Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
Saint Paul addresses us today, saying, “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, and compassion and mercy…” (Philippians 2:1). He does not use these phrases in a hypothetical or theoretical manner because he knows that there is encouragement in Christ; the knows there is solace in love; he knows there is participation in the Spirit; he knows the compassion and mercy of the Lord Jesus. On the road to Damascus and in the many persecutions he endured for Christ, he has experienced all of this because he had in himself “the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus” who became “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5, 8). Have we experienced what he did? Do we know what he knew?
Regrettably, a great many people – both in our nation and throughout the world – have not experienced encouragement in Christ or solace in love, nor have they participated in the Spirit and found compassion and mercy. Because they think they “see the end beyond all doubt,” they fall into despair. This is why there is an ever-greater push for so-called euthanasia and physician assisted suicide. Too many people have lost hope and turn inward on themselves. Instead of giving in to despair when life becomes difficult, we must remember that “pain and death do not constitute the ultimate measures of the human dignity that is proper to every person by the very fact that they are ‘human beings.’”
To be sure, “it is hard to recognize the profound value of human life when we see it in its weakness and fragility.” Even so, the value of human life is perhaps evident to us when we are at our weakest and most fragile because it is precisely in these moments when most seriously ponder the meaning and purpose of it all. In these moments, we see that
vulnerability is encoded in our nature as a unity of body and soul: we are
materially and temporally finite, and yet we have a longing for the infinite
and a destiny that is eternal. As creatures who are by nature finite, yet
nonetheless destined for eternity, we depend on material goods and on the
mutual support of other person, and also on our original, deep connection with
God. Our vulnerability forms the basis for an ethics of care, especially
in the medical field, which is expressed in concern, dedication, shared
participation and responsibility towards the women and men entrusted to us for
material and spiritual assistance in their hour of need.
a contemplative gaze that beholds in one’s own existence and that of others a unique and unrepeatable wonder, received and welcomed as a gift. This is the gaze of the one who does not pretend to take possession of the reality of life but welcomes it as it is, with its difficulties and sufferings, and, guided by faith, finds in illness the readiness to abandon oneself to the Lord of life who is manifest therein.
“The Church affirms that the positive meaning of human life is something already knowable by right reason, and in the light of faith is confirmed and understood in its inalienable dignity.” Living as we do in a society that only seems to look for the bad and the negative, too many have lost sight of the goodness of life itself. “Life is the first good because it is the basis for the enjoyment of every other good including the transcendent vocation to share the trinitarian love of the living God to which every human being is called.” If we are help those who suffer find encouragement in Christ, solace in love, and to participate in the Spirit so as to receive compassion and mercy, then we must look with them to the Cross of Christ.
Too often those who are ill “often seem as a burden to society; their questions are not answered; [and] they often undergo forms of affective desertion and the loss of connection with others,” which is especially heightened during these days of COVID. “Add to this is the suffering caused when society equates their value as persons to their quality of life and makes them feel like a burden to others.” We must help them to recognize that they are each a unique and unrepeated wonder and never a burden, but how can we do this? By helping them understand that “Christ’s experience resonates with the sick.”
Whenever we feel abandoned or as a burden to others, whenever life becomes painful and difficult, it is important and necessary
to turn one’s gaze
to Christ … to him who experienced in his flesh the pain of the lashes and nails,
the derision of those who scourged him, and the abandonment and betrayal of
those closest to him. In the face of the challenge of illness and the emotional
and spiritual difficulties associated with pain, one must necessarily know how
to speak a word of comfort drawn from the compassion of Jesus on the Cross…
In the Cross of Christ are concentrated and recapitulated all the sickness and suffering of the world: all the physical suffering, of which the Cross, that instrument of an infamous and shameful death, is the symbol; all the psychological suffering, expressed in the death of Jesus in the darkest of solitude, abandonment, and betrayal; all the moral suffering, manifested in the condemnation to death of one who is innocent; all the spiritual suffering, displayed in a desolation that seems like the very silence of God.
It is precisely in his Cross that we find encouragement
in Christ and solace in love; it is precisely in the Cross that we can
participate in the Spirit and receive compassion and mercy.
What is more, it is in the Cross that we see that “the end of life is a time of relationships, a time when loneliness and abandonment must be defeated in the obedient offering of one’s life to God.” “In a time when autonomy and individualism are acclaimed, it must be remembered that, while it is true that everyone lives their own suffering, their own pain and their own death, these experiences always transpire in the presence of others and under their gaze.” Just as the Blessed Mother and Saint John both remained at the foot of the Cross, near to Jesus during his deepest suffering, we, too, must remain near those who are sick and who are in pain because the “Love of God always makes itself known in the history of men and women, thanks to the love of the one who never deserts us, who ‘remains,’ despite everything, at our side.”
In this manner,
although marked by a painful passing, death can become the occasion of a
greater hope that, thanks to faith, makes us participants in the redeeming work
of Christ. Pain is existentially bearable only where there is hope. The hope
that Christ communicates to the sick and the suffering is that of his presence,
of his true nearness. Hope is not only the expectation of a greater good, but
is a gaze on the present full of significance. In the Christian faith, the
event of the Resurrection not only reveals eternal life, but it makes manifest
that in history the last word never belongs to death, pain,
betrayal, and suffering. Christ rises in history, and in the
mystery of the Resurrection the abiding love of the Father is confirmed.
To contemplate the living experience of Christ’s suffering is to proclaim to men and women of today a hope that imparts meaning to the time of sickness and death. From this hope springs the love that overcomes the temptation to despair.
We must help to instill within those who suffer so greatly this hope borne from love, to find encouragement in Christ, solace in love, participation in the Spirit, and compassion and mercy.
All of this forms the backdrop behind the
Church’s continued denunciation of the horrors of abortion and euthanasia and
physician assisted suicide, each of which the Holy See said this past week “poison
human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who
suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonor to the Creator.”
If you heard anything about this recent statement in the document Samaritanus Bonus, what you likely heard was that Church again said no to euthanasia
and physician assisted suicide. This is true – and no surprise – but when the Church
says no to the purposeful killing of an innocent human life, she does so because
she says yes to every human life; she reaffirms time and again that every human
person is a unique and unrepeatable wonder made by and for Love. May each of us
remain with those who suffer; may we help them the understand the beauty of God’s
love shown for us on the Cross; may we help them realize they are not a burden,
but a unique and unrepeatable wonder. Amen.
 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship
of the Ring: Being the First Part of the Lord of the Rings (Boston:
Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994), 262.
 Samaritanus Bonus,
 Ibid., I.
 Ibid., III.
 Ibid., II.
 Ibid., III.