Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Because He Was Tested, He Is Able To Help Those Who Are Being Tested

In today’s reading from Hebrews, we learn that, because God’s children are formed of flesh and blood, Jesus shared our flesh and blood. Since we are subject to temptations to pleasure, profit and power; he began his ministry by being tempted in the desert to pleasure, profit and power. Since we are subject to pain and suffering, he endured pain and suffering, both of body and mind, in the Garden of Olives, in his trials before Pilate and Herod, and on the way of the Cross. Since we are subject to death, Jesus suffered death, but not death which comes at the end of a long life, or death which results from serious illness, but scourging and crucifixion, the death of a criminal. And through it all, he remained faithful to his mission, and to his God.

Priests, doctors, nurses, educators and parents learn the lesson Jesus teaches by his example: We cannot become effective healers, teachers and guides, unless we can sympathize with those who need to be healed, taught and guided. That’s an interesting word, sympathy. It comes from two Greek roots, “syn”, which means “with”, and “pathos”, which means “suffering”. Sympathy is suffering along with someone who is in distress.

It was not quite a year after my ordination that I got my first real lesson in sympathy. Early one evening near the beginning of July, my pastor asked me to go to the local hospital to minister to a young family. The woman had just given birth, and the baby, her first, had severe heart defects, and was not expected live more than a few hours. “What am I supposed to do? What am I going to say?” “The only thing I can tell you is this: Act as you would want another priest to act, if it were your sister in this situation.”

Six and a half years later, near the end of November, 1977, I got a phone call from my brother-in-law, Rich Watson. My sister Leonie had given birth to her fourth child, and fourth son. A few weeks later, I drove to Washington, and Marc Thomas was baptized at Walter Reed Medical Center, where Rich was on staff. On the morning of January 10, I got a call from my sister Anne. Marc had been found dead in his crib that morning. Later that day, I got a call from Nonie, about arrangements. “How do you want to do this?” I asked. “Do what you did for that family in Adams”, she answered. That’s just what we did: vigil at the funeral home on Friday evening; votive Mass of the Angels on Saturday morning; gathering at my aunt’s house afterward.

There are no coincidences in God’s plan. January 14, 1978 was a Saturday. Marc Thomas Watson and all you holy innocents in Heaven, pray for us, especially for … you know who better than I do.

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