Sunday, September 12, 2010

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Ex 32:7-14; 1 Tim 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10

As I’m sure many of you know, this past month has been an emotionally difficult and trying time at the Hermitage. Within less than three weeks six of the residents died. Those losses, often one right after the other, hit people pretty hard: not just family members, but nurses, staff, volunteers and friends as well. One lady who works in the laundry told me that she was almost afraid to come to work, fearing what she might read on the bulletin board. This was after three people died on three consecutive days. You get to know people, talk with them, see them often (as I did at mass on Thursdays), and then you have to face the realization that they are gone from your life. These are real losses in people’s lives.

I had gotten to know not just the individuals who died, but even moreso their family members. And a real sharing in their grief happens. The same occurs with nurses and staff. One evening I stopped to talk with one of the nurses about all the recent deaths. She was so thankful that I stopped to talk with her. She said: "I’m just about to explode inside." So we discussed what it was like to work in a facility like St. Paul Hermitage. She said that whenever she tells people where she works, one of their first responses is: "That must be so depressing." But she answers, "It’s not; it’s ultimately very life-giving." I agreed wholeheartedly with her.

I agreed because of something that happened to me in the course of the last month. For the last two years I have been serving on the Health Care Family Council. It’s me and five ladies who also had mothers in the Health Care Unit. We’ve gotten to know each other pretty well. Two of those ladies had mothers who died in this past month. At one point I was offering my condolences to one of them when the thought struck me: "In the near future I may not see them anymore since their mothers are no longer in Health Care." That left me with a great feeling of sadness. And I realized what close bonds I had formed with them. Not because we had shared lots of personal information and feelings. We hadn’t. What bound us close together was that we had shared in the great task of care giving. Being care givers together had created invisible bonds that were very powerful. And those bonds were ultimately life-giving.

Now let’s go back to my conversation with the nurse. I could agree wholeheartedly with her assessment of the job as life-giving, because being with others in care giving creates life in its best sense. In fact, I now describe the Health Care Unit as a "community of grieving and care giving." You have to keep both factors together. The grieving sobers the care giving; the care giving gives strength to the grieving. And they both keep moving on together.

I’ve been reading a number of books and articles on the grieving process this past month. One that I have especially liked is Sr. Joyce Rupp’s Praying Our Goodbyes. In a community of grieving and care giving there are always some goodbyes. She writes: "Goodbyes, especially the more intense ones, cause us to face the ultimate questions of life: why suffering? Where am I headed? What are my most cherished values? Goodbyes create a certain space in us where we allow ourselves room to look at life in perspective.... Goodbyes, when reflected on in faith, can draw us to a greater reliance on the God of love, our most significant other." (p. 29) She’s right. A time like this past month does raise a lot of questions. Sometimes we can question our own religious faithfulness. We can wonder about the people who have died. When we turn to the New Testament for some direction, today’s gospel says simply, "This Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them." "This Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them." Nothing more need be said.


Anonymous said...

u post the best things sr. nicolette

I LOVE YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

i love everything u post sr.nicolette