Wednesday, January 22, 2014

To Save a Life Rather than Destroy It

Last night I was thinking that I wish we had been able to do something more in the parish where I work for this Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children, but I've been sick and missed a couple of days of work week before last, and then we had a day off, and then somebody died and we had to plan the funeral, and the children are having their first confessions this evening so we needed programs and certificates, and some of them needed Baptismal certificates. With one thing another, we just haven't had time. So, I was sitting, distracted, in Mass this morning hoping that the petitions would at least be appropriate (they were) and then came the Gospel, not something special for the day, just the Gospel for the Second Wednesday in Ordinary Time, Mark 3:1-6.
Jesus entered the synagogue. There was a man there who had a withered hand. They watched Jesus closely to see if he would cure him on the sabbath so that they might accuse him. He said to the man with the withered hand, “Come up here before us.” Then he said to the Pharisees, “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?” But they remained silent. Looking around at them with anger and grieved at their hardness of heart, Jesus said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately took counsel with the Herodians against him to put him to death.
 Distracted though I was, this managed to get my attention. It seemed oddly appropriate for the day--Jesus in conflict with the law over the value of a life, and putting his own life in danger for the sake of another. I love it when this happens, and I've known it to happen so many times. You plan a retreat, or a Mass in honor of some event or another, and the reading of the day turns out to be just what you need. It doesn't seem like this should work, but somehow it does.

Later in the day, a man came to the door looking for something to eat. He was walking with one of those aluminum canes with 3 feet, and one of his arms was obviously very weak. I was wondering how he was ever going to carry the food back home on foot, but he told me to double-bag the food and it would be okay. While I was in the back getting some things together, he started talking to another man who was there about how he had had a stroke a short time ago and how he had been so afraid to die, but that while he was in the hospital he had learned that there really was a God. He was telling us how great the nurses were to him because when they found him on the floor in the bathroom they had helped him up and then put an alarm on the bed so they'd know if he got up again. (This is an incredibly humbling job.) Then I got to thinking that there Jesus was again, taking care of that man with the withered arm.

Before I leave work in the evenings, I try to get to the church to say the Angelus, and today when I walked into the little atrium that leads to both the church and the parish hall, there were 6 pairs of shoes of various sizes lined up in a row next to the wall like they were about to parade into the church. When I got inside, there was a family kneeling in a row and holding hands at the foot of the steps that lead up to the sanctuary. Besides the six shoe-less people, there were two babies. The mother didn't seem much older than the two teenage girls and the man with them could have been one of the children or the father. I just couldn't tell. The mother was praying that in spite of the big mess that they were, they were come there to pray to Jesus today. Then they talked for a while, and the kids were dancing around (I'm pretty sure they aren't Catholic.) And then the mother said they had never had a group hug, but they were going to have one, so they got in a huddle and said the Our Father, and left. About a minute later, one of the little girls who was about 8 or 9, and with whom I had had a certain amount of eye contact and exchanged a few smiles, came back into the church and said, "God bless you." 

All-in-all a pretty good day.

All around us everyday there are people whose lives are hovering between salvation and destruction. We talk about the Culture of Life, and the Culture of Death, and we think of them in terms of abortion or capital punishment, or euthanasia. Of course, these are all immensely important, but choosing life is so much more all-encompassing than that. Sometimes it's just a matter of listening or looking someone in the face and smiling.


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