Two very old friends, Leo and Frank, were visiting together. Frank said, "Please do me one favor: when you get to heaven, somehow let me know if there's baseball there. Leo replied, "If it's possible, I will."
Shortly after, Leo passed away. A few nights later, Frank was awakened by a blinding flash of light and a voice calling, "Frank...Frank…”
"Who is it?" asked Frank sitting up suddenly. “It's Leo.” "Leo! Where are you?”"In heaven," replied Leo. "I have good news and a little bad. There's baseball here, we can play all we want, and we never get tired.”
"That's great!" said Frank. "What's the bad news? "You're pitching Tuesday."
The word of God brings us the wisdom of Sirach, one of Israel's many spiritual guides on how to live well. Today the author challenges us to seek forgiveness in our relationships with God and with one another. God forgives us to the extent we forgive.
Paul in his letter to the Christian community at Rome acknowledges God's complete sovereignty over life and death. He urges us to live for others. Imitate God, live a God-like life. Paul emphasizes that we belong to Jesus Christ. Christ lives. And because he lives, we live forever.
In the Gospel, Peter asks Jesus if he has to forgive a person who has wronged him “as many as seven times.” In other words, when do we start getting even. Jesus responds with a more stunning number: “77 times.”
e makes his point with a parable. Worker #1 owes a huge amount (say a million). The king forgives his debt. Then worker #1 runs into worker #2 who owes him a small amount (say $50). #1 grabs #2 by the throat and says, “Pay now or I’ll put you in jail.” When the king hears of this, he summons worker #1 and says, “I canceled your debt. Shouldn’t you have done the same?”
The lesson is simple: God forgives so much; why can't we forgive so little. Forgiveness is a decision to will the good of the other even though we may still harbor negative feelings. It's a decision to let go of wrongs and move on with our lives.
The readings today also bring us face to face with our mortality.
Death is a fact of life. A best seller titled “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End” questions whether extending length of life at the expense of quality of life is the right thing to do.
Dr. Atul Gawande describes three patterns. With an incurable disease, treatments may lengthen life but eventually the body wastes away rapidly. In the second pattern, a chronic disease is treatable but relapses siphon the life out of that person. And finally there’s the pattern of old age called “frailty”: the gradual decline of bodily systems.
The question becomes when to “let go,” when to stop offering treatments that likely don’t work? The author asks: why submit the dying to the full panoply of medical procedures to see them merely exist in institutions and lose their independence.
Many of us are familiar with Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s book describing five stages through which many dying patients pass: Simply put, they are:
-Denial: “No, not me.” Typical reaction if a patient learns he/she is terminally ill.
-Anger: “Why me?” God may be a special target for anger. OK, God can take it.
-Bargaining: “Yes me, but.” The patient accepts death but bargains for more time.
-Depression: “Yes, me.” The person mourns things not done, regret things done.
- Acceptance: “My time is running out but it’s all right.”
These stages, while not absolute, are a useful guide in understanding behaviors. They may relate to any big change, be it the death of a loved one, job loss, divorce.
Dr. Kubler-Ross wrote another book titled “Death: the Final Stage of Growth.” The title leads me to the Christian understanding of death. The foundation is Good Friday/Easter. Hidden in the death of Jesus was the glory of his resurrection.
Our faith challenges us to remember that the light of our resurrection will shatter the darkness of our death.
The story of Jesus did not end in the tragedy of the cross but in the triumph of the God-man Jesus transformed into an indescribable heavenly reality. The Risen Christ anticipates what we one day will become.
Let’s be honest. Most of us do not long with St. Paul “to be free from this earthly life so that we can be with the Risen Christ.”
Many pass through the stages Dr. Kubler-Ross describes. There is a darkness about death that even Jesus cried out against. Yet, in the Christian vision, we expect that the Spirit of God, who continually amazes us, will surprise us in the moment of our own dying with a new heavenly reality, an evolutionary leap into a new kind of spiritual embodiment.