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  • Sarah Raad

Surrounded

How fortunate the compassionate soul who recognised God in that Beloved Holy Face as they walked along the road… How fortunate!

The Boy Jesus in the Temple (Heinrich Hofmann)

I attended the funeral of my maternal great uncle the other day. And while – like all funerals – it was sad, this funeral was for a man who died when he was almost one hundred years old. He died surrounded by his children and grandchildren and great grandchildren. He had time to say goodbye. He lived a good life and died a good death.


At his funeral, I looked across the Church at my very elderly maternal grandmother, who sat in the very front row of the church. There she sat, surrounded by her children, her grandchildren and her great grandchildren. But she was alone. You see, my grandmother is the last one left of her generation....


She prayed and she cried. Surrounded but alone.


As the Mass went on, I wondered what this little old lady was feeling.


Her mother and her father were long ago dead. Her husband was dead too. Her brother and sisters and brother-in-laws and sister-in-laws were also dead. She has even buried several of her own children – both in adulthood and in their infancy. She has one remaining sister-in-law, who is more than twenty years her junior and could not be considered of the same generation as her. Other than that – a whole generation – the generation of her youth, is gone…


She cried very much that day and prayed very much too… After all, when we are literal moments away from eternity, surely there is great incentive to pray – for the closer we get to eternal life, the more tempted we are to believe that there is in fact no life afterwards at all…


I have been reflecting on that scene at the Church for the last couple of weeks. When I pray for my grandmother, I see her there, sitting and crying with her arms stretched upward, talking to God. Alone. Surrounded… But alone…

And it occurred to me through these reflections to pray very much for the elderly. For what are the elderly, but those who are close to death? And who has more suffering than the old and the frail and the infirm and the lonely?

Lately, I pray often for people who are dealing with illness. People who I know and strangers to me have been told that they have weeks or months or years to live. How frightening that feeling must be. And yet, we surround them with prayer. Praying for their strength and that of their families.


Some years ago, I was speaking to the now late grandmother of my very best friend. Her words have stayed with me all these years, for she said, “I am 94 years old, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready to die yet!” She was justifying her life to me – who was a stranger to her…


These elderly among us who sit quietly in their chairs and need help with their showers and cooking and shopping and medicine and doctors, are waiting the weeks, or months or years left of their life to die, and they are waiting there alone. Just as the souls suffering through cancer wait to hear how much time they have left, these elderly – like my grandmother – quietly drink their cups of tea and eat their honey toasts as they jangle their rosary beads and wait to die.

And yet, there is a vast difference in the compassion that we feel for those who are dying young and those who are dying old. And yet, they each of them carry their cross.

Most often, we watch the elderly and think – lucky them. They lived so long…


And yet, I wonder how lucky they feel as they watch all their loved ones pass away before them, and carry the burden of being the last one standing – so to speak?


It is a terrible terribly burden to be the last – or the only…


But they are never truly alone. Because Christ was alone too… Surrounded but alone His entire life.


When He was only twelve years old, He was alone for three days without His parents, preaching and speaking in the Temple. It is easy to romanticise this vision of the boy Christ sitting among the teachers when He was discovered there in the Temple. But that would mean we fail to consider the reality of that scene…


After all, have you ever wondered how Christ actually got to the Temple itself? Have you ever imagined how many unfamiliar roads He needed to walk along alone to reach His destination? Imagine how many people He walked past who were dangerous and could have harmed such a small boy as that. Perhaps Christ was a strapping twelve-year-old well on His way through puberty and people would have mostly left Him alone. But perhaps he was a late-bloomer, and was only quite small and unintimidating for His age – what then?… And was He afraid? I think not. For He perfectly surrendered to God – and in perfect surrender there is no fear!

How did He get people to listen to Him? What did He say to the priests that that would stop their busy lives and listen to that little boy? Did they see something of His Divine nature in His Holy Face? Did they hear it in His Holy Words?

And not only this… At night-time, where did He sleep? Was there a mother among them who took Him home and tucked Him into bed? What did He eat for lunch and for dinner for that matter? Did someone give Him clothes to wear so that they could wash the clothes on His back? He was gone for three whole days…


Who walked by the Son of Man while He was just a boy? How many lives were changed for that encounter?


And His Holy Family – His Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph… What about them? How worried they would have felt. How alone. How guilty. What failure they would have felt. Imagine the Mother of God crying out in her sleep, “My God, my God, I have lost the Son You gave me. My God. My God. My God.” Build on what you see in the Gospel of Saint Luke and imagine it (Luke, 2:41-51)…


For in that story is a Boy, alone – surrounded but alone – not just for those few days he was lost by His parents, but for all the days of His Holy life.


How fortunate the compassionate soul who recognised God in that Beloved Holy Face as they walked along the road… How fortunate!


For with prayer, I stand on Holy Ground where everything is clear. Here. At the Foot of the Cross.

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