10 September 2008

End stage

I had to bug out early on our homeschool book blessing Mass and social hour because hubby had to go in to work for some dire proposal that's due at 10am sharp. The house is remarkably quiet with the kids in bed and hubby gone. Hubby's a smart man, much smarter than I am. I used to think I was the smart one until I spent a few years being married to him. He's smart. He's patient. He's kind. This I know.

I also know one thing. God exists. There's a vast ocean between what I believe and what anti-theists do. Hard for them to understand me and equally as difficult for me to understand them. All the words I would use to describe God: obvious, rational, merciful, providential; are the exact opposite words that come to their minds. To them God is not obvious and certainly not rational. Most often He's vengeful and even arbitrary. Distant.

Sadly, it isn't only the anti-theists that feel that way, but a good number of Protestants.

My husband's uncle is not well. He hasn't been well for a long time, but he is now, technically and medically, in "end stage emphysema." The family is in shambles. The issues of death and dying, and if there is eternal rest, are a bit more than my husband's aunt can handle at the moment.

My husband used to be Lutheran. As a cradle Catholic, I have a hard time understanding how other religions approach these issues. I mean in their hearts, deep down, what do they really think will happen when they die? Many believe that most everyone goes to Heaven, while Hell is populated with Hitler and Stalin who are still waiting for two more to join them for bridge. Getting into Heaven seems like a slam dunk.

But, hubby says many Protestants don't believe Heaven is a certainty, not beyond a shadow of a doubt. What if those pesky Catholics are right? Or even the Hindus, and they have to come back and do this all over again until they figure it all out? And, on the outside chance the anti-theists are correct, they missed a lot of opportunities to have fun.

While many don't address the issue head-on of where they'll spend eternity, it is a little more challenging to be Protestant and to grasp the concept of suffering. This is where hubby's family struggles and I struggle to help them, most of the time being unable to know where to begin because our faiths are very different at ground level.

Purgatory, Communion of Saints, Confession, Absolution, and redemptive suffering are just a few items not on the Protestant radar. How can you see the providential plan of God, witness His mercy or merely not fall into despair, if you can only see life's struggles, and even it's incredible sufferings, as pointless and without merit?

Everyone keeps saying that they hope Uncle D dies in his sleep because they don't want to see him suffer and they don't think it's fair. As a Catholic, I don't want to see a loved one suffer, but fair doesn't have anything to do with it (who was the Lamb without blemish, the Innocent Victim?). As a Catholic, our faith makes this a time of action instead of a time of hopelessness.

With my large family and all the serious illnesses my parents and other loved ones have suffered, I find my Catholic faith to be incredibly comforting. For me, God is never closer than when things are the darkest. For my husband's family at this time, God is far away. Distant.

It's funny the number of times I've had to stop myself from asking hubby's aunt if she's called the priest yet. Without the comfort of the Catholic faith, it's hard to talk to hubby's aunt. Her heart is breaking and the conversations are morose. If only she could see how close God really is.


Vincenzo said...

My husband's uncle is not well. He hasn't been well for a long time, but he is now, technically and medically, in "end stage emphysema."

I'll pray for him and the family. Great post - thanks!

Christine from Maryland said...

Sorry to hear about your husband's uncle's battle with emphysema. It's an ugly disease. It took my mother after years of pain. Several weeks before her death I sat before a relic of St. Anthony (her lifelong special patron) and prayed for her death. My family never once felt that her suffering was unfair, and my mother herself once said that it was just a consequence of life. Living in Georgia, many of her best and most faithful friends during the last weeks and days were Southern Baptists who sat with her and prayed and also shared her perspective. On the other hand, when my mother-in-law died suddenly six years ago, many in her devoted and devout Catholic family wailed that it was unfair. They still have not dealt well with her death. My husband (a lapsed Catholic) has had the healthiest and most positive attitude of all. I'm not so sure that being a Catholic gives an edge to successfully handling life's tragedies. I would hope that we could ignore the perceived chasms that separate us and reach out with love and compassion during times of pain and suffering. We need to draw on what makes us strong and be a source of light and comfort to all around us. We must live to be the face of Christ.

mum6kids said...

I'll say a prayer.
The Church does offer a very useful set of teachings on both suffering and death. It really does help.

swissmiss said...

Thanks for your prayers, everyone.

Christine: I shouldn't paint all Protestants with such a broad brush since some live very holy lives. I do think that not having the Catholic foundational understanding of things makes it difficult to see God's plan or at least to know there is a reason or use for suffering even if you can't imagine God's plan. And, the issue of "fair" could just be entrenched in this family because over the weekend it came up again, this time in relation to children.

Prayers for your husband. My brother is a lapsed Catholic married to a Swiss Calvinist. I do think we need to be the face to Jesus to others. Since my husband and I are the only Catholics in his family, I'm pretty aware of how loud my actions speak. I wonder why God put me among these folks because I'm not the best example and I'm certainly a poor apologist :) I figure He knows what He's doing because many times I'm at a loss as to what to say.

Smiley said...

Redemptive suffering is a concept lost on many Catholics today who are bought in by the idea that to suffer is just terrible and we are here to have a good time. When i was younger we were taught that our sufferings were to be offered up to god as a means of reparation for our sins and for the sins of our nation.