This week I stood face to face with death several times at the hospital both close up, and from a distance. Sometimes it was an accident that claimed a child, other times illness, and worse abuse. All of that was juxtaposed with the terrible news from Charleston. As I wandered about yesterday doing errands, I kept seeing the children out riding bikes, having lunch with family, riding in the grocery cart, and I couldn’t help but think about how very fragile their little lives are- really how fragile life is period- that in a blink of an eye they could be lying in one of those beds at the hospital dying.
“Why is light given to one in misery, and life to the bitter in soul, who long for death, but it does not come, and dig for it more than for hidden treasures” (Job 3:20-21)? Through this prayer, Job expressed that his anguish was so severe that he no longer wanted to live. Yet he put his trust in God, in whose “hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being” (Job 12:10), by saying with confidence and hope: “I know that you can do all things…” (Job 42:2).
Where can we turn for comfort in the face of all this suffering? As I searched for a word of hope I came upon the following from the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Montreal who wrote:
Jesus, who is divine life and who is the reason for our participation in divine life, partakes in our humanity; he exposes himself to fragility, suffering, and death. He embraced our fragility; he did not run from it. He embraced the cross…. there is no situation of despair where Jesus is not present. By dying with love on the cross, he bore all of our sins, all of our suffering, all of our anguish, and all of our deaths.
This week I also brought some stories to the children I visited. It was a particular pleasure to share the Good Shepherd with one child, who proceeded to talk at length about the dark places. For those of you unfamiliar with the way we present the Good Shepherd in Godly Play let me explain. The Good Shepherd in the story leads the sheep out of the sheepfold to the good green grass, to the clear, still water, and then through the places of danger. And when he gets back to the sheepfold with them he discovers that one is missing so he has to go looking, and eventually finds the little sheep stuck behind one of the dark and dangerous spots.
I said to the child, “I wonder if you have ever been in a place like this?” – pointing to the dark and dangerous places. The child had many stories about getting into difficult places with his friends and how they all got through. As he told me his stories he would act it all out with the sheep and the Good Shepherd coming to help them over and over again. As the Archbishop said, “There is no situation of despair where Jesus is not present.”
Yes, life is indeed a fragile. At any moment we may find ourselves in one of those dark and dangerous places. But even as we go there, we can be confident that we will not be alone in any of it. As a chaplain at the hospital, and as a parish priest, I pray I can be a symbol of that presence for all.