“My Father, if this cannot pass… thy will be done.”
—from the Passion of the Lord Jesus Christ According to Saint Matthew
The Christian calendar especially appoints the Easter weekend for solemnizing the despairs of death and celebrating the hopes of resurrection. And so Good Friday was the fittest of days to complete the gathering of the remains of Secretary of Commerce Ronald Brown and his fellow voyagers from Tuzla to Dubrovnik.
The tragedy of an august personage inevitably obscures the tragedies of those who died along with him, and we have been told little about the businessmen who met their end in Secretary Brown’s company. There are, however, hints to tease us with regret for not having known some of them better.
They had embarked on a mission with smaller commercial attractions than any previously available from the Commerce Department’s hospitality. As The Wall Street Journal noted Thursday, “many investors have already shunned the [Bosnian] rebuilding effort” because they are far too worried that the war will only too soon begin again.
The promptings of profit had then to be the meagerest of stimuli for most of the business executives enrolled on the plane’s manifest. Far grander aspirations had risen up instead; for David Ford, president of Interguard, who had come to watch Sarajevo install the twenty-three tons of glass he had donated to refill its shattered windows; for Donald Terner, San Francisco specialist in low-cost housing; and for John Scoville, chairman of Harza Engineering, who had called his colleagues from Tuzla on Tuesday to report his exultations with this chance to “make life better for people.”
These were men of the kind that dies standing forth for life against death, which happens to be the supreme message of the Passion Gospel. Three times the Lord Jesus prays upon His Father to spare Him and three times Peter denies Christ. These repetitions emphasize the preference for life over death that the disciple shared with his master, Peter in his panic and Christ in the agony of His appeal for this cup to pass.
The most important sentence in the Gospels is, of course, “Thy will be done.” But we ought not to forget that, while God in His majesty commands us to accept His will, He also in His generosity accepts our right to resist it as a duty to the life He gave us.
The tradition of resistance to the will of God is so ancient in His Faith that it took lodging with those passages in the earliest scripture when Abraham haggles with Jehovah over how many decent lives he would need to cite among the citizens of Sodom until he could contrive to dissuade the wrathful God from casting the whole lot of them into a furnace as fiery for its just as its unjust.
The same contentious spirit endures and manifests itself in the Catholic Church’s insistence upon often affronting the secular and sometimes discomforting even the faithful with an affirmation of a sanctity of life so selfless that abortion, euthanasia, and capital punishment must each and all be condemned.
There are, to be sure, reasons for arguing with this posture but none for denying the truth that undergirds it. To be worthy of God is to cherish life, hate to lose it, and struggle against its loss for others. Nothing of the little we know about David Ford, Donald Terner, and John Scoville suggests that any one of them ever inclined toward preening himself for singular virtues. None could quite have known that he was meeting death in the highest fashion available for the experience. He would be dying in one of those hours when he was devoting himself to the cause of life. That is why these strangers people and enrich the imagination and set the heart to inditing, “Grant them eternal rest, oh Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.”
May 9, 1996