Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Living with affliction

There are only two things that pierce the human heart.
One is beauty. The other is affliction.
Simone Weil

Today's Gospel tells us of Peter's mother-in-law, "afflicted with a severe fever," and of the others in Capernaum who were suffering the ravages of sickness and possession. (Sometimes today we tend to identify biblical possession with mental illness, but that is probably reductionist.) A religious community can sometimes look like Peter's doorstep that day, crowded with afflicted souls desperately seeking comfort from Jesus. Sometimes it can feel a bit overwhelming.

A few days ago I left the refectory (dining room) and heard a loud and desperate "Can you please give me something to eat?" As I rounded the bend I saw 92-year-old Sister M A hunched over her walker. The nurse at her side said (patiently but loudly), "That is where we are going now." Sister lost her hearing long ago, and her short-term memory is all but gone, leaving her open to frustration and bewilderment all day long.

Last week it was a different one of our senior sisters whose affliction could not be restrained. Sister C was a missionary who left her native Sicily for Canada where she became fluent in French and English, but Parkinson's has robbed her of not only her physical independence, but also the gift of speech. In the middle of morning prayers one day she burst into a plaintive wail. It wasn't long or drawn-out; it just escaped. Today as I returned to my pew after my turn as lector, I saw her sitting in her usual place. Right beside her was another of the seniors, her arm around Sister C's shoulders.

As we left chapel this morning, I noticed Sister M P walking with great difficulty. At 88, she is a spirited soul (usually high spirits), ready to burst into song at a moment's notice. Today just making the next step required all of her energy and concentration. "My feet really hurt today," she commented. And to the chaplain (quoting an old song?), "I'm getting ready for the last roundup!"

Right now I am experiencing these things in the shadow of the news from yesterday about the thousands of mass graves dotting Iraq and Syria: innocent family men (almost always it was the men, since women and girls have other uses in time of war), executed by the hundreds by terrorist "soldiers." Affliction inflicted on the innocent.

Today's Gospel, with Jesus leaving the crowds of Capernaum who had tracked him down in his place of prayer to go and "proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom" to other afflicted souls. St Paul's words reminded me, "Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more." It takes faith to hold on to that assurance that whatever evils we see or learn about, God's grace can, does and will more than fill up: "Where affliction abounds, love promises to abound all the more."


Matt Gutting said...

Any time I think about "affliction" and suffering, I go back to one of my favorite quotes:

"For as Christ's sufferings overflow to us, so through Christ does our encouragement also overflow. ... We had accepted within ourselves the sentence of death, that we might trust not in ourselves but in God who raises the dead. He rescued us from such great danger of death, and he will continue to rescue us; in him we have put our hope [that] he will also rescue us again."

(2 Cor 1:5,9-10)

Sr Anne Flanagan said...

Nobody says it quite like St Paul!