How Free Am I? – Second Sunday of Lent

Columbine Massacre. Source:

We move more deeply into the Season of Lent. Scripture presents us with challenging words and deeds. The Genesis story about Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac, his only son, is, indeed, challenging.

People use the story when they are reflecting on their level of personal freedom – for instance, how free am I to make a significant decision in my life, one that will require me to make a radical change in how I live my life?

We are not usually asked to sacrifice a child. This freedom of Abraham is usually seen as remarkable – to give up one’s only son. I completely understand the spiritual value of the story of Abraham and Isaac, and I am intellectually aware of the historical context for that period of human history, but I always find it disturbing to consider a parent sacrificing a child. That is, indeed, a striking image of freedom. I certainly couldn’t be that free.

The reality is that parents give up their child far too often in every corner of the globe. Of course, they do not do this by choice. They have this sacrifice thrust upon them – by sickness and death, by a tragic automobile accident, by an act of war or random violence, by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or by suicide. It is truly painful for a parent to have to bury their child.

I had a charmed life as a child. I cannot recall a single instance of being intimately linked to families close to me who lost a child. It may have happened, but I do not recall anything like this. My first recollection of this came when I was a Jesuit novice in Guelph, Ontario. Carmella, the community cook, lost two sons when they were young.

That’s the first time I remember people saying that a mother shouldn’t have to bury her own son. Yet there they were, both in the cemetery next to our property.

I’m not a parent, though I know enough to have a sense of what a parent goes through when they lose a child. I said that I have a sense. Nothing can compare to the reality … flesh of your flesh, bone of your bone. I always find it painful to hear about another senseless high school massacre or any mass killing.

One of my first thoughts is of the parents of the victims (and the parents of the perpetrators). Far too many young lives have just been wiped out and the survivors’ lives changed forever. And parents, teachers, and friends have to bury someone before they should have to experience that.

One of my first pieces for igNation was a review of Far from the Tree – Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, by Andrew Solomon. It’s one of the most powerful books I have read. This is essential reading for anyone who has ever felt different or other, or for parents who have struggled with raising a child who has fallen far from the family tree.

One of the most moving parts of the book is his account of getting to know the parents of Dylan Klebold, one of the perpetrators of the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado (the “ground zero” of the high school massacres).

Sue Klebold offers these words about her son’s actions: “Columbine made me feel more connected to mankind than anything else possibly could have. I accept my own pain; life is full of suffering, and this is mine. I know it would have been better for the world if Dylan had never been born. But I believe it would not have been better for me.”

And so, back to Abraham and Isaac … what tremendous and scary freedom was required! And did Isaac know what was happening? Just as tremendous a freedom is offered to the survivors of mass killings – not between life and death, but the freedom to not be victims. That same freedom is offered to each of us.

Philip Shano, SJ has many years of rich and varied experience working with Ignatian spirituality: teaching, writing and using it in his ministry. He resides in the Jesuit community in Pickering, Ontario.

  • Peter Bisson
    Posted at 01:10h, 28 February Reply

    Thank you Philip!

  • Jim Radde
    Posted at 15:04h, 28 February Reply

    Philip, Happy Birthday! And thanks for doing Ignation. Jim

  • Richard Grover
    Posted at 18:31h, 28 February Reply

    You raise a terrible topic, Phil. One example in our time of parents and the death of a son or daughter is when drugs are involved.I think the stats show that in some parts of Canada, more young people are dieing from drugs than from COVID 19. Yesterday, Saturday’s Globe and Mail ran a lengthy feature on the death of a young man…from an opioid that had been “flooded with a lethal dose of fentanyl.” . God save the children.

  • Dee Sproule
    Posted at 23:57h, 28 February Reply

    Amazing, Philip, thank you!
    Reflecting on the story of Abraham and Isaac brings me to tears every time I hear it, and you’ve given us yet another facet to consider, within a communal context. God bless you.

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