Oh no! It’s a widow!
In today’s readings, Our Lord and Elijah both save widows from losing their only sons.
Imagine being part of the world of Bible times. There’s no benefit agency or health service looking after people too elderly to work. And it’s a man’s world, where it was often unacceptable for women to work and earn their own money. If a widow loses her only son, who has to look after her? It falls to the local village. Which means widows were unpopular. No-one wanted a new widow in town – she would be a drain on everybody’s resources!
Through the miracles we read about today, we see that God cares for these widows and restores their sons, who will be their breadwinners. But God didn’t prevent them losing their husbands, and we know that miracles are rare – most of the time, God will care for people not through miracles, but through the members of His body – that’s us!
Pope Francis recently published his letter on family love, and today I’d like us to spend a few moments thinking about difficult family situations, those due to circumstances beyond our control. Today’s widows remind us that one such situation comes through bereavement.
Every family suffers bereavement. There’s a natural pattern of grief which we go through. It’s OK to feel angry with God – remember that even St Martha, sister of Lazarus, told Jesus – “If you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died”. But like Martha, we need to move to the next stage: “Even so, I trust that he will live again when all the dead are raised to everlasting life.” There’s a special responsibility on our parish community to be there for bereaved people who have no other family members here, and I’m truly grateful for the work which Geraldine and Bernie do as our parish bereavement group. Do remember that if you know someone who’s bereaved, even if they’re not Catholic, our parish group can send a card and a message of sympathy, and offer personal contact where needed.
Pope Francis also notes other circumstances which can put a strain on family life. In today’s Britain we don’t react badly to widows, but society around us might well say…
Oh no! It’s a disabled child!
When a couple discover that their new baby is disabled, all their hopes and dreams come tumbling down. How limited is the potential of this new human life? Will baby ever go to college or hold down a job? Will the parents have to spend the rest of their lives providing expensive and tedious personal care? How many of the parents’ plans for their adult life will have to be sacrificed?
If the disability is discovered before baby is born, society around us whispers: “You can get rid of that! Why create an extra burden for yourself and for us taxpayers?” Pope Francis speaks up with a different voice: “This is what love looks like!” Your vocation is to welcome this human life and become a beacon of self-sacrificing love, the love we Christians call agapé – in this way, you will become the saints, living reflections of Christ, which God is calling you to be.
Perhaps someone here today has given in to that temptation, to end a life. I say to you: God understands your pain. Even this can be forgiven through the Sacrament of Reconciliation! There are women who understand, ready to pray with you and help heal your wounded heart. Come, and taste God’s mercy!
Similar temptations exist at the twilight of human life…
Oh no! It’s an elderly relative!
The first duty to care for an elderly parent, aunt or uncle, rests with the children, not with the State. We mustn’t rush to judgement when a family chooses a care home, because sometimes professional care is what’s needed. But Christian love chooses this only because it’s best for the relative, not because it’s more convenient for the children.
Oh no! It’s the in-laws!
When you choose to marry someone, you take on a whole new family. Pope Francis says this: “Your in-laws are not a threat! You are called to be generous to them – because this is also an act of love towards your husband or wife.” But the Pope also acknowledges that each household is entitled to its own privacy. Respecting your mother-in-law doesn’t mean running your house by her rules!
Oh no! It’s a migrant!
We live in a very mobile world. Millions of families have been forced to flee from violence. Countless others move seeking a better income to care for their children and parents. In this parish, many of you have come to Britain because our National Health Service has needed your skills and called you here from the ends of the earth. When someone comes into a community speaking a different language, living a different culture, and needing help from the local community, Pope Francis calls us to generosity. Here is a brother, a sister, a human being displaced from all that is familiar to them. Love them!
Oh no! It’s my selfishness!
The society around us continually sells us a lie. It says we can live our lives on our own terms, and buy things that make us happy. When we begin to believe that, we’ll become angry when events beyond our control invite us to be generous. But we’re Christians, living temples of the God who is love. What is the meaning of our lives? Our purpose is to love those who have no-one else to love them. Some of us are doing our fair share by welcoming disabled children or elderly in-laws under our own roofs. The rest of us are called to do our fair share in the community, supporting widows, refugees and migrants who are not relatives by blood or marriage, but have no other family but us.
Oh no! I’m not loving the way Pope Francis is asking me to love!
Oh yes! But you can start doing that right now! How will you begin?
Reading Amoris Laetitia: all references are to paragraph numbers.
- Caring for bereaved families: 253-254
- Our hope in life after death: 255-258
- Welcoming disabled children and elderly relatives: 43, 47-48, 163-164, 191-193
- Caring for in-laws: 198
- Caring for migrants: 45, 46
- Caring for those with no family: 197
Some useful links for pastoral care, and further reading:
- National Association of Catholic Families
- Catholic Grandparents’ Association
- Mothers’ Prayers
- The Beginning Experience – after the loss of a loved one
- Rainbows – for bereaved children
- Abortion Recovery and Care Hotline
- Rachel’s Vineyard – post abortion counselling
- Vatican Department for Care of Migrants
- Pope Francis’ 2016 Message on the Care of Migrants
- The Jesuit Refugee Service
- Further useful pastoral care links