Friday, 14 November 2014

"I Believe In the Communion of Saints ..."

The Communion of Saints

During the month of November, we take time to reflect on one of the articles of faith we confess in the Apostles Creed, the Communion of Saints. It teaches us that physical death does not break the bond we have with one another, or God, rather it brings about a change that strengthens and intensifies the ties that unite us.

From the hands of the Creator to the arms of our Savior, our existence and life unfolds, tied together with the unbreakable cords of love.

However, the picture of this wondrous mystery is not immediately available for us to see. It must first be accessed by faith until the time we see face to face. But while our faith is in formation, the specter of physical death can cause a great deal of confusion, and this is no more true, than when we face the death of a child.

People will reconcile themselves to the inevitability of death when it is the death of someone who has lived a long life. And if their final time has been marked by a measure of suffering, death is seen as a blessing, but the death of a child can prove to be irreconcilable. We think of the words in the gospel of Mathew, recounting the slaughter of the Holy Innocence: 
 “A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more.” Mtt. 2:18 (Jer 31:15)
The full answer to why God chose to design our life this way remains a mystery, hidden for now but then to be revealed. I have come to understand in part that it has to do with teaching us to trust, to know that we are loved and loved unconditionally. An image that comes to mind as an illustration is that of a child being lifted into the air and then caught again in its parent's arms; squealing with delight and absolute certainty that it will not be dropped. How could this child ever acquire such certainty unless it first experienced those brief moments out of the parent's hands? Perhaps death is meant for us to experience such moments, seemingly out of His hands.

In my family, my parents suffered the death of their first born, moments after birth. His name is John. Mother told me of the untold grief and suffering they went through at that time. But soon after, a second child was born, well and healthy. Then the unthinkable, a third child came only to die at birth, Joseph, and once again the sward of grief pierced their heart. Yet God was pleased to place three more children into their arms. 

Now their second child, born between John and Joseph was me. The way these events unfolded has brought me into a clearer understanding of the mystery of God's providence and love. Even though mother's faith had been put to the test, it was not broken, and when she learned she was to have a second child, she prayed that he would survive. Like Hannah, the mother of Samuel, she dedicated her child, yet to be born, to the Lord, promising to support him in every way to become a priest. And so I did.

What has been for me a wonderful way of gaining insight into God's hidden plan, is the personal experience I have of my two brothers, John and Joseph, standing one on each side of me and protecting me from that enemy who wills to destroy me, and indeed, all priests. My vocation continues today because of the protection that comes through my communion with these two saints, my brothers.

As a parish priest, I have ministered to people through all the stages of life, which included those times when parents suffered the death of a child. When it seemed appropriate, I would share my own family's experience and my personal experience of my two brother saints with me and protecting me. On one occasion while ministering to a mother who's baby had died just before she gave birth, and after sharing with her my experience, which she said brought her much comfort, these words came to mind. She named her baby Hope. These thoughts arose out of that experience.

Baby Hope
What should we say of this day
        How shall we describe its pain
             If grief is a word so inadequate

How shall we gather up or even measure
        So many tears now falling
             Into this garden of sorrow

Will we ask God for an answer
        Since no one can say
             Why this infant life
                   Should not come to stay
             Why we must gather this way
                   To say goodbye
                   Even before sweet welcome
             Why baby Hope is taken from us
                   Before a joyful sound is heard

Love is sorrowing for her loss
        A mother's love - arms waiting to hold
             God's gift withheld
        A father's love helpless before
             So powerful a foe as death

        A pastor's love so frail and shaken
             Who must speak for God
                   And now give answer

Who is this other one I hear weeping
        In this garden of grieving
Who is this who reaches out first
        To take up the cup of sorrow
               This chalice of tiers
Who is this who consumes it fully
        Leaving only one drop
               For each of us to taste

Is not this garden Gethsemane
        Where God came first to weep for us
               Again today that we weep
                       Not alone

Is not this garden Paradise our home
        Where Hope now lives and awaits
               Our coming too

* * * * * * 

For more on the death of a child I recommend this LINK

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much, Father, for sharing. That is a very moving story and poem, and a wonderful insight into the tragedy of losing a child.


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