By Father Patrick Longalong
On a hot summer morning, I received a phone call from a nurse I knew at a nearby hospital at the request of a patient who wanted to receive Holy Communion. After receiving all the information, I got into my car and arrived at the hospital in no time. The blazing heat must’ve discouraged people from going out, so traffic was very light.
The man’s name was Jose, and I was told that he was already in hospice. Keeping this information in the back of my mind, I made sure to try my best to be encouraging and comforting. I was expecting to meet someone in really bad condition: maybe depressed, maybe experiencing some discomfort despite the great care he might be receiving. I was surprised however to see someone sitting upright, leaning back with a peaceful smile on his face.
“Thank you for coming, father,” he said. “I am happy that you are able to make it.”
“I heard that you wanted holy Communion,” I replied, “so I brought Jesus here for you.” He asked me to sit by the side of his bed and asked to be anointed as well. I gave him both sacraments as he requested.
Before I left, I told Jose that I was going to keep him in my prayers. He said that he appreciated it but stared at me for a little while before he continued. “You know, father, I know that I don’t have much time remaining here, so I decided to offer what time I have left here in this bed for the people that I love. Sometimes even with the medication, there are certain things that bother me, but I take them and offer them up to the Lord. I am just sorry that I wasn’t able to do something similar when I was not sick, but I think this might be the best thing I can give to them with my condition.”
As we prepare for the upcoming Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, our Gospel reading this Sunday helps us go deeper in our understanding of who Jesus is and the salvation we received through His sacrifice on the Cross. It is Christ’s love willing to endure great suffering in order to restore humanity back to the dignity prior to our fall that saved us. This is also the love that we are asked to live by in order to bring life or something good to others.
St. James explains this type of sacrifice as work. Our faith should be put into action. However, if we love someone, all our efforts, our going out of our way, all our work has meaning and becomes a sacrifice that we are willing to give because it contains the hope that some good will come to the person we are doing it for.
There are many forms of sacrifice or work that we can do. We can provide care to an elderly or dying parent. Spending time with a person who feels alone or needs comfort might be another way. Fulfilling our day-to-day responsibilities are also forms of sacrifices that bear good fruit in our lives and relationships. Ultimately sacrifice is a recognition that we are in this world not just to do whatever we want but to intentionally spend our time and energy to love God in the people around us.
What will be our own response to the tremendous love of God made visible in the suffering of Jesus? God is not asking us to physically die but to simply accept our own human condition that at times comes with some degree of suffering and pain. Jesus’ invitation to take up our cross sounds really overwhelming, but in our daily lives, it refers to the suffering that comes from the little troubles that we have to endure to reach the higher purpose that we hope for in our lives and those we love.
Let us reflect on the final words in today’s Gospel, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”
Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Father Longalong is the pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes, Queens Village, and coordinator of the Ministry to Filipino Immigrants.