For instance, I've been very aware of my weary bones, as I return to my exercise program after several weeks hiatus post-injury. My bones and joints hurt. And yet, I need to exercise to keep those same joints lubricated and healthy. Advil is my friend.
Then there's my friend who is suffering the effects of breast cancer that has spread to her bones. She walks with tremendous difficulty. That's on the days when she can walk. Even rolling from one side to another in bed causes excruciating pain. I hug her gently and don't squeeze the broken ribs that no longer heal. Her pain relief comes in the form of self-injected morphine and oxycontin. (And I complain that I take Advil? Pul-lease!)
My friend's death looms in the future--a date known only to God. It's sobering, and yet the time to prepare for it is sacred. Her suffering and her final pains are intermingled with the sufferings of Christ. They are soon coming to an end. Then, we believe, she will be free. But in the meantime, she is dragging a very heavy cross on the way to her personal Calvary.
That's exactly one of the meditations we Catholics are called to make in this Lenten season. Not only will my friend one day leave the planet, but one day, so will I. And my time to prepare for it is sacred. My time here is meant to prepare me for eternity. And one day, my own bones will be laid to rest in a tomb. And I can only hope that my own tombstone will say that I was a faithful witness to Christ.
You may recall that the Catholic Church cherishes the bones of beloved Saints as relics. I've venerated and been in the presence of many sacred relics over the years, and I always marvel at the simplicity of the bone matter that once held the frame of one of God's great ones.
Two years ago, right after Easter, I had the privilege of making a pilgrimage to Rome with my husband and daughter. Among the days we spent at the Vatican, one of the highlights of the week was our trip to the excavations, known as the Scavi, under the altar of St. Peter's Basilica, where the bones of St. Peter are believed to be laid to rest. It was like going to the cemetery to visit the remains of a deceased relative. (I mean, I have a special devotion to St. Peter, our third child is named in his honor.) So it was an honor to pray there, and to be as close as I could to the bones of the Rock. And to understand that even Peter, one of Jesus' closest friends, experienced death--a crucifying one at that. His bones testify to the fact that no one gets out of this life alive. We all must cross the threshold of death. But, with Jesus, there is the promise of Heaven waiting, and so Peter embraced death, exchanging it for life eternal.
For more on this subject, you might find Amy Welborn's blog Open Book interesting. She recently described her trip to Rome, and more specifically, her trip to the Scavi. For an introduction to this material, read Discovering the Bones of Saint Peter. Another remarkable article about the same is here, composed by George Weigel. (One of my Catholic writing heroes.)
Do not be afraid to contemplate your own mortality. The Church calls you to do it. Not as an exercise in morbidity, but as an honest exercise that allows an eternal perspective to hold sway in our minds, so we may live more radically for Christ.
Proverbs 3: 5-8:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment
Copyright 2006 Patricia W. Gohn