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A letter

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

A few days ago, I read a letter from the current Archbishop of Buenos Aires, the Pope’s successor, and his auxiliary bishops addressed to those who care for critically ill persons and those isolated by the pandemic. It is a very moving text that begins with a quote from the Second Letter to the Corinthians. I share it with you.

“… sorrowful yet always rejoicing (2 Co. 6, 10)

Every human being is unique. The course of their existence is also unique, as is the path to the end of their journey.

These days, that end has become apparent, not just in our reflection; it has insinuated itself with unusual proximity in daily life. It is death. We must state it clearly, however unsettling, mysterious, unfair, painful and, yes, even terrible. One contemplates one’s death and ponders it and also that of those whom we love.

What we are saying does not mean to be melancholic. On the contrary, we hope to strengthen hearts. When death is looked at with honesty and seen with all its drama, then we can better formulate important questions about our lives and those of others. Furthermore, it is not just about questions and meditations, it is a fact that gives an extraordinary value to human existence. Death enables us to better understand how valuable the life of those whom we love is and helps us to experience how admirable is the very life that we have received.

We ask ourselves many questions in our youth. Time will offer some answers. Yet, there is one that is very special, and it is not the least important: the life that has been lived.

Death is the final stroke that makes the figure of a life complete. That is why a dying person is somebody worthy of the greatest respect. That person is giving the finishing touches to the meaning of life, of coming to know who he or she is.

Undoubtedly, that final step is very difficult. That is why it is called “agony”, a word that originally meant “struggle.” When one goes through agony together with those whom we love, their consolation and love strengthen us for that final battle. But when it is fought in solitude everything becomes more arid, more extreme.

There are some signs that warn us and prepare the end: decay in our physical strength, slowing down of our mental faculties, diseases that affect us and their effects that remain… Human form is blurred. Now, when all of these things are lived away from those whom we love, this physical and mental decay is joined by a sense of deep spiritual emptiness, a feeling of neglect, which is not just the absence of our affections, but the manifestation of something deeper and more definitive. We have reached the limit of our existence.

My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me? It is the cry of Christ on the Cross when he cannot perceive the presence of His Father. It is a cry that encompasses every cry and abandonment. Only He, with all the humanity of his heart, could confront with God Himself the catastrophe of his Absence. However, in the moment of the most absolute abandonment, he could also say, embracing all of humanity: “Father into your hands I commend my spirit.”

That is why we, Christians, when we come to the limit, turn to the Crucified, whom the Bible describes as follows: He was so disfigured that he did not even look like a man. He did not have the appearance, nor the presence, nor any beauty to admire. Despicable and undone, a man of sorrows, experienced in brokenness, before whom one turns away.

By His Resurrection Jesus will make manifest the beauty of the destiny of that human form. Now, He shows that beauty in a mysterious way. The love of the Father for us has reached that extreme.

We, Christians, kiss the cross. We do not kiss death, but the great love shown by Jesus at the time of his death. It is the great paradox of the wound. One can feel the pain, but also the cure and healing. Without a wound one does not feel anything, there is only impassibility. What is the beauty of a wound? Jesus wanted to keep them in his glorified body of Risen Christ. That is why faith in the Resurrection must never devalue the dignity of the last moment of sorrow. We, Christians, believe in the beauty of a flower that has faded.

Can God bring sorrow to an end? Certainly. Let us remember the miracles. Yet that is not the ordinary way of our freedom that He entrusted to our hands. The main answer of the Christian God to suffering is to place Himself right within it. Christ did not come down from the cross, just as nobody else can come down from it. Therefore, wherever there is pain and suffering, wherever there is a cross, there is God more than anywhere else. On the cross one is more son and more daughter than ever. There the human dignity of a dying person becomes a sacred dignity.

That is why today we would like to say to those who care for the sick and those who are alone, that your task is unique, beautiful. You are doing something that nobody else can. You are protecting others. Do protect others with all the precautions required and prescribed. Make the sick person feel that there is a presence, that their solitude is not absolute. Every person, even at that extreme moment, needs to be valued, acknowledged, and loved.

When the sick person is Christian and those who assist them are Christian too, know that there are many things you can do. You can bless the sick person. You can bless water to be used at prayer. You can make the sign of the cross on the sick person or on the water and ask God for His gifts, for health and blessings. You can do the same with other objects such as a rosary or a prayer card… Know that you can do it. Every baptized can. But do not do it if it is not a wish of the sick person. We do not have to overwhelm with words either. A silent presence is sometimes a deeper and intimate communion. (Of course, all of this depends on the state of the sick person and the gravity of their situation). Use your imagination. Those of other religious denominations will know how to console in their faith. (Perhaps, a word can be sent to relatives and friends, who find themselves in a very difficult situation too, or from them to the sick person.)

When the sick person is a non-believer, affection and presence are just as valuable as in any other case. With due regard for the procedures to protect health, perhaps one can bring to the patient a picture of their relatives and friends or of a meaningful place or perhaps some music that the patient may like.

We know that many among you are already doing these things, we just want to encourage you, kindle the momentum. We are fully aware that the task ahead is difficult, it entails sacrifice. It may wear us down, desensitize, annoy us, make us angry because some things are not well… If one can go through all these things and never lose sight of what is essential: protecting the sick person, then one will experience a deep joy that nobody will take away. The only way to go through these obstacles is by placing our heart in the frontline with all its capacity to love and to do good.”

Fr. Roberto M. Cid