Obstacles to Sharing in Christ’s Death and Resurrection

March 2, 2016

This weekly series of posts is from Dominican Friars Health Care Ministry of New York, a ministry of the Province of St. Joseph centered at St. Catherine of Siena Priory in New York, NY. Untitled Reflections on Ethics, Faith, and Health Care Obstacles to Sharing in Christ’s Death and Resurrection by Fr. Jonah Pollock, O.P., Associate Director, Dominican Friars Health Care Ministry of New York “You are an obstacle to me,” Jesus says to Peter in Matthew 16:23. Peter had just taken Jesus aside to protest against Jesus’ announcement of His impending suffering and death in Jerusalem and His resurrection on the third day. Peter is an obstacle to Jesus because he is resisting the path that Jesus must take to accomplish his Father’s will and bring about the redemption of the world. Peter cannot see the goodness and the wisdom of the course that Jesus is taking, a course that involves the laying down of Jesus’ life in order that he might take it up again. Peter wants to defend Jesus’ life but doesn’t see that His eternal resurrected life must be gained at the cost of loosing His temporal earthly life. We can be obstacles to Jesus just like Peter was. Whenever we resist the way of the cross, seeking a path that steers clear of sacrifice and difficulty, we are obstacles to the accomplishment of His will. We may say, “Thy will be done,” but really mean, “my will be done.” There are innumerable ways that we resist the cross, living for this life only instead of embracing the path that leads to resurrection and the glory of the life to come. Among these is a particular attitude that is common in the world of health care, an attitude that seeks to block out any consideration of death and to fix the mind on this life only. As a priest and health care chaplain, I sometimes encounter this attitude when I go to the hospital to anoint someone who is dying. Often, if the patient is still conscious, family members who are present will ask me not to say anything that would cause the patient to realize that he or she is dying. Sometimes they will go so far as to ask me not to see the patient but to come back when he or she is unconscious. To be sure, family members’ concerns that a patient not be shocked are valid and must be respected. Without doubt, the news that a patient is dying should be told to that patient with gentleness and compassion. But concealing the truth altogether is not only an injustice to the patient, who has a right to know the truth about his or her state of health. It is also an obstacle to embracing the way of the cross. Because, for Christians, death is not the end; it is the way to new and everlasting life. Death may be frightening and it may be difficult, but it is not something to hide from. It is an opportunity to embrace the way of the cross, to commend our lives to God in the sure and certain hope that God will raise us up and give us a new, glorified life in His kingdom. We can be obstacles to Jesus’ saving purpose when we avoid the consideration of death, denying our loved ones the opportunity to prepare for death, or even denying them the last sacraments of the Church. We can also show this obstructive attitude in the way that we pray. It is most certainly a good thing to pray for the good health of our loved ones and the bodily healing of those who are sick. But we can sometimes pray for the sick in a way that shows we are concerned with this life only. This is especially clear when we conclude that, because the person we prayed for has not been healed, God has not answered us. We might even conclude that God has not answered us because He doesn’t hear us or doesn’t care to hear us. This way of thinking is most often an expression of sorrow and disappointment, and there is nothing wrong with feeling this way or even feeling angry with God. When people feel this way, they should be assured that their feelings are normal and be treated with patience and understanding. Eventually, however, the feelings will cease to overwhelm and the reality must be dealt with rationally. Then, if we persist in anger and desire only the healing of the body, we display this obstructive attitude. We become an obstacle to Jesus’ way of redemption that passes through the cross to the resurrection. Jesus’ prayer is different. Jesus does pray for bodily healing and tells us to do the same. But He prays most of all that the will of his Father be done. “Not as I will, but as you will,” He says in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus, in the fullness of his humanity, naturally wanted the cup of suffering to pass from Him. More than that, however, He wanted to accomplish the Father’s saving purpose. We can and should pray intensely and devoutly for bodily healing. Whether spoken or unspoken, however, we should always include in those prayers the prayer of Jesus: “Not as I will, but as you will.” For we know that God’s will is for the best, for our eternal happiness and that of those we love. To be sure, the will of God for us will somehow involve the cross, but it will always lead to resurrection. God the Father invites us to believe in Him and to trust in Him, to embrace His will as Jesus did. So let us seek God and His kingdom above all and never make ourselves obstacles to God’s glorious purpose.

 Image: Roadside Empty Tomb

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