The National Catholic Review

Catherine Kirwan-Avila

Last Thursday morning, my mother and I headed to upstate New York for our Thanksgiving visit with her sister’s family. Van Morrison accompanied our conversations, as he so often does in my mother’s car. It is a trip we have made many times, in many different states of mind. Last year the journey was tinged with sadness as we prepared to celebrate the first Thanksgiving without my mother’s brother who had died at the end of November the year before. Other, earlier trips were filled with giddy anticipation of the annual reunion with my cousins, who I worshiped.

Last week I attended a conference on Restorative Justice at Villanova University that brought together people from various disciplines and legal categories. There were judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys, probation and police officers, sociologists, theologians, social workers, educators and ministers of all stripes. There were survivors of crimes, criminal offenders, family members of victims and family members of prisoners. Some people’s experiences put them in various categories.

I have been thinking about the martyrs in the church’s recent history—among them, Martin Luther King Jr., the Ursuline missionaries, Jesuits and companions in El Salvador, Dorothy Stang, Oscar Romero—those people who you might say carried within them a bit of crazy, a lot of courage and a heaping portion of love.

They were human, saintly perhaps, but human nonetheless.  They had families and personal histories, character flaws and insecurities just as surely as we do.  They were, at times, uncertain and frightened, just as we sometimes are.

Last week I met a woman, named Beth, whose example lodged itself deep inside my mind. It so struck me that I have shared it, as best I can, five times since we met.