Facing suffering and the end of life...

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Homily for the Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
(Scriptures for today's liturgy)

Audio for homily

I began my ministry in Concord in March of 1994.
That same week my mother was admitted to Lahey Clinic
for surgery to replace a valve in her heart.

What we thought would be a rather routine procedure
turned out to be the beginning of months of complications
growing more and more serious as time went by.

We had thought my mother would be home a few days after her surgery.
But in fact, she never came home again.
She was hospitalized until her death,
a long six months after her surgery.

So it was on a Saturday morning in August 1994
that my sister and brother and I made a decision
to remove my mother from a respirator
which was all that was keeping her breathing.

Though it had been a long time since we’d had any response from her,
we hoped she might hear our goodbyes
or at least know the touch of our hands holding hers.

I remember the moment when the sound of the respirator ceased,
leaving us in a much-longed for quiet,
broken only by the sounds of a family’s tears,
softly letting go into God’s hands
the soul of the woman who’d given birth to our lives,
whose love was the first we ever knew.

Those months from March to August
were filled with physical and emotional suffering for my mother
and for us who loved her
and who were so distressed to see her pain, fear and confusion.

Hard times for my mother, hard times for us, her family…

Perhaps you’ve lived through similar circumstances
with someone you love.
If you haven’t, you probably will.
Suffering like this visits most families sooner or later.
No one wishes such suffering on those they love
and all of us would do whatever we could to save those we love
from pain and suffering.

That’s natural.  That’s human.  That’s loving. 
And that’s Christian.

But we also know that suffering is part of every human life
so we shouldn’t be surprised when it it’s part of our own.

Our faith has so much to teach us about suffering.
Strangely, some believers are surprised by suffering,
as if they expected that those who believe and live a good life
should, on that account, be spared what others suffer.

I say this is strange because our Christian faith always gathers us
at the foot of the Cross of Jesus who, above all of us,
ought to have been spared any suffering:
yet he’s the One who suffered for us, who was crushed for us,
the One in whose suffering we find our forgiveness and our peace.

Christians believe that suffering is redemptive, which is to say that:
- even in suffering filled with pain, there’s room for deep healing;
- even as suffering may separate us from our loved ones,
     it yields to a deeper union, born of memories of love shared;
- even suffering that frightens and threatens us,
     opens doors to deeper faith and trust;
- even suffering that ends in death brings the gift of life forever.

This is how Christians approach and face
and live through suffering
and the end of their lives.

Just this past week I visited a parishioner in the hospital.
He's been there for nearly two months.
He’s critically ill and even with palliative care,
he’s in pain all the time.
He would like to go home for the time he has left
but it’s unclear if he’ll be strong enough to do that.

We had a long talk about things one ponders as time grows short.
And we prayed together and I anointed him with the oil of the sick
and gave him Communion.

As I was about to leave he was profuse in thanking me for coming
and for our conversation and the sacraments.
But I thanked him for sharing his faith with me
from his bed of pain and suffering.

I thanked him because he reminded me of what we believe:
that suffering is redemptive:
- that even in pain there comes a healing that runs deep;
- that as we take leave of those we love,
     we learn perhaps as never before
   how much we’ve meant to each other,
   how much we’ve loved, how much we've been loved;
- that in the face of fear and anxiety, doors open wide
     to deeper trust and faith;
- that in dying we surrender to life that has no end.

Today’s scriptures remind us that the Lord was crushed in suffering,
an offering for our sins
so that we might have life through his death,
and that the fullness of days be ours.

In Jesus we have a high priest
who has suffered with us in every way
and whose suffering offers us mercy and peace.

As his followers, we gather every week at the foot of his Cross
to receive his Body, broken for us,
to drink from the Cup of his Blood, shed for us.

For through him and with him and in his suffering,
we are redeemed and his peace is ours.


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  1. I was thinking of something that I learned recently-
    about acceptance.

    and how ACCEPTANCE, contrary to what some (most) people believe, doesn't mean you need to LIKE something, or APPROVE of it- it just means that IT IS WHAT IS. That you accept that what happened, happened.

    I also learned that when we don't accept things, we make suffering.

    When we refuse to accept what is, we cause pain- and suffering- on ourselves.

    We only can make change, when we accept what is. Again, not LIKE what is, just accept it, for what is.

    I am still trying to wrap my head around this- or, maybe more accurately, unwrap my head- because it is very confusing.

    But I think I get the "acceptance thing" now- it is just WHAT IS. No judgments.

    (or, at least, I think I understand it- it is putting it into practice that is hard-
    especially the 'no judgments' part)

    thank you.


  2. This is extraordinary, remarkably beautiful. Thank you.


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