Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Children Make Their Own Coffins...

I was reflecting on the last post concerning health care directives and living wills, and the human desire to avoid suffering, when I remembered an episode of Sunday Night Live with Fr. Benedict Groeschel that concerned caring for the sick.  Father Groeschel's guest on this episode was Fr. Peter LeJacq, a Maryknoll missionary and medical doctor.  Fr. LeJacq was sent to Africa to minister in villages that were being devastated by the AIDS epidemic.  Among the villagers were vast numbers of orphaned children who had lost their parents to AIDS and who were also sick with the disease and would eventually die at a young age.  When Father arrived in the village in the mid-1980s, he learned that the children made the wooden coffins for the dying.  Thinking that he would relieve them of a sorrowful burden, Fr. LeJacq told the children that he would find someone outside of the village to make the coffins.  The children immediately objected; "Oh, no, Father.  We like to make them.  This way we know they'll be well made when it's our turn."

Father LeJacq related that he was completely humbled by the devotion and faith of these young children.  After the funeral of one child, they returned to the village and sat in the blazing sun for two hours, each taking their turn asking the forgiveness of the dead child for any wrong they had done to him, and in turn forgiving him for any wrong he may have done.  When Father asked one child if he wasn't sad after the death of his friend, the child told him, "Oh, yes, Father.  I was sad for a little while right after he died, but, I'm going to see him again soon, aren't I, Father?"

This child-like faith and acceptance of suffering is quite an example.  Father LeJacq said that he prayed to have that same faith and to  understand why these poor children had to suffer.  He recalled that there was just one place in Scripture where the Lord explained the purpose of suffering and death.  The Lord said that it was for the strengthening of our faith and for the glory of God.  That's quite an endorsement.  Father said it made him realize that suffering was not meaningless and that it was meant for others as much as for ourselves.

Today I was at a nursing home visiting someone with dementia.  She resides on a floor where everyone else suffers from dementia, too.  The residents are in varying stages of the disease.  Some moan and cry out.  Others stare off into space.  And still others smile and carry on vague conversations that only occasionally connect to reality.  If you walked in on this scene and looked around, you might be forgiven for thinking that it's a shame that these people are living like this.  That, perhaps it would be better for them to be dead and at peace.  But, the Lord tells us that the suffering, the illness is for God's glory and to strengthen our faith.  We humble ourselves in the acceptance that although we do not understand, it is not necessary for us to understand.  In our humility we turn it over to God and trust.

And out of this trust come angels of mercy, the caregivers, the nurses, the families, the friends.  Those who serve the sick.  There was a man at the nursing home today caring for his mother.  He knew the name of every resident in the room and had a kind word for each one.  He told me that his father had been in the home up until his death a few months earlier. "It's funny" he said, "my mother was always sicker than my father, yet he was the first to go."  Then he pointed upward and said, "It's all up to Him."  He said his friends told him that he was going straight to heaven for helping his parents, but he said, "I told them, I don't think He wants me that fast.  He knows I have a lot of questions about why things happen this way."  Then he chuckled and went back to feeding his mother.

We cannot avoid pain or indignity by signing a document that tells our loved ones to stop caring for us.  We cannot avoid the cross, it is waiting for all of us.  The only thing that is accomplished by telling others not to care, is to create an uncaring society.   Lift high the cross.

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Men of The Catholic Jedi Academy are also Men Of Saint Joseph!

Men of The Catholic Jedi Academy are also Men Of Saint Joseph!
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