May 22, 2020 – Friday of the 6th Week of Easter
Click here for the readings (http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/052220.cfm)
One day I received a sick call from a hospital asking for an anointing of the sick for a dying man in his 90s. Honestly, I personally do not like going to sick calls to the dying because of the emotional baggage that I may carry when I leave the room. Aside from the scary machines and tubes applied to the patient, it is surely heart-breaking to see a dying person holding on to his/her last remaining breathes. The sorrow and the grief of the family members who gather around the suffering patient would also creep into my heart and mind. However, I have to appear “okay” in order to do the rites properly and accompany the dying and the family in prayer.
Yet, with this particular old man who was holding on to his last breathes, there was something different in him that caught my attention. Behind his transparent respirator, he was smiling as soon as I introduced myself to him. He was actually smiling during the whole rite while looking at me. He was fully conscious but cannot move. He was definitely in pain at that moment. He too must have been so loved by his family gathered around him. They were keeping to themselves, as much as possible their cries, as I did the rite and told him to go in peace.
After the rite, he removed gently his respirator to tell me something (this happened before Covid-19 brought disaster in our community). He told me with a smile (saying in the local language), “Father, thank you. I will go now.” The family members could not hide anymore their tears as they too heard those words. It was truly heart-breaking that I have to keep myself from breaking down in tears to assure him of my presence. But, I also felt the confidence behind those words. This old man was confident that he was not alone. His loved ones were with him and the Lord was with him too. He was not afraid anymore despite the deep sorrow and pain at that very moment. He knew that after this, everything will turn into joy.
True enough, as I left the room and bid my goodbye, fifteen minutes after, the parish office received a call to inform me that the old man has rested in peace.
This is a testimony that completely trusts in God’s presence and promise of joy. It is a particular situation and a concrete human experience of struggle and confusion, of fear and anxiety, of pain and sorrow. Moreover, such human experience paved the way for the Lord to intervene and bring comfort and confidence.
The readings today convey this message to us. In the Acts of the Apostles, Paul was mistreated by those who refused to believe in Jesus. He was harassed and was accused wrongly to put him in prison and to death. With this kind of situation, Paul must have been so confused and afraid for his life. He must have started to question the Lord for sending him into this kind of trouble in his ministry.
Consequently, such difficult situation of Paul became the entry point of Jesus to assure him and to give him comfort and confidence. Jesus appeared in a vision to Paul. The Lord told Paul, “Do not be afraid, continue speaking and do not be silent. I am with you. No one will harm you.”
In the same way, Jesus also gave this assurance to his disciples. This conversation with Jesus happened just before the Lord was betrayed and arrested in Chapter 18 in this Gospel of John. Jesus prepared his disciples for the horrible and unimaginable events to happen in the coming days. Thus, the words of Jesus, “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy,” are the Lord’s assurance to us.
We might be struggling at this very moment. There might be some of us who experienced being humiliated, harassed, oppressed or abused. Or perhaps who are ill at the moment, or in trouble at work, perhaps lost a job or failed in business because of the economic crisis brought by Covid-19. There might be some of us too who are now having problems in their relationship or who are in great sorrow for losing a loved one during this pandemic.
With all of these difficult and painful human experiences, God also comes to us through this sacrament, through the scriptures, through the love and support of our family and friends and through the gift of the Holy Spirit abiding in us, that God intervenes to bring comfort and confidence in us.
As Paul and the disciples were comforted by Jesus, the Lord also is telling us now, “Do not be afraid, go on and continue because I am with you. Believe that this sorrow you have now will pass away and will turn into joy.”
Moreover, this calls us today to truly believe that God is the God of our life. Then, in that faith, we shall see the many good things we enjoy in this life despite the many difficulties and hardships we encounter. When we also truly believe that God is the resurrection and the life that we also begin to become true Christians who see light in the midst of darkness, who find joy in the midst of sorrow, who capture a smile in the midst of pain, who embrace hope in the midst of impossibility, who find healing in the midst of so much sickness and who find life in death.
And again, this is what I found in the life of that old man. Though I had a short encounter with him but that gave me a profound realization of God’s presence. Through the person of that old man, God also intervened in my life to bring comfort and confidence in me.
Hopefully, each of us too will allow God to intervene in our life today. We may allow God to be present there in our struggles and sorrow, in our pain and anxiety. Hinaut pa.
Jom Baring, CSsR