At the sentencing trial of convicted terrorist Timothy McVeigh, his mother begged the jury to spare his life, saying, “I’m pleading for my son’s life. He is a human being as we all are.” Her words are the perfect explanation of the Hebrew word “rahamin” which is frequently translated into English as “compassion.” The interesting etymology of the word is that it is the plural form of the Hebrew noun “raham,” which translated means “womb” or “uterus.” Compassion and the love of a mother for a child are thus placed on equal footing. Her love for her son is the essence of compassion.
Today’s readings place two other parents before us. David grieves for the loss of his son, Absalom. At the same time, Jairus, a synagogue official pleads for the life of his daughter. Because I have no children of my own, I will never know the kind of pain that David, Jairus, and Mildred McVeigh felt. However, I have experienced the grief of my grandmother, my mother and each of my mother’s sisters who all lost an adult child to death. Quantifying the experience of grief is impossible. However, we can say that it has a profound effect on the parent no matter what the circumstances. I suspect that most parents would agree with the words of Kind David, “If only I had died instead of you. . .”
Jesus’ response to the grieving parents may seem rather simplistic. “Do not be afraid, just have faith.” The fear that Jairus and his wife are feeling is certainly understandable. It cannot be lightly dismissed. Like any emotion, it is neither good nor evil. It simply is. Ultimately, faith is the remedy for any emotion. Faith makes it possible for us to admit how we feel and to respond to those feelings by working through them rather than suppressing them which only makes them worse.
Grief is part of any life where love has been present and men and women have been in relationship. So while we all would rather forego such emotions, they are an integral part of any human life. Our faith assures us that there is hope beyond grief. The Gospel promises us as much. Just as Jairus threw himself at the feet of Jesus, we do the same today as we once again gather around the table of the Lord.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator