… and the gift of new life
Eight years ago I had the opportunity to do a 10-week “unit” of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), effectively serving as a chaplain-intern at a large hospital in Louisville, Kentucky. Early in the program, the other interns and I shadowed the hospital staff-chaplains, visiting patients and studying various aspects of pastoral theology. As time passed, however, we began seeing patients on our own, providing pastoral care and counsel while also spending time reflecting on our experiences within our group and with our mentors. Nearly everyone who has had this experience—as difficult as it might be—will quickly acknowledge how helpful it is in understanding the demands of ministry and the hard realities of living and dying.
My CPE experience was unique, however, because during the 10 weeks I journeyed with 9 different families as they faced the death of a child (six of these experienced miscarriages and stillbirths and three lost infants shortly after birth). Nothing could have prepared me for the experience. But, beyond my own grief and feelings of inadequacy in the face of such losses, I found it impossible not to be moved by the absolute grief these parents felt at the deaths of their children. I came to understand that they weren’t just mourning the passing of their child. They were mourning a loss of hope and a sense of future promise, as well as grieving a loss of part of themselves.
It’s easy to understand Jesus’ response to the sorrow of the widow who lost her child recounted in this Sunday’s Gospel. His feelings of pity and compassion are especially significant when we remember that in that time and place widows were often on the lowest level of society, dependent on their children or other relatives for survival. For a widow to lose her son meant that she was most likely condemned to a life of poverty and want. Jesus wasn’t just responding in compassion to her grief, he was also acknowledging her needs and status within the community.
But this Gospel passage is more than just a reflection on the compassion of Jesus, his sharing in the suffering of those around him. In fact, this Sunday’s Gospel (and the parallel First Reading taken from the First Book of Kings) are powerful statements about how both life and death are in the hands of God. As Father Adrian Nocent, O.S.B., observes, “[Jesus] is also deeply moved at the thought of the life and resurrection he will give to those who believe in him, a life and resurrection symbolized by the raising of the widow’s son” (The Liturgical Year, vol. 4).
Certainly this Sunday’s Gospel is an important statement about the power of God, but it also provides us with a beautiful insight into who Jesus is: “Fear seized [the crowd], and they glorified God, exclaiming, ‘A great prophet has arisen in our midst,’ and ‘God has visited his people.’” With these words, Saint Luke builds on Old Testament language and prophecies (cf. Exodus 13:19; Psalm 8:4; Luke 1:68), reminding us that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah, the One who conquers death and gives life.
The invitation for us this Sunday is to reflect on how Christ is offering gifts of healing and wholeness to each of us and to consider how we have experienced God’s love and mercy raising us to new life.
When have you experienced God’s compassion through the kindness and love of another?
How does this Sunday’s Gospel call you to be a more compassionate person for the sake of others?
What does the promise of healing and wholeness—new life—mean to you?
Words of Wisdom: “He was close to the people. A close God who is able to understand the hearts of the people, the heart of His people. Then he sees that procession, and the Lord drew near. God visits His people in the midst of his people, and draws near to them. Proximity. This is how God works. Then there is an expression that is often repeated in the Bible: ‘The Lord was moved with great compassion.’ The same compassion which, the Gospel says, that moved Him when he saw so many people like sheep without a shepherd. When God visits His people, He is close to them, He draws near to them and is moved by compassion: He is filled with compassion.”—Pope Francis
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