of Laney Brown's earthly life--on Christmas Day, no less--understandably prompted thousands of angelic elevations within minutes of her passing. I understand the sentimental motivation of their words, no doubt offered in a spirit of compassion and solidarity. Angels' total consecration to the will of God, engaging them purely in divine worship, makes their connection to little children very obvious. In advocating adults' reverence for children, Jesus noted, "Their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven" (Mt 18:10). Children--and adults--have angels. "Guardian" angels, we call them. (Hence our parish name!) But they will not become angels.

The classic passage from the Letter to the Hebrews comes to mind: "To which of the angels did God ever say, 'You are my son; this day I have begotten you'?" (1:5). The sacred author emphasized this in the first segment of his letter. God took on the form of a human being, not an angel. In a sense, it wouldn't have taken much "effort" for the invisible God to assume a typically invisible entity. But it wasn't the angels who needed redemption, not even the rebellious ones; indeed redemption wasn't even possible for them, given the impossibility of their repentance. For human beings, repentance and redemption are possible, by God...and only so.

In the Incarnation Christ our God fully and authentically identified with material human existence, including the orientation to suffering and death that are courtesy of original sin. Including, too, the hesitation that human beings often experience because of our material nature. In their spiritual superiority, angels chose their "one direction" with everything in them, all at once. But we human beings employ our understanding and freedom along the space-time continuum. We can, and do, change our minds--sometimes for the better, sometimes not. Thank God for the ability, and the need, to keep making changes in our lives!

We can suppose that a young child may at some point muster enough understanding and freedom to choose in a manner displeasing to his parents, and therefore to God. Mommy or Daddy aren't happy with the child. Why--because Junior did something that the parents didn't prefer? On some level, yes, but we soon recognize the inadequacy of that motivation. Any human parent would bristle at a child's willfulness, but is quickly humbled to recognize the kernel of their own adult willfulness. Junior "offends" Mommy or Daddy, but at heart Mommy and Daddy are saddened because he is exhibiting self-will in opposition to God's wise and loving plan for his life as parents are attempting to model it for him. With patience and care parents strive to guide their children to obey their rules for the best possible reason: because to disobey them would "offend Thee, my God, who are all-good and deserving of all my love."

I never had the privilege of knowing Laney Brown. It's hard enough for me to get to know many of our young parishioners, I admit. But I would imagine that she may have at some point displeased her parents in some minor matter. No doubt her parents, like most others, swiftly and tenderly would have forgiven her and guided her to better choices, all in the name of change and growth. Human beings can do this. Angels can't. (Isn't it grand to be a person? A grand trial, no doubt, but a grand pleasure and distinction as well!)

Now that Laney's arduous struggle has ceased, we can be as certain as humanly possible that her parents, and above all her heavenly Father, have forgiven all things (if there was any personal sin to speak of). We have seen how bravely she accepted her sufferings and in fact galvanized the rest of us in our struggle to accept those sufferings. Whatever obscured God's loving presence in her, is caught up in God's purifying, transforming embrace. Given the grace of the Communion of Saints, Laney likely has great intercessory power in others' lives--her dear parents and all her family, her friends and schoolmates, the untold millions of people who united their thoughts and prayers with her in these short months, weeks, and days.

At the same time, let's continue to flood heaven with those kind movements of soul, as her family needs them now more than ever. We can't let this--them--become just another bandwagon.

Eternal rest grant her, O Lord, and let the perpetual light shine upon her; may she rest in peace.
May her soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
She made us wonder who was supporting whom!

Bathe this child in the splendor of Your eternal kingdom of light

No comments:

Post a Comment