Tuesday, September 16, 2014

24th Tuesday in Ordinary Time

Lk 7:11-17

The narrative of the Widow of Nain is unique to Luke’s Gospel.  There is nothing close to it in the other synoptics or John.  It begins with one of the most heart-rending scenes in all of scripture.  There are two significant aspects to this miracle that are rarely noticed or commented upon.  But they are obvious when pointed out.

First, this is one of the rare healing miracles in which Jesus took the initiative.  No leper asked him for healing.  There were no friends lowering a stretcher through a roof.  There was no request of any kind.  “When the Lord saw her, he was moved with pity for her, and said to her, “Do not weep.”   Then Jesus stopped the funeral procession and said, “Young man, I tell you arise.”  It is easy to understand Jesus' unrequested intervention in the pathetic scene.

There is nothing more difficult for a young physician (something I once was), or for an old physician (something I now am) than being with a parent whose child is dying or who has just died, regardless of the circumstances.  It doesn’t matter if it is the three year-old in a young family, or a seventy year-old child of nonagenarian parents.  The pain is indescribable.  The impact on the physician is extraordinary. 

The second significant aspect is that this is a healing miracle in which there is no mention of sin. In many of the healing miracles the healing if effected with the blessing, you're sins are forgiven, sin no more.  This may be even more significant than Jesus’ unsolicited action because it tells us of God’s loving mercy. The death of a child, the suffering of one's child raises the unanswerable question that mankind has struggled with for millennia, and will continue to struggle for the next few millennia: How is it possible for God, who we are told is kind and loving, to permit a child to suffer or die?

Particularly in the case of the young child, because we tend to equate suffering with sin, we wonder what could the child have done to deserve this?  The question implies that an adult may have done something to cause his or her own suffering. Talk to those who survive a lifetime smoker who died of lung cancer.  Many will blame the deceased for causing his  death.  But a child.  Did he sin?  Did his parents sin?  No.

One of the most painful scenes in Albert Camus’ great novel The Plague is the protracted agony and death of a young boy.  Because he had received a vaccine his course of suffering and dying was particularly prolonged.   Each of the main characters was more shaken by the child’s agony and death than by the sufferings and deaths of any of the adults.  The child’s excruciating pain caused a severe crisis of faith for the Jesuit, Father Paneloux.  Fr. Paneloux did not recover from this crisis before his own death from plague not long afterwards. 

Who was not praying for a miraculous response to the primitive vaccine?  How many parents today have prayed, or are praying, for a miraculous response to a last ditch and perhaps experimental treatment for their child?  We are seeing this reenacted today in the context of Ebola.  This is where the lack of mention of sin comes in the healing is significant. 

The great theologian Karl Barth contends that the important thing about the needs in the miracles stories is not that they are sinners but they are sufferers.   

Not that they are sinners but they are sufferers. 

The widow of Nain was suffering in ways that we cannot comprehend today.  She had not sinned but she was suffering indescribable pain nonetheless.  Jesus relieved that suffering.

Not that they are sinners but they are sufferers. 

This is a statement worthy of a long period of contemplation during today’s examen.

It is great getting back to celebrating daily Mass in scattered venues, Framingham, Waltham, the community here (next week) and others.  One of the most difficult things about being in French-speaking countries for three months was my inability to preach.  The first month I could barely do anything in French.  Things are a bit better now but there is a long way to go.  Am taking a bit of a vacation from French and will return in about a week.  

The photos attached are from Dublin.  They are all the same subject, The Samuel Beckett Bridge.  The bridge is new.  It opened in 2008 after two years of construction.  There is one photo of it in the previous set but it is worth showing some others.  I took the photo in the previous entry on Sunday when Paul and I were walking along the river.  I went back on Wednesday after Paul returned to the U.S. to take more targeted photos, a process that took over an hour.  One of the challenges for a photographer is not boring friends to death as he is taking multiple photos of the same thing.  Photography is a solitary hobby.  

I like this bridge because it is asymmetrical, like the Zakim Bridge in Boston.  The resemblance to an Irish harp is obvious.  Fortunately there are small islands for pedestrians at the ends of the bridge so I wasn't standing in the middle of traffic.  

This is the bridge from the north.  The port is on the other side.  A bit of a cruise ship is visible.

This is a view of the western side of the bridge looking east (I think, my sense of direction and orientation is very suspect).  

The view through the porthole that is visible in the first photo at the bottom of "harp."  

Eastern side of bridge looking up the harp.  Note the seagull.  Couldn't do anything about his presence in the photo.  

Eastern side of bridge looking at the strings of the harp.

Reflection of the bridge in a kiosk.  One of my favorite types of photos is reflections.  This one is nicely distorted.
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

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