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Lift high the cross

'There is no pit
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placeholder September 23, 2013   •   VOL. 51, NO. 16   •   Oakland, CA
Letters from Readers
'There is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still!'

Rev. John Roche, SDB

It seemed out of place to speak about the Holocaust at a wedding, and I must admit I had second thoughts about doing so, but knowing the couple and their strong faith, I wanted to convey more than the usual message one expects at a wedding.

I usually make a point to explain the Sacrament of Marriage in the terms of a covenant with God. As so many marriage homilies go, the presider has the chance to make the link evident for the attending audience.

God is at the center of the two lives coming together and their pledge to one another at the altar is more than tradition or sentimentality. In fact, it is the cutting of a covenant between each other and God. This covenant witnesses to all the reality that such a commitment can only come from God, continue in God's strength and come to fullness in the shared journey to God.

These occasions are ripe for explaining the sacrament as something beyond ritual or spiritual ideologies and ground the mystery in the concrete commitment made by two people of faith: they become the sacrament.

But I veered away from that familiar and well-trod path and turned, instead, to the story of Corrie ten Boom. In the 1970s, Corrie wrote the true story of her family's effort to save the Jewish people from the Nazi invasion of Holland. Her elderly father, a good and holy Christian man, was a watchmaker/repairman in their village of Haarlem. His two oldest daughters had never married but lived and worked in their father's shop.

Corrie recounted the day their Jewish neighbors were forced to line up to receive a large yellow star of King David, which would have to be sewn onto their outer jackets and clothing for easy identification. Corrie's father stood in the same line considering it an honor to show his affiliation with his Jewish brothers and sisters. The old man pushed that sentiment well beyond mere sympathy and devised a scheme to hide as many men and women in his home as he could possibly fit. And the deed was done.

For months, the refugees lived in the home and practiced a drill to quickly and quietly run to the top level of the house to hide behind a wall in Corrie's bedroom that appeared to be the back wall to the alley, but was, in fact, the wall of a hiding place that would allow these guests a place to stand and await the passing of the Gestapo.

The ten Boom family would pay the ultimate price for their bravery and soon the entire family was arrested and divided up into work and concentration camps. Old man ten Boom died in the lobby of an infirmary at such a prison in the first days after their arrest. Corrie and her older sister Betsy wound up in Ravensbruch Labor Camp for women. Her brothers and nephews met similar fates. And in the end, Corrie would be the only member of all her family to survive.

Her book, "The Hiding Place," tells the touching and often wrenching story of their ordeal. Through it all, Betsy kept reminding her sister Corrie that people would believe their story of the power of God even in the midst of hell, because they were there. Just before Betsy died and Corrie was released on a clerical error, Betsy predicted they would be free before the New Year of 1945. As Betsy was hauled off to the infirmary one freezing winter day, she pulled her grieving sister close to her and said, "Remember Corrie! There is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still!" Corrie survived her worst nightmare — losing Betsy — and became the strong apostle among her terrified fellow prisoners. Upon her release from prison, she dedicated the rest of her life to preaching that Gospel message to all who would listen.

So, instead of being cute and telling the newly weds to always remember anniversaries and be sure to be patient with one another, I told them, instead, to remember that the God who called them together would be near them in every circumstance of life.

I told them his part of the covenant would never waver even in the face of the greatest of evil. No matter what would come, they must remember that there is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still!

Turning back to life and away from marriage celebrations, let me pass on to you and your loved ones the same message. We have stood on the brink of war again. Good Pope Francis called the world to fast and prayer.

It seems that an inevitable war has been forestalled. All of us need to remember that in our personal lives and in the history of the world, God is in charge. God has the last word. And he has proven to us in the love of his Son that there is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still!

(Rev. John Roche, SDB, is director of the Institute of Salesian Studies at Don Bosco Hall in the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley.)


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