Tag Archives: suffering

Homily – Funeral for Shamus Martin

Last week I had what was perhaps the most difficult funeral I’ve ever had. One of our parishioners, a middle-aged and beloved man, took his own life. We’ll never really understand why he did this, but we trust in God’s mercy and turn to Jesus in prayer and in sorrow. The following is the homily I gave for Shamus’ funeral. May he rest in peace.


Loneliness… Have you ever noticed how lonely people are? And I don’t just mean today; people have always been lonely, though I think it’s more severe in our time than it was before. Have you ever wondered why that is, why people are lonely? If you take time to think about, and are honest about it, you’ll come to see that everyone is lonely. Yes, absolutely everyone is lonely.

The great rock icon Freddie Mercury once said: “You can have everything in the world and still be the loneliest man. And that is the most bitter type of loneliness, success has brought me world idolisation and millions of pounds. But it’s prevented me from having the one thing we all need: A loving, ongoing relationship” (Rock On Freddie, 1985).

You see, that’s because loneliness isn’t a disease, it’s at the heart of the human condition. From the very beginning of Creation, man has felt a certain loneliness, a need for an ‘other’. God Himself said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him (Gen 2:18). And so God created the animals. But that didn’t suit the man. Then God created woman, and the two became one flesh.

When God created us in His own image and likeness, He created us for union with an ‘other’. Just as God is in Himself a communion of three Divine Persons, so too, has humanity been created for communion. We’ve been created with the need for others, and not just in a marital way, but with the need for deep personal communion with others; it’s part of our design.

Unfortunately, the great tragedy of original sin broke down communion: it broke communion with God, with others, with Creation, and even with ourselves. And it didn’t just break down communion, but even broke down our ability for communion. The joy and oneness of communion now became a sense of isolation and loneliness.

And yet, we still long for communion, we still need this communion, because it’s what we’ve been created for. Now, however, we just can’t seem to achieve it; the other person always remains ‘other’. This is the great misery of the human person.

Well, it’s into this misery that God entered by becoming a man in Jesus Christ. Jesus entered into this misery, lived it out, and even went into its very depths through His Passion on the Cross. Remember His cry on the Cross? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Mt 27:46). Or the Lamentation we sing on Good Friday: Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow (Lam 1:12b) Jesus entered into the abyss of human loneliness — further, I think, than any of us can even imagine —, deep into the darkness of despair. And He did this so that He might be there with us, in the deepest recesses of our loneliness. He did this so that no one could ever say that they’re too far from God to be saved. As Jesus said, the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost (Lk 19:10; cf. Mt 18:11).

Jesus has gone to the ends, not of the world, but of being in order to save His lost sheep. This, my brothers and sisters, if God’s mercy! This is how deeply He loves us and desires for us to be with Him. Because the truth of the matter is that while our ability for communion has been compromised by sin, His has not. While our loved ones will always remain distant and separate from us, Jesus makes Himself one with us! This is why He became man. This is why He died on the Cross. This is why He continues to call us to Himself.

Yes, loneliness is at the heart of the human condition, and it will never be completely gone, but Jesus invites us to a unique personal relationship with Him that transcends our limitations, even in this life. We need not hide our loneliness from Him, but rather we need to bring it to Him, because only He can truly understand it. Part of what keeps us apart from one another in this life is that we can’t ‘get inside’ of one another; we can’t read each other’s minds, each other’s hearts. The other person forever remains a mystery, especially if they put up barriers. As the actor Robin Williams once said, “All it takes is beautiful fake smile to hide an injured soul and they will never notice how broken you really are”. But we can’t hide this from God, because He knows the depths of our hearts, He knows our brokenness better than we do.

But we shouldn’t hide our loneliness from each other either. Instead, we ought to come together before the Lord in our misery, in our deepest longing for communion. Because in doing so we not only find solace in one another, but we find friendship in Christ, friendship through Christ, which leads to communion with one another. And that, my brothers and sisters, is the heart of the Church! Brothers and sisters who come to Jesus, together in their woundedness, together in their loneliness, together in their brokenness to find strength and hope in Him, and companionship with one another.

While we all face loneliness, no one should face it alone — in fact, no one does face it alone, but Jesus is always with us; in the depth of our brokenness, in the depth of our suffering, in the depth of our darkness, He is there, waiting for us, waiting to bring His light and His grace, waiting to bring us together to the Father. May we never forget — no matter how lonely we may feel — that we’re never alone: Jesus is here. Amen.

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Homily – Sunday OT 5 B

Job 7:1-4, 6-7

Ps 147             R/. Sing praise to the Lord who heals the brokenhearted.

1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23

Mk 1:29-39

dying

In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses gives to the Israelites a series of laws and directives. He knows he will die soon, and so he gives them his words of wisdom to help them to follow God. It’s a kind of farewell testament, if you will. In this long discourse, one of the concepts that emerge is what biblical scholars have come to call the theory of retribution.

It basically states that if we obey the commandments of the Lord, God will bless us and we will live in peace and prosperity, but if we disobey God, then we will be cursed by Him and live in hardship and suffering (cf. Deut 30:15-18). Sinners will suffer, but the righteous will prosper. Whether you suffered or prospered, it was because you deserved it. This was an attempt to explain the presence of suffering and evil in our lives. It’s at the heart of the Old Testament, and we even find traces of it in the New Testament.

But the book of Job challenges this doctrine and presents a real shift in understanding. You see, Job, whom the author makes a point of telling us is righteous and beyond reproach, suffers tremendous torments and losses, not because he sinned or offended God, but precisely because he is righteous (Job 1:1, 6-12). His faithfulness to God is tested by the devil, and his sufferings are trials of faith and perseverance. Job suffered not because he did anything wrong, but simply because suffering is a part of life in our fallen state.

With Job, then, the Bible begins a new perspective on the possible value of suffering. In his suffering, Job encounters God in a deeper more intimate way. While he was faithful and committed before, now in his suffering, Job meets God.

Isaiah takes this even further as he speaks of the suffering servant, the special servant of God who will suffer precisely because of his love for and fidelity to God (cf. Is 53).

Jesus ties all of this together in His Passion and Death, as He uses suffering as the means of our salvation.

St. Paul then builds on this to explain how we can join our own sufferings to those of Jesus so as to participate in His act of redemption: I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church (Col 1:24).

Precisely because Jesus shows us His love and saves us through His own suffering, suffering has power and meaning. In fact, we cannot love without pain. The very act of loving, of giving of ourselves to another and making ourselves vulnerable, causes us pain and suffering. But through faith in Jesus, who loves us and died for us, we can give meaning and power to our own suffering by offering it to God as an act of love. By accepting the sufferings that come to us and offering them to Jesus, we can turn them into powerful prayers and occasions of encounter with God.

anointingPrecisely because He knows physical and emotional pain, and that He endured them for us, Jesus is capable of understanding our pain and is present there with us in our suffering. In His compassion, Jesus suffers with us when we suffer. But it’s only by accepting this suffering and opening our hearts to Jesus that we can come to recognise that He is there with us. In this way, then, we’re consoled in our suffering as we experience the presence and closeness of Jesus, and we’re strengthened in faith, in love, and in perseverance. This is part of the message that Jesus gives us in the various healing events of the Gospels, and the reason why He gave us the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick: Jesus is closest to those who suffer.

This past Friday, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the law that prohibits assisted-suicide in our country. Following the loud cries of a few, it has now made it possible for doctors to kill patients who don’t want to suffer. This should come as no surprise to us, that in a society that’s always looking for pleasure, suffering should be avoided.

Not only does this not respect the dignity of the person, the gift of life given by God, and God’s authority over life and death, it also deprives the suffering person of a special opportunity to grow closer to God. Those who are dying are in a privileged moment of preparation to meet God. Over and over again, as I journey with them in those last months, I’ve seen their hearts change and open to God’s grace and mercy. I’ve seen sinners convert, seemingly faithless people realise God’s love and desire for them, faithful people grow in their desire to be with God, and prayerful people grow deeper in prayer. That time of suffering and dying is a most sacred and special time of preparation to be with God. Murder, no matter what form it takes, deprives the person from that sacred time. And it deprives their families from witnessing this transformation and intimate closeness to God. This is the real sadness in the Court’s decision. And the real perverted part is that they’re doing this under the guise of a right to life.

My dear bothers and sisters, suffering is not useless or undignified; it is human, and it’s a privileged place of encounter with God. As we gather to worship God this Sunday, may we pray for those who are suffering and examine our own relationship to suffering; may we confront our fears and anxieties of death and suffering, turning them over to God, turning ourselves over to His mercy and love, knowing that God never abandons those who trust in Him, those who are faithful to Him; knowing that Jesus and Mary are especially close to those who suffer. When our time comes, may we have the faith to embrace suffering and offer it to God as an act of love to Him and for our families, inviting Him to be with us in our suffering so that we might be with Him in His glory. Amen.

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Following-up on this topic of the importance of the time of suffering and death in relation to faith, readers might find this book interesting: Deathbed Conversions: Finding Faith at the Finish Line.

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Homily – Presentation of the Lord


Mal3:1-4
Ps 24     R/.  The Lord of hosts, he is the king of glory!
Heb 2:10-11, 13b-18
Lk 2:22-40

The Presentation (by Bl. Fra Angelico?(

The Presentation of the Lord (by Fra Angelico?)

In our readings today we encounter two prophecies: the first from Malachi (Mal 3:1-4), and the second from Simeon (Lk 2:28-35).  The first prophecy points us backward, and the second points us forward.  Here’s what I mean:

In the Catholic order of books in the Old Testament Malachi is the last book because of his direct prophecies to the coming Messiah.  What we hear from him today is precisely one of those prophecies: See, I am sending my messenger … and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.  The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight — indeed, he is coming (Mal 3:1).  Through his prophecy, Malachi is pointing us to the birth of Christ, to the Nativity, which we celebrated just 40 days ago.  And he speaks of Jesus as being a refiner, one who purifies, who separates the dross from what is precious.  In other words, Jesus’ mission will be one of division: He will separate what is bad from what is good: But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?  For he is like a refiner’s fire…; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver (Mal 3:2-3).

And it didn’t take long for this to happen: remember the contrast between the Magi and Herod?  Because the Magi were seeking the light of righteousness and truth, they were able to rejoice in the birth of Jesus.  Herod, on the other hand, because he loved the darkness of pride and power, feared Jesus and sought to kill Him (cf. Mt 2).

And it’s this same theme of division and purification that Simeon takes up in his prophecy: This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed (Lk 2:34-35).  The Gospels are full of accounts that Jesus was loved by some and rejected by others.  The humble and lowly, the poor and needy, the weak and downtrodden… those who acknowledged their need for salvation recognised Jesus and rejoiced in His mercy and love.  But the proud, the arrogant, the rebellious, the selfish, the greedy… those who sought themselves rejected Jesus and feared His words.  This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many (Lk 2:34).

My brothers and sisters, this dynamic continues even today!  Every time we meet Jesus — whether in prayer, in that whisper that calls us to do something or avoid something, in Scripture, in Church teaching…  Every time we meet Jesus, we’re confronted by this reality of falling and rising.  And every time, we’re confronted we will either rejoice or fear; there’s no other option, only joy or fear.  We’ll either embrace God’s presence and rejoice in His mercy and forgiveness, or we’ll turn away in fear of His judgement.

Now you might think this sounds a bit dramatic, but it’s a profound reality of our spiritual life.  Everyday, we’re confronted by Jesus — often in small little ways we don’t always notice —, and how we respond to these encounters with Jesus will either bring us closer to Him or further away from Him.  When we sense that we ought to pray but avoid it to do something else, we say ‘no’ and we turn away from Jesus.  When our conscience tells us not to do something but we do it anyway, we turn away from Jesus.  When we respond in pride and anger instead of patience and love, we turn away from Jesus. Every time we say ‘no’, no matter how small, we turn away from Jesus.

But inversely, when we take the time to thank Jesus because we just missed an accident, we grow closer to Him.  When we make efforts to be patient with someone who’s slow, we grow closer to Jesus.  When we decide to fast from something we enjoy in order to discipline our desires, we grow closer to Jesus.  When we do something we don’t want to but because someone needs it, we grow closer to Jesus.  When we share what we need with those need who need it more, we grow closer to Jesus. Every time we say ‘yes’ to Jesus, no matter how small, we grow closer to Him.Sacred Heart

 

If you listened carefully to these examples, you’ll have noticed that in both responses (turning away or growing closer) there’s suffering.  When we turn away from Jesus we suffer the torments of sin; that’s pretty obvious.  But did you know that when we turn to Jesus we also suffer?  That’s the image of the refiner Malachi was using.  Just like precious minerals are purified by fire to reveal their value and beauty, so to are we purified by fire, the fire of divine Love.  That’s why the image of the Sacred Heart has flames on top of it: Jesus’ love for us burns within Him like a fiery furnace, and when we embrace it, it burns away from us all that’s impure, all that’s not like Jesus.  And while this is really a spiritual analogy, at times it is painful.  We need only look to the Saints to see this.  But we mustn’t be afraid of this purifying suffering, because when we do look at the Saints, we also see that those who embrace Jesus’ purifying love are also filled with joy, because though purification can be painful, it always works for our good, for our intimacy with Jesus, for our sanctification.

Even Jesus had to go through this.  That’s why today’s prophecies also point us to the future: to the Cross.  As the letter to the Hebrews says, Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him (Heb 5:8-9).  And, It was fitting that God…, in bringing many sons and daughters to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings (Heb 2:10).

By denying His own will for the sake of the Father’s will, Jesus shows us the way to perfection, and this perfection reaches its high point on the Cross, as Jesus gives Himself entirely over to the Father.  But it’s only because of the Cross that we have the Resurrection.  New life can only be received once we’ve allowed our ‘old life’ to die on the Cross.  By embracing the purifying love of Jesus, by allowing Him to change our hearts and habits — as painful as that might be —, we’re able experience even on this side of Heaven the life of the resurrection.  We need only abandon ourselves to Jesus and His will, and to trust that Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested (Heb 2:18).

So it’s not by accident that Blessed Pope John Paul II joined to the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord the World Day for Consecrated Life, because like Christ, consecrated men and women, through their consecration, dedicate their lives to the pursuit of the purifying love of Jesus.

And so, as we rejoice today that the Lord has entered His Temple — and He entered the Temple of our hearts at Baptism —, may we praise Him and rejoice in His mercy, so as to entrust ourselves to Him and be purified by His burning love.  Amen.

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