The lights began to dim as I settled into my seat and a hush fell over the crowd. Sounds began to emerge from the pit in front of me as various instruments were heard tuning. Then the auditorium erupted into applause as the conductor popped into view, acknowledged the audience and struck the downbeat. With that, my first professional opera viewing experience was underway!
I recently had the opportunity to see the Washington National Opera’s staging of Giuseppe Verdi’s La forza del destino (or, The Force of Destiny, for those of us who don’t know Italian). The story follows a wealthy noble family who is struck with tragedy when the lover of the family’s daughter accidentally kills the father when a fight erupts between lover and father. The ensuing story tells how the daughter, Donna Leonora, copes with the tragedy while Leonora’s brother seeks revenge for his father’s untimely death.
One of the most moving parts of the evening was when Donna Leonora, tired and distraught after running away from home, seeks out the solace of the nearby religious community. With her brother seeking to kill her, a fiancée who is now a murderer, and a father who has died, Leonora comes asking the Abbot for peace and God’s mercy. To make a long story short, the Abbot listens to Leonora, blesses her and offers her the opportunity to kneel before the cross and pray with the Blessed Sacrament. He then invites her to join their community upon which Leonora sings:
Eternal Father, thy grace smiles on the rejected one, an uncommon happiness fill me: I am blessed. I feel my heart regenerate within me; Rejoice O angels, God has forgiven me!
While this portrayal was dramatized, it’s no doubt that the Church can still be place of healing and restoration in our world today, especially for those who have walked away from their faith, have suffered a great deal or are simply in need of God’s mercy and peace, just like Donna Leonora. During this scene I was reminded of the words of Pope Francis in his recent interview with the Italian Jesuit journal, La Civilta Cattolica, in which he says:
…the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else…The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all.
As apostles of Christ in today’s world we are called to help spread God’s mercy and rekindle His love to those who need it most in our world. We all know someone who is in need of God’s mercy and we can be the medics that Pope Francis speaks of in the lines above. Certainly, transformations might not be as dramatic as seen in the movies, on stage or even in stories we hear from the lives of the saints, but even the smallest ways in which we can be ambassadors of Christ’s mercy can make a world of difference for those who need it most.
David Burkey is the Communications Coordinator for the Catholic Apostolate Center