Bishop Hying

Loss, change and death a necessary, yet beautiful part of God’s plan for us

As published in the Northwest Indiana Catholic on October 23, 2016


       October is my favorite month!  The crisp mornings, the radiant color of the falling leaves, the sunny days and harvest moons all make me happy to live in the Midwest. When I lived in the tropics, autumn was the season I missed the most.    Nature puts on her finest dress before surrendering to the winter snows and chilling cold. I find a sweet melancholy in these autumn days, pondering the glory of the faded summer and anticipating the wintery season of cold and darkness.

       We all experience moments and seasons of disturbing disorientation - the sudden loss of a job, a heart-breaking divorce, the tragic death of someone close to us, an unexpected illness or the increasing difficulties of old age. We all want to hang on to the familiar, the reassuring, the security of life as we know it to be and are comfortable with. Like Simon Peter on Mount Tabor, we want to build permanent booths at our present existential site and just hunker down in the satisfying routine that grounds us. We want to hang on to the summer of life and never see it end.

        Autumn has secrets and lessons to teach us about surrender, acceptance and humility in the face of the many changes and challenges of our lives. As we observe a beautifully bold oak tree through the seasons, the leaves gradually turn color as the green energy of summer fades away, and one by one, the leaves fall to the ground in a dizzying swirl of surrender and finality. By the end of November, the tree is a maze of stripped black branches, silhouetted against the grey sky, bracing itself for the onslaught of winter but silently and gracefully standing tall as always. 

       Nature imitates the Paschal Mystery as Christ moves through the seasons of his own life, ministering, forgiving, healing and preaching to the people in the high summer of his mighty divine power.

       And then autumn hits! 

       The crowds melt away, the disciples desert Jesus; his earthly ministry ends and he is left alone to face the terror of his Passion, stripped of his clothes, insulted, beaten and tortured, embracing the cross as it is lifted high in the morning air, left to die as a common criminal. Jesus never looked less powerful or consequential than he did on the cross. Yet, in that winter of death, he accomplished the mighty deed of our salvation by surrendering to the seeming destruction of all that he had come to know, love and do.  Whenever I see a bare tree, stripped of its leaves and life, I think of the cross.

       So much of our anger, frustration, fear, anxiety and dread flow from our inability to surrender to the unknown - the unknown of new health limitations, the loss of a friend, the end of a familiar life’s chapter, the inevitability of death. Grieving well is so important because it allows us to cry over our loss, name our fears and sadness, mourn who and what has departed from our vision and hopefully move on with greater wisdom, gratitude, love and acceptance. 

       People who get stuck in the grieving process cannot let go of their loss and can easily be enveloped in a sad web of depression, anger and hopelessness. When we have faced our own dark nights, wept over our losses without shame and surrendered to the challenge of new situations, God can powerfully use us to heal and help others.

       Both of my parents, whom I love deeply, have been dead for a number of years now. I have driven past the house where we all lived for many years and longed to be able to drive up, open the door and find them there with supper on the table and an abundance of smiles and hugs to go around. But I will never again experience that unique joy of being with them in this life.  I feel sad, grateful and ultimately hopeful when I ponder the stubborn, unchangeable fact of their death and lingering physical absence. 

       Thankful for what has been, sad that it will never be again in this life, yet hopeful for the ultimate and eternal re in the Kingdom of God, I choose to move forward, feeling the strength of faith and love that my parents imparted to me for all those years. 

       How sweet life becomes when we can ultimately come to see every loss, hurt, change and death as a beautiful and necessary part of God’s plan for us, when we can move through the seasons of life with determination, freedom, acceptance and grace.

       The people who have experienced unspeakable suffering, heart-breaking losses and terrible tragedies and have come out on the other side, wounded but victorious, changed but not broken, are examples and models for us.

       In their desert sojourn to the Promised Land, some of the Israelites want to return to Egypt, to the difficult but comforting slavery they had known, a servitude that was less scary than this vast freedom under the desert sky. 

Whenever I want to go back to Egypt, I ponder a tree in the October sun, praying for the bravery needed to kiss the cross.


+ Donald J. Hying

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