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The darkest day of the human experience

March 20, 2015
Deacon Christoph Sandoval

First of two parts.

The darkest day in the life of a human being is the death of a loved one – be it a parent, grandparent, sibling, child, family member, close friend, significant other or even a family pet. Grief is the human suffering caused by that death.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). The word mourn that Jesus used is the most severe of all nine Greek words used for grief in Scripture. It is reserved for mourning of the dead. And this word choice certainly applies to the human experience of all who grieve.

Jesus experienced profound and unbearable grief and is our model and guide for moving through the sorrow of separation.

Losing someone we love causes painful spiritual, emotional and physical suffering. Losing a family member or a friend is an intensely personal and emotional experience. Following a death, one feels empty and numb, as one enters into a state of shock. Every pore in our body wants to produce an endless flow of tears. Spiritual doubts and questions may arise when a loved one dies. Some may notice severe emotional changes such as feelings of helplessness and powerlessness, feelings of deep sadness and sorrow and a sudden fearful awareness that we too are destined to die. Physically many experience headaches and body aches, severe fatigue and digestive problems and trouble sleeping and eating.

Jesus himself experienced the same gamut of symptoms that come with losing a loved one. When Jesus’ friend Lazarus dies, he weeps. Even though he knew he would raise Lazarus back to life, he was still overwhelmed with emotion as he experiences the loss of his beloved friend. Jesus teaches us that it is OK to grieve, it is OK to cry, and it is OK to mourn.

Jesus not only lost his good friend Lazarus to death, he also lost his dear cousin, John the Baptist. John the Baptist, whom Jesus called the greatest born of men, died by a barbaric brutal beheading. When Jesus heard the news about John, he got on a boat and went to a desolate place. Jesus enters into a time of bereavement mourning his loss and seeking the comfort and consolation of the eternal father.

Scripture tells us that perhaps the greatest expression of anticipatory grief is when Jesus wept for Jerusalem. It is here where Jesus cried aloud in sorrow over the future of the city. That future was less than 40 years in the future in 70 A.D. when more than 1 million residents of Jerusalem died in one of the most grisly sieges in recorded history. Like Jesus many of us today may experience anticipatory grief and the fear of losing our loved ones in the future.

What does Jesus tell us about how to handle grief? Jesus defines the course we must follow from our dying into the rising in the Stations of the Cross. Here he teaches us to be eternity minded – that in death life is changed, not ended. This Lenten journey points to Easter Sunday of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the promise that we are on the same journey.

In Psalm 30:5 we receive the consolation that “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” There is an end to mourning. Grief has its purpose, but it also has its limit. Through it all, God is faithful. God is with us in the darkest day of our life when we lose a loved one. There are many Scriptures that remind us of God’s faithfulness in times of mourning. He is with us even in the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4). When David sorrowed, he prayed this in Psalm 56:8: “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” The touching image of God catching our tears is full of meaning. He sees our grief and does not condemn it. In Bethany Jesus entered into the grief of the mourners, and in our personal losses past, present and to come Jesus enters into our grief. At the same time, he reassures us that all is not lost. Psalm 46:10 reminds us to “be still” and rest in the knowledge that he is God. He is our refuge (Psalm 91:1-2). “He works all things together for the good of those he has called” (Romans 8:28).

In St. Mary’s Cathedral Grief Support Group Jesus becomes present to offer comfort, consolation and compassion when two or more are gathered in his name. The group experience offers the gift of witness and presence healing the isolation and the loneliness that often results from loss. This is not a therapy or discussion group. It is a place for spiritual care that provides a time for listening, a time for sharing and a time for prayer and healing.

Deacon Sandoval is the facilitator of the drop-in Cathedral Grief Support Group. Open to all parishes, the group meets on the third Wednesdays of each month from 10:30 a.m.-noon in the Msgr. Bowe Room at the cathedral. Contact Sister Esther at (415) 567-2020, ext. 218. For a list of parish grief support groups please see www.sfarchdiocese.org/home/ministries/grief-consolation.

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