My son Absalom, Absalom my son

by Fr. Dismas Sayre, O.P. Rosary Center Director and Promoter of the Rosary Confraternity, Light and Life Newsletter V77n2, Mar-Apr 2024

Our home city of Portland often appears in the news; sadly, for all the wrong reasons. There is still a lot of good in this city and its people, but for various reasons beyond the scope of our newsletter, we have become a Ground Zero for the drug epidemic, especially that scourge of the streets, fentanyl. So many have come here to escape and to have a relatively peaceful place in which to take their drug or drugs of choice. Whatever the possible good intent of our lawmakers and citizens, the problem has only worsened.

Loaves and Fishes on the shore

One day last Summer, I was driving to do physical therapy for my back, dressed in casual gym clothing, when I received a call from the parish, which was unusual, since usually there’s at least one of the parish priests available, but they were all out on sick calls or saying Mass. There was a young man across the street from us dying from a drug overdose – would I be able to see what I could do for him? So I turned around, and came back home to find a team of paramedics attempting to bring him back, but without any seeming chance of success. From my vantage point, I was able to give a conditional absolution and Apostolic Pardon. There was no way to know if this young man was even Catholic, but in such cases, we do our part as priests and if they are capable of receiving such sacramental graces, then fine, and if not, then they are still commended to the gracious mercy of God. Regardless of who he was, he was still someone’s son.

“My son Absalom, Absalom my son,” is the cry of King David on hearing the news of his son’s death, continuing, “Would to God I had died instead of you, Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33)

To call the history between King David and his son Absalom “complicated,” would be an understatement. There was tension and fighting back and forth, eventually leading Absalom to rebel against his very own father, causing an open revolt in Israel against King David. In the eyes of King David’s own soldiers and kin, Absalom deserved to die; he deserved to be put to death. The messenger that delivered the news of Absalom’s death to King David thought he was bringing news of a great joy and victory. Instead, the sorrow of King David brought shame and sadness upon the king’s army. Whatever else happened, Absalom was always King David’s son.

Whatever the cause, whatever the source of the addiction, many parents have asked us to pray for their children, especially those who are in the vicious grip of drug addictions. Many times, these children are hard to recognize from their younger, happier days. Parents will often agonize over what they did or could have done differently, but there is often no easy answer, especially in a society that is flooded with such poisons. There may be absolutely no blame – things absolutely can happen that are beyond any parents’ control.

And that young man that died, seemingly abandoned on a city pavement as he died, he was someone’s son. But above all, he was a child of God. Trial and circumstance could mar and soil his outward appearance, but under the grime from living on the streets, he was made in the image and likeness of God, always a child of God.

This summer, we will celebrate a special novena to St. Mark Ji Tianxiang. Born in what is now Hebei in the People’s Republic of China, he was a doctor who contracted some kind of stomach ailment which caused him pain. He used opium to treat his own affliction, not knowing of the incredibly addictive nature of this drug. For thirty years, he was not able to receive the Sacraments, since his own priest, likewise not knowing the mechanics and science of addiction, felt that St. Mark did not show enough resolution to avoid sin. Still, St. Mark persisted, being a faithful Mass goer, constant in prayer, raising his family in the faith, and even giving free medical care to the poor, in spite of his heavy addiction. Finally, after thirty years of faithful witness, he was able to receive the Sacraments once again.

St. Mark Ji Tianxiang
St. Mark Ji Tianxiang
Art © Tracy L. Christianson, All Rights Reserved

Later, during the Boxer Rebellion in China in 1900, St. Mark and scores of fellow Christians were rounded up and ordered to renounce their faith. St. Mark not only did not renounce his faith, he asked to be executed last, so he could help and strengthen his brethren, so that no one else would die alone. What makes this even more stunning is that St. Mark would have had to suffer opioid withdrawal in prison the entire time he was ministering to his fellow inmates, singing a Litany to Our Lady. One could easily understand and forgive him if he had asked to be executed first, but he, the “weak” drug addict, was perhaps the brightest light among many lights in the darkness of his prison walls.

To honor St. Mark Ji, and for all those whose sons, daughters, and loved ones are in the grip of some sort of addiction, we will be offering a Novena of Masses from July 1-9 here at the Rosary Center. We do not want to solicit any donations, or seem as if we are profiting in some way from this dreadful epidemic. Simply join your prayers and intentions to ours at that time. We will also be sending out holy cards with a prayer to St. Mark Ji with our Easter mailings. There are many sons, many daughters out there on our sidewalks, and in need of prayer. And who among us is not at least in need of prayer?

Note from the Director

Dear faithful supporters of the Rosary Center & Confraternity, THANK-YOU! to all who have already donated to help us. We cannot do this without you! We rely on your ongoing support. May God bless you for your generosity!
Fr. Dismas Sayre, O.P.

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