Monday, February 25, 2008

2 Book Reviews: The Way of the Cross in Times of Illness and Caring for the Dying with the Help of Your Catholic Faith

These are little books but they deliver a big dose of food for thought that seems especially appropriate during Lent.

The Way of the Cross in Times of Illness
by Elizabeth Thecla Mauro
3. Jesus Falls the First Time
Why do we always assume that this first fall came from your weariness and physical pain? Could you have fallen in fear? You, Jesus who are both God and human, you understand how fear and anxiety can paralyze the will, paralyze the strength of the body, and sometimes paralyze even the strength of the spirit.

I admit that there are times when I am overtaken with fear, and I feel unable to move, to think, to pray--even to This fear brings with it a weariness that defies description and snatches away the small pockets of peace I am seeking in my life.

So, I fall now with you, Jesus, prostrated in fear, knowing that I must rise and go on. My face is dirty; I am gasping through the dust of the road.

But I get up with you. I breathe in deeply, and breathe out.

With you, I move slowly forward.

Yahweh, I called on your name from the deep pit. You heard me crying, "Do not close your ear to my prayer." You came near that day when I called to you; you said: "Do not be afraid."
Lamentations 3:55-57 (JB)
I rarely do the Stations of the Cross although I often have one catch my eye during times when I am waiting for Mass to begin, thereby beginning thoughts about it. Most often I will think about them when contemplating the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary. Although this simple, inexpensive book is presented as being for a time of illness, when reading through it I found much that is worthy of contemplation during Lent. It is worded so that the stations can apply to illness, but not so specifically that the contemplations cannot be used at any time, especially in any time of distress. Highly recommended.

Caring for the Dying With the Help of Your Catholic Faith
by Elizabeth Scalia
The Long Tunnel
Some people say the process of dying involves the appearance of a long tunnel through which one passes, moving toward the light. Just as those who report back from a "near death experience" say they felt "pushed along" through a tunnel, you may feel like you are being "pushed along" by circumstances, and unable to halt the forward motion -- a prisoner of sheer momentum. You would be right. As the journey's end nears, there seems to be no further chance to hit the brakes or to pull back a bit.

This is a scary feeling. A new skier would never attempt an advanced trail, and yet here you are moving through this experience at a breathtaking pace. Everything seems out of your control. This might be a good time to make an assessment of what you can control. You can control being wholly present to a person who is dying. That doesn't seem like very much, but it is everything.

Together with Our Lady
When Mary, the mother of Jesus, was told that her Son had been arrested, her world also began to spin out of control. In truth, you are very much Mary's companion right now, just as she is yours. What you are living through, she has survived:
  • Just as your access to your loved one is decreasing as their need for sleep increases, Mary's access to her Son was closed off.
  • Like you, Mary had to stand by and watch helplessly while her loved one took on the "job of dying."
  • Like you, Mary had to watch the one she loved let go of her to take His leave.
  • Mary, too, had to let go, and to trust that she would see Him again.
  • As you lean on family and friends, remember that Mary had John and Mary Magdalene beside her for support.
  • After Jesus' death, Mary had to live and eat and worship with an imperfect "family," some of whom had let her -- and her Son -- down. It is not really a unique experience, as families go.
Being "wholly present" may not feel like you are doing very much. It may seem like a pitiful amount of "control" for an adult to have over any person or event. But as Mary taught us, being "present" to another person has power. It is saying, "I will be a witness to your whole life and death, so that all you are and have been will remain in me,when you have gone. And I will help you say goodbye."

Being wholly present to a dying person is a great responsibility, one that requires all the control of which you are capable.
In the midst of our very busy lives, the last thin we are likely to think about much is how to handle the details of death. for that very reason, when tragedy occurs, we often are faced with many details which we don't understand and about which we are not prepared to make decisions. This immensely practical book is instructive on several levels. Naturally, the main information conveyed is of those modern practicalities so that we can understand them not only conceptually but in relation to Church teachings. Pain management, organ donation, hospice care, living wills, grief management are but a few of the issues upon which this slender book gives straight forward information.

What raises this volume to a different level than a "how to" book, however, is the sensitive and thoughtful spiritual commentary that is intertwined with the practical information. As one can see in the above excerpt, the anguish our souls feel during such a time is met with reminders of how our faith is there to provide comfort and encouragement ... and even, possibly, beauty, grace, and joy.

As I read through this book, I was moved to contemplate Jesus' passion as experienced by those around him, which is most appropriate for this time of Lent as we draw closer to Holy Week. It is not the sort of book I would normally read but some of the images have remained with me and will doubtless feed my contemplation during Holy Week. This is a book that I would recommend everyone keep on hand for those unexpected times when our lives are thrown into anguish and we need solid advice of both the practical and spiritual sort. Highly recommended.

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