Twilight Twitches

fetscherDear Family,
So, I picked up Annie at the airport after her aunt and our friend, Sister Mary Richard Rowley, S.C. had died in New York. Annie had spent the previous four days at Sister Mary’s bedside, watching and waiting as Sister Mary went through the last throes of pneumonia.

As we drove home, a very tired Annie said in passing, “Can you just imagine people going through things like this without any faith?”

It’s a question I have posed at funerals. Maybe some of you have even heard me ask the same thing. What a difference there is between a congregation sitting in front of you that has been shaped by faith, and one that simply has no idea what you’re doing or what the prayers are saying. They watch and wonder... what is this all about?

Those rites are about consolation and hope. Often, however, it was an anxious journey to those moments of prayer.

And, until you have passed through a dark forest of the demands of caring for the seriously ill, the chronically ill, the inevitably dying... until you have known moments by a beside where time freezes and sadness blooms... until you’ve had the moment when you hear yourself say, “Please God take them,” and a fleeting moment of guilt flashes through you because you are afraid you might be saying you just can’t take any more of this waiting... until any or all those things become a part of your experience, I think it might be hard to have much more than a clue about what real redemptive suffering means.

Normally, and with good reason, we think of the person who is ill as being the sufferer. And of course, he or she is. But I don’t think we pay enough attention to what the people around them go through and just how really redemptive their experiences are as well.
When you were a kid, did your Mom ever say, “Offer it up,” when you were bothered by something or wanted something you couldn’t have? It didn’t help much if your grandmother added, “...for the souls in Purgatory,” to the “offer it up” line. I heard that, and now I can look back after all these years and see wisdom.

Jesus stood in line with US sinners waiting for John the Baptist to pour the waters of repentance; he agonized in the Garden of Gethsemane with his special friends He took with him; He took the evil of others to his grave, and in that grave, He transformed the ugly into glory. That transformation changed us, redeemed us. And just as He identified with us, so now the Father sees HIM when He looks at us.

Before we get to heaven, however, there are still the things of earth to be dealt with. We’ve heard Jesus call us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the lonely... we also hear him invite us to bring the pains and sufferings of our illnesses and the illnesses of those we care about. He wants to help and our faith lets Him. Indeed, “can you just imagine people going through things like this without any faith?”

Every person has their own unique experience of illness and dying. Sometimes it’s very easy. More often there is some trauma and sadness on someone’s part. I know people who have been sick who suffer far more from watching people watch them be sick, than they do from their own illness. Whatever the situation, we believe it all matters and can serve to comfort and heal a broken world even as it seems to be doing just the opposite. That’s faith. I believe that faith marked Mary’s life. Mary would have been 96 on January 16th. She was a Sister of Charity for 72 years. That’s a bunch of time to bring the Lord to an aching world, redemptively.

Thank you, Mary, and thank you, Lord.
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