Ever been stuck between a rock and a hard place? Mary Magdalene was on Easter morning. Well, actually, it was Jesus’ body that was stuck between a rock and a hard place, and she seemingly had no way to get to him. This consumes her thoughts on the way to the tomb. How will I get that stone moved? Jesus needs to be anointed. If I ask the guards, what will they do to me? Can the disciples move it? They would be thrown in prison if they tried! And further, they don’t have a great track record of sticking around when things get tough…
What I think is most striking about this inner dialogue of Mary is that as she runs through the impossibilities in her head, she keeps moving toward the tomb. It seems like she has two options: to incur ridicule or worse from the guards at the tomb, or to fail to give Jesus a decent burial. Yet when she arrives, she finds something altogether different. Jesus has provided a spectacular third option she never could have dreamed of.
I have been reflecting lately how so many of our pressing social issues come down to a failure to see and embrace that third option. Our society forces people in difficult circumstances into a false dichotomy of horrible solutions. If you’re in a troubled marriage, you have two choices: the trauma of divorce or the long agony of staying together “for the sake of the kids”. Young, pregnant and unmarried? Your choices are abortion or a doomed future of poverty and underachievement. This is a brilliant tool of the devil. No one likes divorce or abortion, but if you juxtapose it with something equally devastating, it suddenly seems like a viable option. The “lesser of two evils”.
Now enter Mother Church, who is increasingly a lone voice against some of these “lesser evils”. Prohibit contraception? You want women to become helpless baby factories! Prohibit assisted suicide? You want Grandma to linger is meaningless pain! Prohibit IVF? You want to deprive people of the beauty of parenthood! What our culture fails to see in every one of these tough cases is the third option. The Church never just slaps on a legislative cuff. Instead she gently takes the struggling sinner by the hand and says, “this is extremely difficult, but you can do it”. In short, the third option is grace.
Grace is a poorly understood concept today, but simply it means God’s supernatural power which we have access to by our Baptism and by the other sacraments. What it means is that we never face our hardest times alone. We face them with the same power that moved the stone for Mary Magdalene. Grace opens doors where no doors should be able to open.
The third option is a transformed marriage where partners can learn to slowly rebuild trust and love again. It is adoption, where an infertile couple becomes parents, the young person is able to continue with their education and the baby gets to live. It is Natural Family Planning, through which couples learn to be generous in their love, open to God’s will for their families and through which they can either space their children or often conceive children despite low fertility.
I’m not naïve. I know that life is not a Hallmark movie. That’s the beauty of grace! I know that sometimes the third option is an ability to survive one of the first two horrible options. If Grandma is terminally ill, grace normally won’t provide a miraculous cure. But God will illuminate the meaning of Grandma’s suffering. Like all suffering endured with Christ, it can be a powerful avenue of grace for others. This is true of any suffering we let God into.
Finally, the best part about the third option is that it is available even after one of the “lesser evils” is chosen. There is hope for those who have divorced, whether that choice was made for safety, against one’s will or in the pursuit of a happier life. There is forgiveness and healing for those who have chosen abortion, or IVF or contraception. Here, too, the third option opens up floodgates of mercy and peace that never could have been imagined before. No matter what the situation, choosing the third option of grace leads to a surprisingly rich joy.
So this Easter season, let’s approach the tomb with our deepest anxieties. Let’s offer them up to the Lord and see what miracles await us.
Note: Grace is often channeled through practical avenues. For help in understanding the issues raised in this post or in getting practical help, please contact your pastor or the Respect Life or Family Life Offices.