SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER – YEAR A
“I will not leave you orphans…”
Some years ago, I offered the prayer service at the wake of a man who had been abandoned by his parents. When he was three years old his mother and father took him into a tavern somewhere in New Jersey and then left without him. He never saw them again, his widow told me. It was a terribly sad story and I related a similar story from my own life. In 1949, when I was the same age as the deceased, I contracted polio in one of the last outbreaks of the dread disease in Queens. My parents were directed to take me to Queens General Hospital where I spent a week or so in isolation. I still remember the profound loneliness when Mom and Dad did not show up for days on end because they were not allowed to enter the isolated polio ward.
Today, due to the restrictions imposed by Covid-19, thousands of patients in hospitals and nursing homes feel as though they have been orphaned, many of them dying without having a chance to say good-bye to children and family members, much less get a hug and kiss from them. But, even in the midst of those heartbreaking situations, there are angels at work.
One of those angels is a Carmelite Friar by the name of Brother Robert Bathe who is one of the chaplains at Belleview Hospital. Normally,” he said, “the family is there with me bedside at death, and when we say the Our Father it is very emotional. Now I stare at a person that is taking their last breaths. I’m with a doctor and a couple of nurses. We’re saying goodbye.” Brother Robert receives notifications and hurries to bedsides of critically ill patients. When a nurse who worked in the neonatal unit died recently of the corona virus, Brother Robert led a prayer service for some of the grieving members of the nursing staff, including Mary Ann Tsourounakis. “One of the most healing and loving I’ve heard,” Tsourounakis said. “
At this time when so many people desperately yearn for healing and loving words, the liturgy for this Sixth Sunday of Easter provides them aplenty. The passage from the Acts of the Apostles assures us that if, like the crowd of Samaritans, we listen attentively to the Word of God, the Good News, and pray to receive the Holy Spirit, we are bound to find liberation from our loneliness and anxiety so that we can actually experience great joy. We can, in fact, join the Psalmist in inviting all the earth to cry out to God with joy.
There have been so many acts of love during this time of pandemic, the vast majority of them unsung and unpublicized. They are clear evidence that the Holy Spirit is active as our Advocate. We know him because of people like Brother Robert, Nurse Tsourounakis, the neighbor who goes grocery shopping for elderly shut-ins, priests who live-stream Mass, the bus driver who goes to work every day because essential workers must get back and forth from home, the funeral directors who struggle to bring comfort to mourners under extraordinary conditions.
“Because I live…you will live,” Jesus assures his confused and fearful apostles at the Last Supper. Because of that assurance, we can face the future with hope. We know that faithful disciples who have succumbed to the pandemic, especially those who heroically put their own lives at risk, live in and with the Risen Christ. We hope that those who are still struggling with the illness will recover due to the Advocate’s gentle but firm guidance of medical workers and researchers. And if we happen to be questioned by non-believers about how we can maintain this hope, we must be ready to explain the reasons with gentleness and reverence, as St. Peter urges.
“Life is tender,” Brother Robert remarked. “People are looking for a miracle when the miracle is to let go,” he said. “Call me too practical, but I don’t pray they leap out of the grave like Lazarus. I think we’re meant for better. We’re meant for God.” We are meant for better. We are meant for God. Could we find a more gentle and reverent summation of our Easter faith? When we take those words to heart, we can sing with the Psalmist, “Hear now, all you who fear God while I declare what he has done for me. Blessed be God who refused me not my prayer or his kindness.”
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