Friday First Week Ordinary Time. Reflections on Paralysis and Bill Zeller

Mass Readings for today are here

                                             Painting : Healing of man with paralysis by James Tissot

It must have been a shock for Jesus to see a  paralyzed man dropping  through the roof, dangling by ropes helped by four friends, looking directly into His face.

A paralyzed man in the context of Israel was an outsider, most likely ignored by society, often left to beg for charity.  But, this man was lucky to have friends who were willing to take him from place to place and cared for him so much that they climbed up on a roof and broke through it to give him a chance of being cured.

 It is not easy or comfortable to need help. But, there are times when we must trust and rely on others, to help us and there are even times when we have to be lowered into the presence of God from our lofty height of independence and self-will.
It is an illusion to believe we can do everything on our own and only adds to our despair and suffering. We need each other and we need a God who will look us in the face and forgive us unconditionally.
I’m not very willing, even today, to let others carry me when I am burdened. 
I have this false sense that I must stand strong but I have learnt that this is actually more life-destroying than life-giving.

We cannot journey alone in the world and we must share our lives or we run the risk of ending up being consumed by our suffering.
If I reflect on the darkness of suffering, the mystery and isolation that suffering brings and for which there is no answer, the only adequate response is to sit in silence and listen .
Part of this mystery is this, when I allow another person to enter my suffering or when they allow me to enter theirs, the darkness can be lifted if even only for a short time.

I have seen my self and others  as the paralytic "man" at various times throughout life whether physically, emotionally, and/or  spiritually. 

When I heard about the tragic suicide of a young Harvard graduate, Bill Zeller and then read his heartbreaking suicide letter it was harrowing  to learn that this man felt unable to tell anyone about the sexual abuse that had happened to him from an early age. He had grown up emotionally paralysed.

When Tim Robbins won the Oscar for his work on Mystic River, he said this

"In this movie I play a victim of abuse and violence, and if you are out there and are a person that has had that tragedy befall you, there is no shame and no weakness in seeking help and counselling. It is sometimes the strongest thing that you can do to stop the cycle of violence. "

It is even sadder to know that Bill Zeller's  inability to talk to anyone was linked to the “fundamentalist Christian” faith of his parents. It’s a faith in which, as Zeller describes it, good people are doomed to Hell while “child molesters go to Heaven, as long as they were ‘saved.’” 

It is understandable that he took this stance and was unable to reconcile his faith in God with forgiveness for despicable actions but as a Catholic I feel what he says has a bearing on my own church too- Zeller’s note should be mandatory reading for the many religious leaders, and for many in the pews as well, who repeatedly dismissed and minimized the pain of those who suffered such abuse, and who  attacked and smeared those who sought to report abuse."

Whether I am needing to feel the eyes of Christ on me, or learn to let my friends carry me, whether I need healing or I need to pick up my hurt and carry it with me while I continue the journey – at some point, maybe we all travel as the paralytic "man."

We all need the love of God, we all need to let others bear our weight, we all need to let something go and we all continue to walk through life with our mats. 

No one prepares us for how we will feel and grow when life changes. No one teaches us how to deal with tragedy. No one teaches us how to deal with sorrow or heartache.
But somehow the unexpected can change us and whenever we have the courage to look at God directly we don’t leave the same way we arrived. 
We arrive through the roof, sometimes dangling from the ropes of friends letting our suffering look directly into the eyes of God.
And we leave by the front door, taking the unexpected with us, but we carry the mat now, instead of lying on it. 

 I have had some association with victims of childhood abuse and it is hard to explain all the different ways it can cripple a person but the fallout can happen at a distance of many years from the actual events. 
Some cope with it better than others; many turn to drugs, become abusers themselves or form dysfunctional relationships. It  is disheartening to think that this young man couldn't find the help he needed. We should be kind to others because we don't know what battles they are fighting.

One way or another I am glad that Bill Zeller is finally at peace after the burdens he was forced to carry in his life.

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