Saturday, December 26, 2015


My Benedictine liturgical upbringing is pushing me to write a post about the beautiful liturgies I’ve celebrated in the last two days; another part of me wants to write about the experience of holding in my arms, on Christmas afternoon, three-week old Alex. But I can’t manage to just ignore the most powerful experience of the week.

Tuesday afternoon I got a phone call asking me to come up to the trauma center at UMDNJ Medical Center just up the hill. It seems that my friend’s mother, a 93-year old whom I’d been with at a wedding reception just two weeks ago, had injured herself so When I got to the rather spacious ER trauma center there were fourteen members of the family already gathered in or near the bay where the woman’s bed was located. (The nurses were bending all sorts of rules for us.) She was being kept alive by a respirator until her sister could arrive, and then, by agreement, the breathing machine would be disconnected.

They’re a very religious family, so it wasn’t surprising that at one point there were three priests there praying with them. We did some scripture readings, a psalm, the litany of the saints, all interspersed with chatting, and with various relatives whispering words of love into the dying woman’s ear. I remarked to my friends that we were “walking her home” as we stood there with her at her bedside.

It was one of those occasions where you know at the time that this is an experience you’ll remember for the rest of your life.

There was lots of crying, but it was like the weeping of Jesus at the tomb of his friend, Lazarus; not like the weeping of “those who have no hope.” Finally the woman’s sister arrived, and joined the husband at the bedside. We chatted, prayed, and spoke to the apparently unconscious woman. After a while we called the wonderful nurse and told her we thought it was time to remove the breathing tube. She said that anyone who was comfortable with the experience was invited to remain, so a few of us did. The privacy curtain was pulled around the bed.

I was not close enough to see exactly what was involved; all I knew was that within about three minutes a young doctor came in and put his stethoscope on her chest, and did a couple of other things, and then turned to the nurse and pronounced the words “six-thirty.” And that was it. Rita had always been in a hurry, in a good sense, and she was true to her personality when, as soon as the machine was disconnected, she was out of there to spend Christmas in heaven.   
Only two days later I had the privilege of celebrating her mass of Christian Burial  in her parish church in the Ironbound neighborhood of Newark, where she had been a parishioner for 93 years.  

I preached on the gospel passage from Luke 24, the appearance of the risen Christ to the

two apostles who were walking to Emmaus. I reminded everyone that this story was particularly appropriate because it spoke about Jesus walking these two men home. The risen saviour had appeared to these to men and had walked them home -- just as seventeen of us had done for Rita only two days before.

I know this wasn’t a Christmas story, but it’s about a beautiful gift that I received, and that’s close enough, right?

1 comment:

  1. What a beautiful thought. 93 years in the same parish. How wonderful it is to feel so at home in a church she must have loved.