The most difficult times can produce the greatest spiritual blessings. God truly knows just what we need at every moment!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

XIII Sunday in the ordinary Time – year B

Through death comes new life

In 1998 songwriter Shel Silverstein wrote a song that was sung by a group of country and western singers who called themselves the Old Dogs. Now, it was meant to be a funny song and so some of the lyrics went like this – bear with me as I read them to you.

So you're takin' better care of your body - Becoming more aware of your body. Responding to your body's needs. Everything you hear and read about diets, Nutrition and sleeping position and detoxifying your system, and buying machines that they advertise to help you exercise.

Herbs to revitalize you if you're traumatized. Soaps that will sanitize. Sprays to deodorize.

Liquid to neutralize acids and pesticides. Free weights to maximize your strength and muscle size. Shots that will immunize. Pills to re-energize you.

But remember that for all your pain and gain eventually the story ends the same... You can quit smokin', but you're still gonna die. Eliminate everything fatty or fried, And you get real healthy, but you're still gonna die. You're still gonna, still gonna, still gonna die.

You can even give aerobics one more try, But when the music stops playin', you're still gonna die. Put seat belts in your car, you're still gonna die. Cut nicotine tar, you're still gonna die.

Needless to say it wasn’t a very popular tune. As I said, it was meant to be a funny song but people didn’t like it. It just didn’t get played much. The tune itself was great but I think that the lyrics brought the reality of our immortality too close to home.

You can say all you want about the pleasures of this life – but if you mention that it might end at any time – people don’t want to hear it. We’re too preoccupied with living the good life – NOW and we don’t want to hear about it all ending any time soon. The reality of life followed by death is not a topic people want to hear about. Yet that reality surrounds us everyday.

Just this past week the world lost two famous entertainers. Michael Jackson and Farah Fawcett.

A couple of reminders that bring the reality of that little song a little closer to home. No matter how famous you are – no matter how much you possess – no matter how healthy you are – we still will all face the same reality - we are all destined to die.

Unfortunately, for many people in today’s world, death is not something they want to talk about because for them death is a puzzle – what happens to us when we die? Why do we have to die?

For those of us who have some experience in being with those in palliative care – we can understand the worry – we have traveled with those who wonder if there is a God, what is the reason for suffering – why can’t we live forever?

And then there are those who say “if we are all going to die well then we might as well have a good time now – because after we die – who knows where we will be.”

It is our experience that patients who have no faith are at a real disadvantage compared with those who have been close to God all their lives. Those with little faith in reality endure a 3 fold suffering.

First, they suffer the disease that is taking their lives.

Secondly, they suffer on account of its apparent meaninglessness (for them a real puzzle).

Thirdly, they suffer because this has changed their lives and in fact suspends their life as they knew it.

They see their illness as something that has to be endured rather than lived. Their lives seem to be on hold as they wait impatiently for things to get back to normal so that they can begin to live again. They live in the future and not in the present.

On the other hand, patients with faith in God are in a much better position. Though faith may not deliver them from their illness nor diminish the suffering it causes them, believers often try to continue to live as intensely as before.

They can find comfort in God both in sickness as well as in health, and their sickness can turn out to be a fruitful experience for them.

A time of illness can be a difficult thing to deal with positively. But unless people do accept the reality, their time of illness often becomes a complete waste.

However, we must try to help the sick to see their illness in the larger context of their life. To see it not as some unfortunate episode in their life but rather as an intrinsic part of their life.

For those who do not believe in God, this time of dying can be a bitter, angry and painful experience. And we need to help them as best we can to prepare for the reality of facing their creator.

We need to give them hope in the Resurrection. We need to help them come to face the natural reality and necessity of their death. There is a reason for their existence.

We live and then we die. All of us. No exceptions. It is true that most of us will suffer before we die. That is the reality.

However we can find comfort in that fact that there is a God who loves us. A God who cares for us. A God who called us into existence for a reason. A God who has a plan for each one of us. A God who is waiting for us and who will relieve us of all our suffering.

And God’s love can be experienced even in this suffering. Besides having redemptive value, from our suffering we can derive a new understanding of our vulnerability as human beings.

A painful experience causes us to reflect on our lives and teaches us to be compassionate towards those who suffer. Compassion is not learned without suffering. Suffering and death are all part of the natural human experience.

Each year in our garden we plant seeds, the seeds seem to die in the soil but from their dying new life rises, flowers and vegetables come up.

In the fall the tree leaves turn brown and die. They fall to the ground and decay. In doing that they provide nourishment for the new life that will come in the spring.

Nature's cycle teaches us that what at first appears to be a tragedy - is not always so. In nature - out of death comes new life.

This Sunday's readings tell us the human side of this same natural cycle. Out of what seems to be tragedy in death comes new life.

The first reading from the book of Wisdom, begins by making it very clear what God's attitude is towards death. Death is not God's doing. God does not delight in the death of the living.

“For God created us for incorruption, and made us in the image of His own eternity, but through the devil's envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his company experience it."

Our immortality is directly linked to our relationships with God. The devil knew this and tempted humans to break with God. He succeeded, but he was not as completely successful as he thought.

In today's gospel, the woman who had been haemorrhaging for 12 years had undergone 'long and painful treatment under various doctors', without getting better. Of course, medicine then and up to quite recently was fairly primitive. For most of history people prayed for real miracles to cure their infirmities. Nothing stood between the individual and eter­nity except God.

But the world has changed dramatically since then. In our own time cures have been discovered for almost every human ailment.

We have all become fervent believers in the 'miracles of modem medicine'. In searching for cures Clinics have replaced churches for those who are ill. In many cases science has replaced God. It seems people no longer have any faith in a God of miracles.

In the gospel, Jesus is approached by Jairus. a synagogue official, who begs Him to come and heal his sick daughter. Jesus starts out towards Jairus' house, but before Jesus gets there, "some people came from the leader's house to say, 'Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?'"

Jesus however, says to the official, "Do not fear, only believe." Coming into the man's home. Jesus takes the dead child's hand and says. "Little girl, get up!" The girl immediately gets up.

Jesus overcame death. He restored life to the offi­cial's daughter. But the meaning of the miracle is much deeper than just that event. In the whole bible Jesus restores physical life to only three people: the little girl in today's reading, the son of the widow of Nain and Jesus’s friend Lazarus.

Christ claimed nothing else for these miracles than the faith of the participants.

"Do not fear, only believe."

To every member of the human race Jesus offers restoration to life. This restoration to life is really restoration to life in God in eternity. And this is a far greater miracle than the mere restoration of human life in this world — it is a promise of eternal life – and a promise made to each one of us. "Do not fear, only believe."

In John 3:16 the Bible tells us “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him, might not perish but have eternal life.”

The promise that Christ gives us is far greater than merely restoring our physical health, God promises us that if we have faith and believe in God – He will restore us to Eternal Life which is a far greater gift than simply adding a few more years on to our earthly life.

Death, then, is never what God wants. Richness of life is God's desire.

And can there be any greater gift than life in heaven for all eternity?

Yet true richness of life even life on this earth, springs from a willingness to give, to empty ourselves. It is only when we die to ourselves that we make room for new life.

And so, in the second reading St. Paul encourages the Corinthians to be generous to others. This reading at first seems to have little connection to restoration of life. But actually it does because this very act of generosity comes from the life which Jesus gives us.

As St. Paul says. "though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich.” The life to which Jesus restores us thus enables us to help others in their need.

“Do not fear, only believe” Jesus told the synagogue official. Because of his faith, his daughter was returned to him.

To the woman who was cured of her haemorrhage, Jesus said “Your faith has restored you to health.

All that separates us from these miracles is the depth of our faith. Even modem medicine, in spite of its extraordinary successes, is rediscovering the import­ance of the patient's faith in their cure.

Christ, now as then, can certainly cure all of our sicknesses both physical and spiritual. All He needs is our faith. For modern day proof of physical cures we have places like Lourdes. Lourdes is proof, if proof were needed. With a little faith we could find it; with a little courage we could touch it. 'Do not be afraid,' He says to us, as He said to Jairus, 'only have faith'.

For proof of eternal life we have Jesus’ word. 1 Cor 2:9 tells us “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love him.”

And so our preparation for eternity is to be found in the way we live our moral lives. The nobility of the human person, body and soul, is to be found not in the ability to take and manipulate others, which is so dear to our modern culture, but rather in the ability to give. Making life more livable for others by living virtuous lives ourselves. We are called by our Lord to “Arise”.

At the end of our lives as we pass from this life to the next, if we have been faithful servants, Jesus will fulfill our dignity, take us by the hand and wake us, not just to the same earthly life, but to a new heavenly one. “I say to you Arise – Do not fear but only believe – Your faith has restored you to health”.

Deacon Bernie Ouellette

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