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