Grief, a Joyful Nun, Misery-lovers & the Annunciation

My column at First Things looks at two stories from last week — one grievous, and one glad — and how, amid the mysteries contained within each, some people could only be miserable:

The immediate responses seemed like reasonable ones: The plight of a family facing a wound of such depth would naturally evoke empathetic sadness in others, and our human need to feel empowered in dreadful circumstances fueled an impressively-answered fundraiser meant to defray the costs of emergency airlifts, and more. The urge to help was instinctive.

Likewise, the luminous glow of a young woman sharing her gifts on behalf of her beloved bathed the world in light for a few moments, and people wanted more of that, because when real love and real joy is laid before us, it is irresistible.

Grief and outreach; evangelical offering and guileless acceptance: These are interactions fraught with mystery, largely because we are helpless before them.

All mystery contains within it a prompt toward introspection—an invitation to ask, “This touches me so compellingly, why?” And yet reading the comboxes of blogs and social media threads concerning both of these stories, one could find pockets of strange biliousness. An early comment on the tragic loss of young life spewed venom at the mother for driving in bad weather; another declared with ugly certainty that her children’s deaths could only be due to a neglectful element on the mother’s part. Another commenter resented the fundraiser begun on the family’s behalf, “when schools and social programs are so underfunded.”

Likewise, amid the comments on Sr. Cristina—which even on secular sites tended to be enthusiastic (“No twerking [just] Talent and enthusiasm!” one Huffpo commenter noted approvingly)—some seemed intent on drowning any hopeful good feelings in a bath of acid, decrying her “unseemly bopping,” her “undignified” choice of song, and her “taking on the trappings of the world.” One miserable being outright predicted that nothing good could come of this. To a response that the sister might inspire young Catholics to seek out the “small, still voice” and discern vocations to church-service, this person snarled, “she will shame the church, just like the last ‘singing nun’ did.”

It all gets wrapped up with thoughts on the Solemnity of the Annunciation, which we celebrate today, but you’ll have to go read it to figure out how!

Related:
An Italian nun is a singing sensation, and I don’t care.
The New Evangelization: New in Ardor and Methods

Henry Ossawa Tanner (d. 1937): The Annunciation.

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