Fruitful Emptiness: Entering the Rubble

I was inspired by a friend who posed this question on social media: “What is the most loving thing another person has done for you?” So at a recent staff meeting, I asked my co-workers that very same question. The article below is about the story told by my co-worker, Peggy. I wrote this article for our church bulletin last weekend, and I thought I would also share it with you. Thanks for reading. 

In 2005, Peggy Alston was working at St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in Sumner as their Faith Formation director. Early in the morning of July 13 that same year, a fire broke out in the St. Andrew’s parish offices. Nobody was harmed, but the north end of the building was completely destroyed by the flames and the rest of the offices were heavily damaged by the smoke and water.

Peggy recalls standing outside the office building that next morning, in complete shock and dismay. Fr. David Young was pastor at St. Andrew’s at the time, and he stood next to her, surveying the scene. His office was in a different building and was unaffected by the blaze, but the fire destroyed most of his staff’s work spaces as well as some classrooms. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “It will be okay. It’s just a building. We’ll simply build a new office.”

What Fr. Young didn’t realize was that inside Peggy’s office was a photograph of her father. It was taken at Kennedy High School where he was principal, on the last day of classes before the winter break of 1981. It was a simple shot of him happily singing Christmas carols. Later that night, he died in his sleep. That photograph was Peggy’s last picture of her father. She had already gone into the burned building to try and find it, but as far as she could tell it had been destroyed by the flames.

Bursting into tears, Peggy told Fr. Young about her father’s photograph. He said nothing in return. Instead, he entered the building and disappeared for some time. Hours later, he emerged from the ruins holding a small scrap of paper in his hand.

It was Peggy’s photograph.

As it turns out, he searched the rubble on his hands and knees, in his pristine clerics and his polished black leather shoes. He scoured every inch of filthy, smoke-damaged, water-logged space until he eventually found the picture amidst the debris in the hallway, some distance from what used to be Peggy’s office.

Jesus, like Fr. Young, entered into the rubble of human existence out of love for us. While He is God, He willingly came into our world as one of us – fully human. He lived as we live, suffered as we suffer, and died as we die. He did not need to bear the weight of our sin, but because He loved us, His heart broke for our brokenness. Like a loving friend, He was willing to forsake His pristine divinity in order that our broken hearts may be healed.

We are called to do the same for one another – to enter into each other’s lives, to know one another’s heart aches, to help one another as brothers and sisters. Are we willing to listen as our neighbors tell us their stories? Are we willing to know their joys and to share in their suffering? Are we willing to enter into the rubble out of love for one another?

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