Coded for Life

Streaks across the sky filled our television screens and our consciousness on February 1st, when seven valiant astronauts lost their lives in the tragic breakup of the space shuttle Columbia. Immediately our hearts were full of prayers for the magnificent seven, their families, and all they left behind.

The Columbia was flying at many times the speed of sound when it reentered the earth's atmosphere. At the same time it left behind the silence and beauty of the stars and the galaxies. Psalm 19 came to mind:

The heavens proclaim the glory of God
and the firmament shows for the work of His hands.
Day unto day takes up the story
and night unto night makes known the message.

No speech, no work, no voice is heard,
yet their span extends through all the earth,
their words to the utmost bounds of the world.

Calamities and catastrophies can reduce us to silence. That quiet, however, can become a prayer. The beauty of the planets in space can also urge us to stillness, a hush that also becomes a prayer.

The natural beauty of the earth stirs our spirit to joy and exultation, which often is quite vocal, but it also can calm us into quietude. Think of the wonders of the natural world, classically listed as seven: the Grand Canyon in Arizona, Mount Everest in Nepal, the Harbor of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, the Northern Lights (the Aurora Borealis), the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, Victoria Falls in Zambia/Zimbabwe (I would substitute Niagara Falls), and Paricutin Volcano in Mexico. Even in pictures they are spectacular.

As we contemplate the beauty of creation, our quiet can sharpen the acuity of our inner ear. The beating of our heart rises a few decibels, and we are ever more aware of the wonder of our own existence. We delve into the mystery of our own being.

We can't help but be overwhelmed by the reality of giftedness. The natural beauty of the world is gift, our lives are gifts. They are God's gifts!

We reflect these days on the surpassing wonder of human life, the miracle of our lives, so special in that we can meditate on and appreciate the beauty of God's grace and gifts in our lives.

There is an interior coding to life: toward life, toward healing, toward renewing, toward restoring. We see it in the experience of broken bones, bruises, and cuts. We also know it through emotional and mental breakdowns.

In reading these reflections you may have guessed that I would come to this. We see that interior coding to life especially in the spiritual life: toward life, toward healing, toward renewing, toward restoring. We are after all deep down created in the image and likeness of God.

Lent is upon us, the sacred season for exercising more fully our DNA of the Spirit. We realize only too well the brokeness of our world: problems in families, in communities, in the corporate world, in government, in the Church. We recognize that Lent is an opportune time to deliberate on ways we might impact those structures.

The Church is always in need of reform. That theme is engraved eloquently around the baptistry of the Mother Church of Christendom, Saint John Lateran in Rome: "Ecclesia semper reformanda est."

Lent reminds us that healing, renewal, and reform begin with ourselves, with the grace of God. It is the time for heightened practice of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Many will participate in daily Mass, many will encourage others to come to the Sacraments, many will get more involved in their parishes and communities.

Lent awakens the seasonal hunger for stronger communion and harmony with God. Lent means springtime. It is the time for growth, for enabling God to exercise more fully our interior coding to life.

Tragedy and sudden death are painful reminders of the transitory nature of life on this planet. The ultimate calamity, the final catastrophe is not to recognize the beauty of God's gifts and not to respond with the gift of ourselves.

The words of Saint Augustine are as real today as they were 1,600 years ago: "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you."

Most Rev. Henry J. Mansel
Bishop of Buffalo
February 26, 2003