By: Paul P. Jesep*/TRT Columnist—
Like many throughout the world, I’ve made a pilgrimage to Notre-Dame Cathedral. Several years ago, I attended Sunday Mass and accepted Eucharist in this ancient worship space. It’s still something I remember as a moving, special experience.
Hence, I too mourned the tragic fire that gripped Paris in April causing extraordinary damage to a structure dating back to the 13th century. Construction started in 1163.
The jarring event gives perspective. The cathedral serves as a physical point of reference. It provides continuity and in doing so a level of security that no matter the injustices or difficulties of life, it will be Okay. It’s comforting to see an iconic structure whether in person or from afar that has stood the test of time.
In the end, however, the cold, confusing challenges swirling around us, including a tragic fire, underscores peace and security comes from within. There are countless stories of heroes who survived emotional and physical brutality by drawing on inner strength to find hope in what appeared to be a hopeless situation. Seeing a religious symbol or a building of historic importance didn’t make it happen.
Security and inner peace are not based on something tangible no matter how old, historic, or beautiful it is. The Creator doesn’t specifically live in a house of worship. You can find Supreme goodness anywhere at any time including a jail cell.
Hence, a church, no matter how awe-inspiring is not by itself filled with holiness, solitude, reflection, or community. It’s people and their personal relationships with a higher power and the lives they live outside the structure. It’s about their treatment of one another and responses to injustice.
I perceived some of this strength by Seth Owen, a high school senior who was abandoned by his parents for being gay. Seth’s parents asked him, before he finished high school, to leave the only home he had ever known. The Florida teen became homeless, yet still graduated Valedictorian, earning admission at George Washington University in D.C.
It’s a life-changing event. Seth could have self-medicated in many unhealthy ways including drugs, alcohol, or overeating. Instead, he set an example for everyone young or old feeling marginalized or abandoned. He started a nonprofit to provide scholarships to LGBTQ students going to college, university, and vocational and technical schools.
His actions told the world he didn’t need his parent’s approval or affirmation. That takes extraordinary spiritual strength. It also demonstrated the self-esteem of an “old soul” in a young man’s body. Ultimately, we answer to the Creator, our consciences, and the person with whom we may one day marry.
Although scripture does say honor your father and mother, in doing so you don’t have to be emotionally and psychologically abused. Toxic people need to go. If necessary, this includes parents. This doesn’t mean you won’t be a dutiful son or daughter and help as best you can physically care for them in old age. It does mean you set boundaries. You need not be subjected to guilt, shame, or judgment by anyone.
Life changing events shape and define us. We all get banged around at one point or another—sometimes several times over our long or short lives. You can draw strength and perspective from these unwanted, inevitable experiences and offer a measured response, or you can react and potentially allow yourself to be an angry, bitter victim.
Seth is an example of a measured, positive response. Last month, I made a modest contribution to Seth’s charity, Unbroken Horizons. I invite you to do the same, especially if you’d like to give a wedding, graduation, or birthday gift in someone’s honor.
*Paul is a personal chaplain, seminary trained priest, and lawyer in greater Albany, NY. He’s also the author of “Lost Sense of Self & the Ethics Crisis.”