Journey of the Heart…..for some people, that means something romantic, perhaps a youthful engagement, Valentine’s Day. But when you think about the heart, the heart was created to endure much more than love.
The heart endures pain, suffering, all kind of wounds, our hearts get broken, torn, sometimes ripped open in grief and suffering. We have the perfect model of that kind of suffering, someone that had her heart broken to an unimaginable depth, The Blessed Mother, standing beneath the cross enduring the most difficult sorrow – watching her Son die on the cross.
Anthropologist Angeles Arrien describes the standing (as Mary did, beneath the cross) as the posture of a “warrior”. Standing is a way to become more aware, to be present, to develop endurance. It belongs to one who has a brave heart, relies on inner power, and has a willingness to take a stand for what is good and true. This posture speaks of determination and inner strength to do what needs to be done.
Many of you stood with determination, and faithfulness, like Mary, you had the inner strength to endure the long wait. To be present to the suffering of your loved one, to be strong for your family, with the resiliency of the human spirit. When love is the motivation, one can wait beneath a cross for a very, very long time.
And as Mary was a model of strength for us, St. Camillus taught us endurance.
When Camillus was wounded in war and needed medical attention, he entered St. James Hospital in Rome, as a patient, he worked and lived among his brothers, the sick. It was there that he was inspired to gather men willing to dedicate themselves to the sick. Later he took up studies for the priesthood and led an army of “Servants of the Sick” against the plague and epidemics that infested Rome. The Order was officially approved in 1582.
Camillus taught his volunteers that the hospital was a house of God, a garden where the voices of the sick were music from heaven. In the words of St. Camillus: “The poor and the sick are the heart of God. In serving them, we serve Jesus the Christ.” Wherever the sick person was, there God was, and it became a place of celebration.
Tonight, we celebrate the lives of residents and clients that have passed away over the last six months. Our St. Camillus Hospice and Pastoral Care teams would like to say, our hearts have not only been touched with love for your loved ones, but our hearts have also been broken and scarred. They have been pitted with memoires and life lessons taught to us by our residents and families. They have become part of our lives.
We have been blessed to hear the stories as families gathered to pray, they shared memories of their love one’s – memories of goodness, their gifts, their strength. We laughed we cried, we witnessed true love.
When we have hearts torn and wounded, we are also promised and reminded that over time, good self care, prayer and bereavement assistance, we begin to move from places of great pain to spaces of beauty and healing. Medical staff will tell us that scars are often the strongest points in our bodies (scar tissue while born of pain is stronger than the surrounding area.)
As we heard in Psalm 13, I have trusted in your steadfast love, my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me. We have the promise – that even though our hearts have been hurt and in pain, we know that we will celebrate and rejoice in your salvation.
As a hospice chaplain, I am humbled and honored to be at St. Camillus where the residents are treated with love and respect. Where priests follow and honor the mission of St. Camillus, where spiritual care is offered around the clock, where the spirit of St. Camillus is integrated into our departments where we live out the work that was started in that small hospital in Rome.
We walk with families through good times, failing times and along their final journey, we are confident that they are at last, embraced in the arms of our heavenly Father, welcomed into their new home where there is eternal rejoicing.
As a hospice chaplain I am often asked how long will this grieving last? While it’s different for each person, the answer may be in the story. Telling your story – the stories of your loved one, keeping your memories alive is both healing and comforting.
In a world obsessed with the new, the young, and the immediate, we need the truth of our family stories to remind us of who we are, where we belong, and how to live well. And if our stories are to be heard, we need those who will keep them and tell them. We need elders who embrace their calling as story keepers and who call us to remember and to hold dear the stories that shape us…that shape our families, that shape our world.
As we continue to tell our stories, we discover a glory that is eternal and that brings immense blessing to those who come after us. This very gift of storytelling, becomes the healing balm of the heart. Every story is healing and sustenance to the soul.
We are all familiar with the world renowned violinist Yitzhak Perlman, He walks on stage with braces on both legs, on two crutches. He takes his seat, unhinges the clasps of his legs, tucking one leg back, extending the other, Laying down his crutches, placing the violin under his chin. On one occasion, one of his violin strings broke. The audience grew silent but the violinist didn’t leave the stage.
He signaled the maestro, and the orchestra began its part.
The violinist played with power and intensity on only three strings, ith three strings, he modulated, changed, and recomposed the piece in his head. He retuned the strings to get different sounds, turned them upward and downward.
The audience screamed with delight, and applauded their appreciation. Asked later how he had accomplished this feat, the violinist answered, It is my task to make music with what remains.
A legacy mightier than a concert. Make music with what remains. Complete the song left for us to sing. Transcend the loss. Play it out with heart, soul, and might with all remaining strength within us.
And as we remember the standing of Mary at the cross and the endurance taught to us by St. Camillus, our legacy to you is to continue the mission of embracing the “The poor and the sick who are the heart of God. …..It is in servicing them, we serve Jesus the Christ.” Wherever the sick person is, there God is and it becomes a place of celebration.
May we celebrate God’s goodness tonight as we remember our loved ones.
Written by Eloise Williamson, St. Camillus Hospice Chaplain
The Order of Saint Camillus and its members around world are involved in different kinds of healing ministry in their attempt to cultivate the original vision of Saint Camillus, which...