Into your hands I commend my spirit - Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

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Home > Archbishop > Homilies > Into your hands I commend my spirit - Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

The spectre of the coronavirus still hangs over us, even if Tasmania remains virus free at present. We are all aware of the grave situation in Melbourne with the rapid spread of the virus through community transmission. And there is the daily loss of life. Across the world many countries continue to experience an escalating spread of the virus and the death toll rises.

While we are currently safe in Tasmania, we are bearing a cost. Many businesses, especially those dependent on hospitality and tourism are in serious financial trouble. There are many who have lost jobs and are financially vulnerable.

More generally there is an anxiety and fear affecting the mental health of people. Social distancing is unnatural. It creates uncertainty in engaging with people around us and it places strains on relationships. We see people becoming fearful of others and their actions, and can be critical of behaviours that they do not accept.

There is a growing fatigue caused by this time of uncertainty and expectation of compliance to many new regulations affecting everyday life.

It has become more and more evident that we are far from being able to return to normal.

The lethal capacity of the virus has made us aware of the vulnerability of the aged, especially those in aged care facilities. They are the ones most at risk. Outbreaks in nursing homes have been very distressing to see, especially for family members worried about the wellbeing of their parents and grandparents.

The pandemic has brought the issue of dying to the forefront of the minds of whole populations. We are living longer, advances in medicine have meant that we are better able to sustain life. The significant progress made in the provision of palliative care have meant that people are able to be supported as they are dying. Yet the pandemic has reminded us of our essential vulnerability.

Let us briefly consider the dying process.

The dying process is not just the cessation of life. It is a deeply human journey which touches all dimensions of the person. Dying is not only a physical process, but it is also a psychological, emotional and spiritual process. Dying is not just the petering out of our life but should be the culmination of our life. It can be a bringing together of the various strands of our life history, in particular, of our closest relationships. It is a time when we can bring all that we are and have become into focus.

In the dying process we touch on the mystery of the human person, especially in the spiritual dimension. As we say in the preface of the funeral Mass, “Life is changed not ended.” Dying is a transition, not an ending. It is a passing of the soul into the hands of God. This is what Jesus proclaimed from the cross, “Into your hands I commend my spirit.” This is the approach of the person of faith. Dying is a surrender, a handing over, an act of trust. We let go and surrender to God.

This is why the Church has always offered a range of spiritual supports for the dying – from Holy Viaticum, to Anointing of the Sick, to Prayers for the Dying. It is why our tradition has encouraged us to pray for a happy death – St Joseph is a patron for the dying, every time we say the Hail Mary we ask Our Lady to especially pray for us at the hour of our death.

The dying process is lived at the spiritual level. Allowing the natural process of dying to occur ensures that this mystery unfolds in its proper way. To choose to end one’s life prematurely by taking the path of assisted suicide truncates what may be a time of grace and completion.

We stand before a mystery which is profoundly human. To intervene can do great damage to a process which has its own laws and purposes intended by the Creator.

The account of the Lord walking on the waters recorded by St Matthew and given in the Gospel reading today speaks of the disciples being greatly distressed as they were caught up in a wild storm on the lake. They were anxious and fearful.

This can be a representation of the dying process.

From amidst the dark and wind and raging water a figure appears. It is the Lord coming towards them.

This is our Christian belief that as we die the Lord will come to meet us.

As Peter begins to sink he cries out, “Lord, save me”. The Lord reaches out his hand and draws him forth from sinking into oblivion. So does the Lord do for us. As we die we call out, “Lord, save me”. And a hand reaches out to us, drawing us forth from what would overwhelm us.

The dying process is one of abandonment of oneself into the hands of God. And God is there with hand outstretched. Thus as we die we can say with a deep and trusting faith, “Into your hands I commend my spirit.”

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Sunday, August 9, 2020