WELCOME! Do you find contemporary life a challenge? Are you a confused Catholic, or even just someone seeking to understand faith? Since 2003, CrossCurrents has appeared 40 times each year. My aim: to provoke thought and enrich faith by interpreting current events in the light of Catholic tradition. I hope you find these columns both entertaining and clarifying. Your feedback and comments are welcome! Find information about my pastoral consulting at http://www.crosscurrents.us/ NOTE: TO READ OR WRITE COMMENTS, CLICK ON THE TITLE OF A POST.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

#416: The Pope Leads—Will the Bishops Follow?

The U.S. Bishops are at a fork in the road—is it splitting them up?

A little more than one year since the election of Pope Francis, many things have changed--but perhaps too many things have stayed the same.

Two weekends ago I completed four sessions of a parish retreat on “The Francis Effect.” Many participants expressed the feeling that the experience filled them with hope, which made me appreciate just how powerful the new pope’s impact has been.  After a decade-long decline in the public image and reputation of the Catholic Church, Francis has accomplished a dramatic turnaround.  Little more than a year ago the Church’s public standing was the lowest it had been since before Vatican Council II (1962-1965).  Now its standing is at its highest point in nearly 50 years--that is, since the time of the Council itself.

Francis has accomplished this by calling for and initiating a change in church culture, but others must follow suit and lead at the national and local levels.  A change of the top will mean nothing if it does not “trickle down.”

Francis himself has been very clear about what this change requires if we are to create a truly missionary spirit in the Church (see CrossCurrents #408 and #409 in the archives).

But events of the last few weeks suggest that if Francis has brought us to a fork in the road, only some of the U.S. Bishops are going his way.  Three recent events suggest that while some bishops take Francis’ mandate to heart, others are struggling to grasp it or are even continuing on their own course.

Following Francis: John L. Allen Jr.’s recent Boston Globe piece detailed how Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley and 8 other bishops staged a three day visit to the U.S.-Mexican border to urge reform of the “broken” U.S. immigration system.

In this they are, of course, following the footsteps and priorities of Francis, by putting their focus on the poor and the social injustices of current public policy.

Calling O’Malley “the American Francis,” Allen asserts: “the Catholic push for immigrant rights already had its global ambassador in Francis, and now it has found a domestic face in O’Malley.”

O’Malley and his fellow bishops celebrated Mass (distributing Communion “to outstretched hands from the Mexican side of the border through slats in eight 20-foot-high security fence”), held a news conference on immigration reform, and visited and interviewed people on both sides of the border.

Allen sees in all this “the emergence of immigration reform as a top shelf Catholic concern”--but he also hints that O’Malley &Company are not typical of the U.S. hierarchy is a whole:

In terms of church politics, one could perhaps style the other prelates who made up the delegation as well-meaning social justice types who don’t really flex much muscle in the Church.  That’s why O’Malley’s presence was vital, because nobody would say that about him.

This invites the inference that, among other bishops who do “flex much muscle” in the Church, immigration reform may not have the same priority, and that this was reflected by their absence.  This echoes a quiet theme running beneath the surface ever since Francis was elected: while Francis immediately became admired and beloved by people everywhere, he may not have enjoyed the same kind of enthusiastic support from all his bishops

That surely seemed possible in the case of Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, who finally succumbed to popular pressure and announced he would leave his brand spanking new $2.2 million mansion after just three months, sell it, and donate the proceeds to charity.  He publicly apologized for the decision to move in but declined to take questions.

This case offers clear evidence that the people “get” Francis more easily than many of his bishops.  Gregory’s apology followed strong public pressure to give up the mansion from parishioners were well aware of the pope’s call to reject the “idolatry of money” and avoid “insidious worldliness” within the Church.  One such parishioner put the pope’s cause bluntly:

He [Gregory] is the person we follow locally, he sets the mood.  He sets the example for all of us to follow.  If he is choosing to use a gift so personally, what does that tell the people sitting in the pews?

Gregory himself acknowledged the impact of Francis by saying:

He’s called us to live more simply.  He also has encouraged Bishops to grow closer to their people, to listen to their people.

The key difference, of course, is that while laypeople got the message in the first week of Francis’ papacy, it took Gregory more than a year.

But even that is too quick for some bishops, it appears, for that same week in early April also included a story out of Ohio that sounded so 2012, so pre-Francis.

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati, it seems, has added new contract language that spells out specific ways teachers in Archdiocesan schools could lose their jobs.  The list includes public support for positions contrary to the church teaching on issues like abortion, artificial insemination, and “homosexual lifestyles.” It also includes forbidden behaviors--such as unwed pregnancies.

It appears the new language is designed to protect the Diocese from wrongful termination lawsuits, and a diocesan spokesperson attempted to minimize its significance by saying that it merely “clarifies what is expected of all of our teachers.” This comes in the wake of several lawsuits that the Diocese lost in recent years.

On the one hand, it is understandable that the Church, functioning as an employer, would want to protect itself from liability.  On the other hand, it appears that no other U.S. diocese uses such language. 

Of course, the problem of exposure to wrongful termination only arises when employees are terminated.  So this begs the question: must someone who voices an opinion contrary to official teaching be terminated?  Must someone who becomes pregnant while unmarried be terminated?

My own impression is that the instinct to terminate in such instances represents the kind of judgmentalism that Francis has been preaching against.  Underlying such judgmentalism is the notion that church workers ought to be perfect in both their opinions and their behavior.  There are several problems of this outlook.

First, it is contrary to church teaching to require that anyone be, in practice, perfect.  Our common expectation, rather, is that we are all sinners, and therefore we must be prepared to forgive and accept one another.  Since the beginning of Christianity, the real standard it has been: “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”

Second, some would argue that this is not about sin but about scandal: that teachers taking a controversial positions or caught in compromise behavior create a scandal that undermines church teaching and credibility.

Two points here: contemporary American culture is not so easily scandalized (e.g., unwed pregnancy has long since lost its stigma), and the institutional church risks inviting the label “hypocrisy” if it sets itself as the arbiter of scandal in the wake of the sex abuse crisis.  Simply put, the American hierarchy abdicated the moral high ground long ago.

Third, there is a long history of those taking issue with church officials being vindicated in the long run.

In the 13th century, Etienne Tempier, the Bishop of Paris, issued condemnations of more than a dozen teachings by one of his professors at the University of Paris, which at that time was a church-owned school (thus the professor was a church employee). 

The professor in question?  Saint Thomas Aquinas, who in 1879 was declared the Church’s “official” theologian.  Bishop Tempier disappeared into the obscurity of history, while Aquinas achieved greatness. 
The lesson: conformity to official church positions does not guarantee of either greatness or sanctity, and opposition does not prove the opposite.  Imagine if the Diocese of Paris had acted to fire Thomas Aquinas for his positions!

The spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati tried to defend the new contract by saying:

The contract requires that if you’re going to represent the Catholic Church as a teacher, you’re not going to publicly oppose the teachings of the Catholic Church.

 Sounds perfectly logical. But that logic has not governed our history. Someone should get the man a good history of Catholicism--one that includes the 13th century.

It remains to be seen if the U.S. hierarchy will wholeheartedly join Pope Francis as he sets a new course for the Church as a missionary presence in the world.  But those who choose their own path, and continue to present the institutional church as authoritarian, judgmental, and hypocritical, will end up being neither followers nor leaders.

  © Bernard  F. Swain PhD 2014

Monday, April 14, 2014

#390 Revisited: The Blasts Heard ’Round the World

On the anniversary of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, I am re-posting the blog I wrote the day after. It remains my most-read posting.

Initial reflections  on the day after the bombs went off...

      Patriots day is perhaps the quintessential American holiday, even though (or perhaps because) it is celebrated only in Massachusetts.  It marks simultaneously the beginning of the end of Britain’s occupation of the American Colonies and the birth, in rebellion and blood, of a new country. 
The iconic images surrounding Patriots Day are familiar to all Americans.  “One if by land, two if by sea.” “The midnight ride of Paul Revere.” “The British are coming!  The British are coming!” The shot heard round the world.  The Minutemen. Lexington and Concord.

And so each year, just after dawn, the Redcoats arrive again at Lexington Green to be confronted once more by the local Minutemen.  A shot rings out, and a skirmish ensues.  Men on both sides fall, and the colonial militia is driven back, and the Redcoats proceed toward Concord.  But along the way the British troops are terrorized by the rebels harassing them along their route and sniping at them from behind trees and rocks.  Meanwhile tourists follow the rebels, clicking photos of the reenactment.  Local churches offer pancake breakfasts for the visitors.

Schools and most workplaces are closed, so baseball fans leave home early for the annual 11:00 Red Sox game.  With luck, the Red Sox will win and the game will end early enough for the Fenway faithful to stream into Kenmore Square in plenty of time to watch the runners passing by.

More than 20,000 of those runners begin their day early far from Boston in the small New England Town of Hopkinton.  They’ve come from all over the world, and the runners with numbers have qualified for Boston by running other marathons with impressive times.  For many years, Boston was the only non-Olympic marathon that required runners to qualify this way.  It is, after all, the oldest annual marathon in the world. It was a sacred tradition here long before marathon running became popular.

More than 200,000 fans line the streets along the 26-mile route from Hopkinton to Boston. Boston’s quarter-million college kids take Patriots day as an annual rite of spring, cheering on the runners while partying outside for the first time since football season.

Patriots Day is the day Boston’s cityscape finally returns to vibrant life after the relative quiet of the long cold New England winter. It is the day Bostonians remember why they are blessed to live here.

Given all this, the crowds along the entire length of the marathon course are unrivaled for numbers, enthusiasm, and hospitality. The day I observed the 100th running with my youngest son, we joined hundreds of thousands of spectators cheering for passing runners for five hours until we had clapped our hands raw and yelled our voices hoarse. For participants, Patriots Day is the day Boston opens its arms to the world and offers a running experience no other marathon can match.

But Patriots Day 2013 was unlike any other.  In Lexington and Concord, the battle reenactments were long finished. The winners of the wheelchair races had finished; the women’s and the men’s winners (both from Africa) had already earned their victories, the Red Sox had already won a walk-off 10th inning victory, and the mass of “weekend warrior” runners were approaching the finish line flanked by the world flags lining Boylston Street.

And then at 2:50 the bombs created a new kind of Boston massacre.  These truly were blasts heard ’round the world, since the heavy media presence guaranteed that the images and sounds of explosions would achieve global reach within minutes. It is hard to imagine a more symbolically-rich venue to attack. 

As of this writing, there’s no public information about who did this or why.  But as shock gives way to outrage, two difficult truths are worth keeping in mind.

First, while the victims were innocents (including a family from my own Dorchester neighborhood) we should not project their innocence onto ourselves as a collective nation. It is tempting to pretend that such villainy is only for “others,” that we are only the victims and never the perpetrators of violence, and that America never attacks innocent victims. This is, unfortunately, just not true.

In fact, American has proved especially prone to using revenge as a pretext for killing innocents. After Pearl Harbor took nearly 2000 American lives, Harry Truman thought the Japanese got their just deserts when our atom bombs killed more than 100,000, mostly civilians—and most Americans agreed. When 9/11 killed nearly 3,000, Many Americans accepted the death of more than 150,000 Iraqis (mostly women and children) as just vengeance. We Americans are proven masters of overwhelming retaliation. Perhaps some of us are proud of that, but we cannot pretend we do not have blood on our hands.

Even now our country inflicts suffering on innocent victims. Some even make the case that American violence is the evil twin of the Boston bombing: http://earthfirstnews.wordpress.com/2013/04/15/the-boston-marathon-and-u-s-drone-attacks-a-tale-of-two-terrorisms/ . So while our outrage is certainly justified, we do well to avoid becoming self-righteous about our place in a violent world.

Second, while the perpetrators of the marathon bombing must be caught and punished, we should resist thinking that destroying all evil-doers will solve the problem of terror and violence in our world.

For Christians, this is an impossible dream. We believe we belong to a fallen humanity, a race who by nature can never completely purge evil from our midst. We can never destroy all the bad guys, for there will always be more of them in the next generation.

This means that true security only comes when we learn how to deal with evil even while knowing we cannot eradicate it.

This is, of course, what Jesus meant by his terrifying saying “Love your enemies.” He and his followers believed—and still believe—that evil and violence are NOT the strongest powers in our world, that retaliation is not the ultimate solution, and that there exists a love that can conquer hate.

For us, this poses a simple but tough challenge. Either Christianity is right, that love is ultimately stronger than violence, or else it is wrong. Either Gandhi and King and Jesus were right, that we must love our enemies, or they were wrong. But what we cannot doubt is that stamping out all evil people is a silly, naïve, and dangerous dream.
Martin Richard, 8, killed in the bombing

Bostonians are already acting to “retaliate” with love. The stunningly rapid and effective action of the first responders (some of them mere bystanders) seems to have reduced the death toll to unthinkably low numbers. The heroic marathon-like services of those working Boston's emergency rooms and operating theaters likewise minimized death and suffering. The flood of blood donors to Boston blood banks, and the widespread offers of housing and hospitality reflected the depth of Bostonians' care for the victims.

Some people have decided to join the ranks of the 8500 marathon volunteers in 2014. Some have vowed to run again. Some will host visitors. Some will simple turn out to observe, determined that next year’s crowd will outdo 2013.

Maybe someone will even propose making Patriots Day a national holiday.

After all, this is the city where the Revolution began. We know there are villains in the world, and we know it took force to expel the occupiers before. We are determined not to be occupied by villains again, and not to be driven by terror, but to live as we should, as a joyful and peaceful people, and thus deprive the villains of their victory.

And when we prove that no one can defeat the courageous hope and generous spirit of Boston, that message will be heard ’round the world.
  © Bernard F. Swain PhD 2013

Sunday, April 13, 2014

#369 Revisited: “Was Jesus Married?” 10 Facts

Harvard's Karen King once again made headlines (New York Times, Boston Globe) last week when the fragment concerning the "wife of Jesus" was certified as no modern forgery, but an ancient text---though it is now dated from the 8th century. But the issues around Jesus' marriage remain as they were when the story first broke in 2012, so I am re-posting my blog from September 2012.
In the face of this week's ignorant media hype about a new discovery, let’s set the record straight…
Any talk of Jesus being married always stirs needless controversy, so this week’s news out of Harvard--about an ancient text in which Jesus speaks of “my wife”--poses the kind of teachable moment that calls for some serious fact checking.
Fact #1:  The belief that “Jesus never married” is not Catholic doctrine.  It is true that generations of Christians have assumed that Jesus was single, and passed on that assumption as a kind of pious tradition, part of our popular image of Jesus, like long hair and a beard.  But this popular belief is not in our creeds or our catechism; at most it is an informal, unofficial “teaching” commonly communicated to believers.  But Catholics are not required to believe this, and they never have been.
Fact #2: Believing that Jesus was married is not heresy.  The September 19 Boston Globe claimed that “The notion that Jesus may have been married” is “considered heretical by the Catholic Church.” This is just ignorant reporting.  To be heresy an idea must contradict an “orthodox” doctrine.  But since there is no official Catholic doctrine (one way or another) about Jesus’ marital status, then there is nothing to contradict. Hence heresy on this question is impossible.  Claiming Jesus married does clash with the popular tradition I mentioned above, but disagreeing with popular tradition is not heresy.
Fact #3: The Roman Catholic Church DOES allow married men to be priests.  That same Globe article claimed with similar ignorance that “These issues remain intensely relevant in Christianity today, particularly in the Roman Catholic Church, which allows only celibate men to be priests.” Not true!
Catholicism embraces five different “rites ” or worship styles, and four of the five (often refer to collectively as the “Eastern Rites”) ordain married man as priests.  Only the “Latin Rite” requires celibacy of all candidates for the priesthood--and even that is changing, since former Anglican priests may now be accepted as Latin Rite priests even if they are married. The confusion is based on numbers: more than 90% of all Catholic priests belong to the Latin Rite, so celibate priests do outnumber married priests. But the Catholic Church allows both.
Fact #4: Priestly celibacy is not a doctrine.  History rather than doctrine explains why Latin Rite priests must be celibate while Eastern Rite priests may marry in.  Long ago all priests (except members of all-male religious communities) could be married, but in the 11th century a general rule of mandatory celibacy was adopted for Latin Rite priests. That rule was never adopted for the Eastern Rites.  So the fact here is simple: priestly celibacy is just a rule; there were married priests before this rule was adopted, they are still married priests outside that rule’s jurisdiction, and there will be married priests again whenever the rule is dropped.
Fact #5: We do not actually know if Jesus was married or single.  Our best source is the books of the New Testament, and these books are totally silent on the question.  In fact, they’re totally silent about Jesus from the age of 12 to the beginning of his public life at about 30.  We know virtually nothing of the adolescence and early adulthood of Jesus--the very period when his own culture would have expected him to marry.  If, as a hypothetical argument, Jesus had been widowed in his mid-twenties, his married life would be invisible. It would have fallen into that huge gap in the gospel narratives--a gap that no other source can fill.  The fact is, we just do not know.
Fact #6: We will probably never know.  Harvard’s Karen King, who announced the new fragment, told reporters “It’s not saying we got the smoking gun that Jesus was married.” After all, just because one person writing long after the death of Jesus puts the words “my wife” in the mouth of Jesus does not mean we have discovered a new fact, or even that many others believed it to be so.  And it certainly does not mean these were Jesus’ own words. It just means one person wrote it, true or not, for reasons we cannot know. 
The fragment probably dates from the late fourth century, and may be based on a text from the mid-too-late second century--that is, more than a century after Jesus’ death.  All of the New Testament books are closer to Jesus’ lifetime.  There is nothing in the new discovery that can penetrate the silence of the New Testament.  That silence is definitive, and I can think of no way anyone could penetrate that silence.
Fact #7: The old evidence trumps any new discoveries.  All of the other ancient texts and alternative “gospels” that have fueled books like The DaVinci Code are also further from Jesus time than the authentic Biblical texts.  Most of these alternative texts were specifically rejected as less than reliable during the process of forming the Christian Bible as we know it today.
We are often told history is written by the winners, and the simple fact is the winners are the texts that made it into the New Testament “canon,” which means literally the “yardstick” by which we measure the value of any text about Jesus.  All the alternative texts were the losers, simply because they failed to measure up.  As sources go, the New Testament trumps any other source we can realistically imagine
Fact #8: The New Testament evidence is not clear.  What does the New Testament’s silence mean?  Some argue it means Jesus was single, or his wife would have been mentioned along with his mother, father, and brothers.  Others argue the silence means Jesus had been married, since his culture saw a celibate adult male as abnormal, and we would expect the Gospels to mention someone challenging him, and Jesus offering a response and defense.
Both arguments are logically coherent, but neither one has much evidence to support it.
In other words, the Gospels’ silence cannot really settle the question.  We can speculate: what if, for example, Jesus were widowed before his public life began? His wife might not be mentioned simply because she was no longer present. But any such answer is just speculation.  We know the texts are silent, but we cannot tell for sure what that silence means.
Fact #9: If Jesus was married, our core Christian beliefs remain unchanged.  Nothing in our creeds, are catechisms or our theological principles about Jesus Christ is based on the premise of Jesus’ celibacy.  If Jesus was married, then the popular devotion about his single state would be inaccurate--but nothing else would change.  My Catholicism does not hang on this question, and yours should not either.  For me, the question of Jesus’ marital status is nothing more than idle curiosity.  It is not a deal breaker--or even a game-changer--for my faith. It clearly did not matter enough (one way or the other) to the authors of the Gospels, or to St. Paul, or to the other New Testament authors, to include any mention in their texts.
Fact #10: But it might change some attitudes.  Clearly much of Christian history has been ambivalent or even negative about marriage and sexuality (see CrossCurrents #359).  In the New Testament, St. Paul essentially regards marriage as a last resort so those who cannot hack celibacy do not fall into adultery.  And the assumption of Jesus as life-long celibate has often fueled the double standard by which celibates are superior to married people.  Many modern Christians would like to see that double standard fall, and see a golden opportunity in debunking the celibacy of Jesus.  More broadly, people who disparage the place of sexuality in Christian history might love the opportunity, with the leverage of a new “revelation,” to reboot Christianity over again and get it right this time.  Controversy over minor matters advances the cause and makes good newspaper copy--but such controversy does not fit the facts.
On this score, ironically, our Christian faith is rooted much more firmly in fact than most of the media coverage.
© Bernard F. Swain PhD 2012

Friday, March 28, 2014

#391: The Finish Line

With the 2014 Boston Marathon less than 4 weeks away, the  finish Line has just been repainted on Boston's Boylston Street. So I am re-posting my blog about how last year's bombing transformed that iconic image.

An additional note: since I first posted this, the World Series Champion Red Sox paraded through Boston in November. When they reached the Finish Line, they stopped and placed their trophy on the line with a "Boston Strong" shirt draped over it. Now there are plans for a permanent memorial near the site.

     During the entire week following the Boston Marathon attack, the phrase that stuck in my mind was “the finish line”--for so many reasons.
For Bostonians, the Marathon Finish Line on Boylston Street has now become sacred ground--perhaps it is even becoming a sacred symbol, value, or idea.
Of course, the finish line has always been where the race ends, where the victors are crowned with laurels, where some arrive with arms raised in triumph while others stagger across or even collapsed onto it.   
But for all, since 1897, it has denoted the gold standard of running, since for most runners at Boston the aim is not to win but rather to finish the planet’s most prestigious road race.  Crossing that line is a personal victory for all of them.

But now that finish line has been transformed. It means more than before. One churchgoer returning to one of the Copley Square churches closed off as part of the crime scene said, “Now it’s a starting line too.”

From now on, the finish line is also where the bombs went off.  Future runners will finish only by passing the two spots where three people died and more than 200 others bled.  And very likely the finish line will soon have a memorial to the victims attacked on April 15, 2013.
     For Christians, of course, the symbolic power of the finish line is nothing new, since the Apostle Paul long ago employed the image of athletic achievement to describe his own life as his and approached:

“I have fought the good fight, I have run the good race, I have kept the faith:”--2 Timothy 4:7

And Paul himself was echoing the way the prophet Isaiah viewed life’s need for strength and endurance:

“But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.”--Isaiah 40:31

The stress in both images is not on competition, but on accomplishment, not on winning the race but on finishing the course, not on the contest but on the journey and its destination.

Later Christians built on these images to establish a long tradition of seeing our life as a journey.  This view evolved from seeing life as a race to the image of a pilgrimage which follows its path to its end—but the idea of the race to the finish line was never lost. 

No doubt part of the popularity of the Boston marathon lies in its power to evoke our life’s long struggle to endure all trials and overcome all obstacles until we finally arrive at our natural end.

Sometimes someone’s life actually fits this image.  When my father died last year at 94, my wife said, “He died at the end of his life”--a life that really was a long, fully lived journey to its natural finish (see CrossCurrents #370, “A Quietly Heroic Life”).

But this is not always so.  As Boston 2013 showed and life teaches, the finish line can be moved. 

Runners still on the Boston course after the bombing were stopped short of 26.2 miles.  Yet they were awarded medals for finishing, which meant that for some the finish line was Kenmore square, for others Commonwealth Ave., for others someplace further back along the course.  The finish line moved, caught them unawares, and suddenly ended their races.

The same is true in life, since for some of us the finish line of life arrives well before anyone expects.

I have already written about the child whose life was more like a sprint than the marathon, ending only eight short weeks after his birth (see CrossCurrents #378, “Precious Child”).

As I drafted this piece, another young Boston University student died in a house fire, the 11th BU student to be killed (counting the marathon victim) in the last 12 months.

And on Wednesday, April 17—two days after the bombs and 24 hours before the suspects’ images became public—another runner reached his early finish line.  Our close friends’ son Matthew Shea had suffered leg pains while running high school track; these led to a 10-year-long effort to outrun the cancer infecting his body.  Through several remissions and relapses he not only persevered but filled his life with more acts of courage, generosity, and love than many people achieve in three times his lifespan. He died at 27 knowing, as did his loved ones, that he had run the good race with steadfast hope no matter how fast his finish line was approaching.

In reality, the same is true for all of us.

We are all alike in living our lives as a journey that (for most) is more like a marathon than a sprint.  But we are all unique in that, while we all run the same race of life, each of us runs a personal race on a different personal course.  For each of us, the finish line is different.  For each of us, the finish line is a moving target.  For each of us, its final location cannot be known.  

We may pace ourselves like marathoners, looking forward to careers and vacations and children growing and marriages and grandchildren and retirement. But that is like saving enough energy to get over Heartbreak Hill and still have enough left for the last few miles to the official end of the race. The fact is that our own personal finish line may not be at the end of the official course (called “life expectancy”). For each of us, the finish line may be just round the next corner.

Yet we run on, filling our lives with as much joy and love and hope and courage as we can before our finish line arrives—and trying always to be prepared for it.

For those who died on April 15, 2013, the marathon’s finish line was their unexpected finish.  For the injured, it was a turning point; their lives are changed forever.  And for all of us, it was the reminder that none of us controls the course we run.

Six days after the Boston bombings, the London Marathon was held amid heightened security.  The runners wore black memorial ribbons and made their intentions clear: they are determined to make a show of strength in the face of violence at Boston 2014. 

So next year we can expect more runners, more wheelchair racers, more midnight cyclists, more volunteers and spectators and memorial honors.  The 118th running of the Boston marathon may well surpass the record numbers of the 100th running.

And for all those hundreds of thousands along the course in whatever capacity, as well as the millions watching on TV and Internet, that famous and now sacred finish line on Boylston Street will mean more than ever, especially at 2:50 PM.

Perhaps there will be some special moment of commemoration.  Perhaps the church bells will toll.  And if they do, all of us will know they toll not only for those who died, not only for those injured or traumatized, but for all of us who each day, all our lives, run toward life’s certain, sacred, but unknown finish line.

And that will be our shining moment to show that Boston has found new strength, and will not grow weary.
  © Bernard F. Swain PhD 2013