Just about 11 years ago, in 2013, I started meeting with a Catholic therapist to work through some challenges I was experiencing.  Initially, I thought my issues were related to my physical health, but later realized they were more connected to mental health and precisely how I was managing stress and anxiety (or rather not managing those things well).  That would prove to be providential.  A year later, my father quite unexpectedly died, and I had to deal with the overwhelming emotions that come with losing someone you love.  I was thankful to have someone I now had grown to respect and trust to help navigate those feelings.  Or so I thought.  It might have been about 6 to 8 weeks after Dad’s death; in one of our sessions, the good doctor was describing the so-called 5 stages of grief and mentioned that I would eventually reach a place of acceptance.  The complicated and unpredictable mental landmines that grief can cause would end when I reached this acceptance and would be able to let go of grief.  He said it so calmly, gently, and confidently that you would think his words would have been inspirational and hopeful.  But that’s not how I received them.  I snapped and unleashed a litany of words that I thought I had forgotten – a litany of words in part reminiscent of my Father’s worst moments when he got a flat tire or when one of his sons unknowingly removed a ladder leaving him trapped on the roof.  When I was done yelling, I ended our meeting, canceled my next appointment, and proceeded to the gym, where I had one of my most intense and productive workouts ever – running 4 miles in 24 minutes, hitting some heavy bags and weights, and still felt wired a few hours later.  I was pretty sure that was my last meeting with the therapist.  A month later, he texted me asking, “Hey, Father, do you think we could meet up?”    When we did, I sat down and, after a moment of awkward silence, I said, “So, uhm, I’m guessing that was the stage of grief people call anger, huh?”

Thanks so much for stopping by to read this homily for the 13th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, June 30, 2024.  I appreciate your sharing this on your social media posts and your feedback and comments…  I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE.  May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing- Father Jim

After studying the “5 stages of grief” during college and seminary, after coping with my own losses of family and friends over the years and having supported many parishioners through their experiences, I thought I understood grief and those stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  However, I didn’t anticipate the unique and unfamiliar nature of each new loss.  No two deaths are the same, just as no two individuals mourn in the same way.  Even though mental health professionals have provided valuable insight into these stages of grief, it doesn’t make going through them any easier.

I was deeply affected by the mention of ‘acceptance’ in relation to my father’s death.  Now, almost 10 years later and after going through those stages of grief, (especially anger) I can comprehend the significance from a mental health perspective and understand what my therapist intended. Acceptance in the context of grief does not mean we are okay with the loss or that we forget the person we’ve lost. It means we acknowledge the reality of the loss and begin to find a way to live with it.  Looking back, I realize that even though that session was difficult, it was instrumental in helping me process my grief.  Therapists often explain that you can’t predict what will trigger a breakthrough or anticipate when or how you’ll progress through the stages of grief.  There’s no set timeline for everyone.  So I can see now and be grateful how the mention of ‘acceptance’ led me to finally confront my suppressed emotions.  But I’m also thankful that my initial anger stemmed from that misinterpretation and not from being told to ‘accept death’ in any way.

Because we should never ‘accept death.’ That’s what makes these readings so powerful for us to reflect on.  Our first reading comes from the Old Testament book of Wisdom.  It’s a mysterious and entertaining scripture, one of the last books of the Hebrew Scriptures written just a couple of centuries before the Birth of Jesus Christ.  Yet one of the titles that it sometimes goes by, ‘The Wisdom of Solomon’ harkens back to that King of Israel who reigned 8 centuries before that.   So the author or authors of this book are unknown which brings to this divinely inspired text more elements of awe and wonder.   The first words we heard this morning from this sacred text were: ‘God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.’    The reading recounts God’s original plan for humanity, a plan that was disrupted by sin and death. It is a powerful reminder of God’s love and His desire for us to live in communion with Him.

This is a part of our essence – it is written deep within us, more intrinsic to us than our DNA.  We are each masterpieces of God the Father, created with His thoughts, His feelings, and His very being poured into us.  We were built with eternal blueprints, intended for eternal destinies.  Therefore, it’s understandable that we would never want to accept death.  We should fight against something that is so contrary to who we are and what we were made for. Our faith in God’s plan and His promise of eternal life is what sustains us in the face of death. It is this faith that allows us to find comfort and hope in the midst of our grief.

We heard this passage before today’s Gospel reading for a reason.  On the surface, it seems like an extraordinary day for Jesus and the boys.  A synagogue official pleads with Jesus to save his 12-year-old daughter from death.  As Jesus is on his way to address this request, he is surrounded by crowds eager to witness one of the many wondrous miracles they had already heard he has performed elsewhere.  Everyone in the crowd has someone or something they hope will become part of the incredible story that is unfolding.   In this crowd, a woman who has been suffering from a life-threatening, debilitating, and isolating illness—causing her to hemorrhage blood for 12 years — believes that if she can just touch Jesus’ cloak, she will receive the healing she has longed for, a healing that no money could buy and no doctor could provide.

What makes these two seemingly random miracle stories so providential?  Jesus and the apostles observed that lots of people were touching Him that day, but only one was healed.  The Synagogue official had come asking for healing for his sick daughter.  He was met by all these people telling him that, because of this seeming interruption, now it’s too late.  They said so abruptly: “Your daughter has died, why trouble the teacher any longer?”  What made the woman suffering from hemorrhaging different and what made Jairus different was that they didn’t accept death.   What made them different was their faith.   It’s not a faith in this general new-agey “just believe” where you can manifest from the universe what you desire.  It was precisely their going to Jesus, their faith in Him, where He restores life and conquers death, restoring that eternal destiny and validating those ancient promises from the dawn of creation we hear of in the Hebrew scriptures.  Reminding us, no “God did not make death.”

On that particular day, both of those individuals experienced miracles that exceeded their imaginations and expectations.  Their realization that Jesus was God incarnate, the same God who, in Genesis, said “let there be” and there was light, land, waters, animals, humanity, was now saying “let there be healing” where there was sickness, and “let there be life” where there was death.

It is important to remember that these events truly did occur.  The miracles, absolutely.  But also the illnesses and deaths.  That writer of the Book of Wisdom was quick to remind us that death is a result of the works of the devil, through humanity’s succumbing to the evil one’s temptations.  This is still true today.  When we give in to temptation, when we sin, when we deny our sins, and when we listen to the lies and distortions of the evil one who tries to make us complacent, we are allowing selfishness and self-centeredness to prevail.  This is evident in the increasing number of people who seek happiness solely in the satisfaction of their own wants and needs.  This clouds the truth and echoes the sentiment of those who oppose the Lord God, both in the past and the present, by boldly accepting death and proclaiming, “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die!”  When we are faced with suffering, we may be tempted to “eat, drink, and be merry” as a way to numb ourselves from the pain.  When confronted with death, we may feel encouraged to “accept it” and solely focus on satisfying our immediate wants and needs.

In a powerful moment in that Gospel, Jesus leans over to the synagogue official and whispers in his ear, “Do not be afraid, just have faith.” It’s a critical moment for him.  He had already overcome the skepticism of his friends, who might have thought he had lost his mind, as he, as an “official” of the synagogue, held a higher societal rank than this controversial itinerant preacher he was seeking help from.  He had already moved past the fear of what they would think of him by going to Jesus.  Now, when it seems all hope is lost and everyone he knows is telling him to “accept death,” his faith in Jesus encourages him to refuse, allowing Jesus to move him beyond his fears and see what faith in Him can and will accomplish.

This juxtaposition of the two stories in the Gospel – the healing of the woman and the raising of the official’s daughter – serve as a powerful reminder of God’s compassion and mastery over life and death.  It underscores the message from the reading in Wisdom that God did not create nor does He desire death, but He overcomes it with His limitless love and power.  In the face of grief and loss, it can be challenging to comprehend the idea of acceptance. It has been 10 years since my dad passed away, and I still miss him. I wish he could’ve been here to celebrate his first granddaughter’s High School graduation or my 25th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood. However, I have come to realize that acceptance does not mean agreement with death, but rather an acknowledgment of the reality. Being honest and vulnerable can open us up to God’s comfort and strength and provide a new perspective. Just as Jesus offered compassion and healing to others, we can find solace in trusting that God holds the power over life and death. That death is not the end, but a separation for us from our loved ones.  Letting His words of life from these scriptures wash over us and receiving Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist reconnects us to the eternal life that we were created for and hope to experience –  in communion with all of our loved ones who’ve gone before us.  God’s presence and love here and now renew these promises while encouraging us in our pain and grief. “Do not be afraid, just have faith.”