“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.’” (Luke 9:23)
June 23, 2013
Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
“A nurse took the tired, anxious serviceman to the bedside. ‘Your son is here,’ she said to the old man. She had to repeat the words several times before the patient’s eyes opened.
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“Heavily sedated because of the pain of his heart attack, he dimly saw the young uniformed Marine standing at the foot of his bed. He reached out his hand. The Marine wrapped his toughened fingers around the old man’s limp ones, squeezing a message of love and encouragement.
“The nurse brought a chair so that the Marine could sit beside the bed. All through the night the young Marine sat there in the dimly lit room, holding the old man’s hand and offering him words of love and strength. Occasionally, the nurse suggested that the Marine move away and rest awhile. He refused.
“Whenever the nurse came into the room, the Marine was oblivious of her and of the night noises of the hospital—the continuous whoosh of the oxygen flow, the laughter of the night staff exchanging greetings, the cries and moans of the other patients. Now and then she heard him say a few gentle words. The dying man said nothing, only held tightly to his son all through the night.
“Along towards dawn, the old man died. The Marine released the now lifeless hand he had been holding and went to tell the nurse. She started to offer words of sympathy, but the Marine interrupted her, ‘Who was that man?’ he asked. The nurse was startled. ‘He was your father,’ she answered. ‘No, he wasn’t,’ the Marine replied. ‘I never saw him before in my life.’ Stunned, the nurse continued, ‘Then why didn’t you say something when I took you to him?’
“The Marine replied, ‘I knew right away there had been a mistake, but I also knew he needed his son, and his son just wasn’t here. When I realized that he was too sick to tell whether or not I was his son, I stayed. I came here tonight to find a Mr. William Grey. His son was killed in Iraq today, and I was sent to inform him. What was this gentleman’s name?’ The nurse, tears in her eyes answered, ‘Mr. William Grey.’” (Original source unknown)
“I knew right away there had been a mistake,” the Marine said. How often, though, do God’s mysterious ways masquerade as mistakes? Such was surely the case when this young Marine’s gentle heart met the old man’s dying need. Love and mercy met in what seemed a mistake.
In the gospel passage we hear today, “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.’” (Luke 9:23)
“Take up your cross daily.” That is, drag yourself from bed each morning to give yourself to God’s new day. And this in the conviction that, while the aches and pains of age may be significant upon first arising, these alone do not constitute the cross of which Jesus speaks. Nor do your worries, anxieties, fears or phobias. In fact, Jesus has made clear that the cross we must daily bear is far more than a personal burden. Rather, it’s a communal cross. We are called to arise each morning to bear our share of the weight of the world, to do our part to lessen human suffering, to continue the creation of God’s kingdom on earth.
Hospital chaplaincy has afforded me the opportunity to do this as daily I join with doctors, nurses and allied professionals in attempting to lighten the weight of the cross for someone. And while most often healing—physical, emotional and even spiritual—does occur, it’s not a given. Indeed, we care for broken humanity in the acute realization that death is inevitable. It’s my job as chaplain to assure my colleagues that death does not mean defeat; rather, it’s the final release from earthly bondage.
Still, I spend my days with caregivers for whom a death often means they’ve failed in some way. And though these doctors and nurses are people of deep Christian faith, and even though they believe they are God’s instruments—still, the Divine Mystery dances among us. Such was the recent case when Kay, Chris and I stood over the lifeless body of a “John Doe” in the ER, an unidentified young man who had died in a fall from a bridge.
Though paramedics provided aggressive care when he was discovered under the bridge, by the time he arrived in our ER, there was nothing that could be done to sustain his earthly life. Pronounced dead by an Attending Physician, the trauma resuscitation team left to return to other duties. But Kay, Chris and I remained, standing silently beside the broken body. While there may have been nothing more medically to do for this young man, we three—nurse, doctor and chaplain—knew our care did not end with death.
With a nod toward the young man, Kay’s unspoken cue caught my eye. “Let’s pray for him, whoever he may be, and for his family,” I said softly as Kay and Chris each took one of his hands in theirs. After offering the ritual prayers for the dead, we each traced the Sign of the Cross on his forehead with the blessed oil, asking God to bring him safely home.
Whatever this young man’s heavy cross may have been, and however little we could do for him as he lay dead before us, yet we believed our prayers could reach beyond the grave. We trusted that they would carry this young man home. So we prayed, we three, lifting him heavenward.