Mark 6:30-34, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”
I am currently having my clinical pastoral education at one of the hospitals in Metro Manila. It has been one month since I started my pastoral visits. Since then, I have encountered people in different stages of illness. Many of them are fast recovering, some are taking more time to get cured, but some others have to face serious conditions. It is my ministry as a chaplain to accompany them in their journey of healing. I feel immense joy when I can witness their healing process, from one who is weak on the bed, to one who is standing and ready to leave the hospital.
However, the greatest privilege for me is the chance to accompany some in their journey of dying. It seems rather morbid because we are all afraid of death, and many still look at talking about death as taboo. Yet, in the hospital, battling death is a daily business for both the patients and the medical professionals. It is just that some are longer to die than others. Death and dying are terrifying because they end our lives, shatter our dreams, and cut our relationships with the people we love. I befriended a young man who had just graduated with a lot of dreams in his heart, yet cancer has robbed him of his dreams as he struggles with painful and unforgiving chemotherapy. I also accompany a young woman who has kidney failure and is forced to spend a lot on her dialysis and medicine. She is not able to finish school, to find a job, or to pursue her dreams. A young mother has to leave behind her young children in the province, move to Manila, jump from one hospital to another, just to be cured of her breast cancer. Her only wish is to be reunited with her children.
However, as I journey with them, I discover that dying is not only terrifying but also a privilege. It is true that dying can trigger many negative feelings like denial, anger, bitterness, and even depression. One can blame himself, or get angry with God. One who depends on the generosity of others can feel helpless and even depressed. However, when the patient begins to accept his situation, dying can be transformed into a moment of grace. The dying person can now see what truly matters in life. As healthy persons, we do a lot of things; we work hard, we achieve many things. With so much on our hands, we tend to overlook what is most essential in our lives. Dying slows us down, and gives us time to think clearly. It provides us the rare opportunity to settle the unfinished business and to do the missions God has entrusted to us. Paradoxically, the dying is the one who is truly living. As Mitch Albom writes in Tuesdays with Morrie, “The truth is, once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus invites his disciples to rest. After working so hard on their mission, Jesus brings them to a deserted place for some peace and quiet. After success in their preaching, the disciples may easily be proud and be full of themselves. Yet, a genuine rest would settle them down and reorient themselves into Jesus, the source of their mission and success.
We do not have to suffer from terminal illness to experience dying. We can always avail of this privilege through moments of rest, prayer, and reflection. It is always good to reflect on the words of St. John of the Cross, “in the twilight of life, God will not judge us on our earthly possessions and human successes, but on how well we have loved.”
*image from the Internet