Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

Dealing with the riddles of sorrow and death

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

To read this column in Spanish, click here.

Recently, I learned that a man I knew from my first days as a priest died of natural causes. He lived a long life, having grown up during the Great Depression.

He was a pilot during the Second World War, raised a family after the war and served his community and church well. Now, he has gone to God, and his wife and children and all who knew him are mourning his passing.

All of us are experiencing a sense of loss in these days and trying to make sense of it. First and foremost, to all who have lost loved ones or friends, whether to COVID-19 or any other cause, I want to express my deepest condolences and assurance of prayers.

Also close to my heart are all those who are struggling with other heavy losses. I think of nurses and doctors caring for the sick, those who have lost their jobs, businesses or health. Please know that I stand with you.

In addition to these losses, I also want to acknowledge the loss that we all feel in not having access to the sacraments, which we rely on for spiritual nourishment. I also recognize the pain experienced by those whose parishes have closed, something I want to address more fully in time.

Grief and loss, no matter how they are experienced, can leave us discouraged and disoriented, feeling that we have been abandoned. The temptation in such moments is to think that we are alone in our suffering. Yet the core of our faith in the risen Lord is that we are never alone in our grief.

We hear that in the cry of the first disciples: “The crucified one is truly risen! He is with us.” Not only is he with us, but — as the Second Vatican Council teaches — in his own sufferings, Christ “blazed a trail” for us, and, if we follow it, “life and death are made holy and take on a new meaning” (“Gaudium et Spes,” 22).

It is not that we are spared all grief, but rather, we approach our losses with a new set of eyes, seeing how even losses can be “made holy and take on a new meaning” in Christ. Jesus not only accompanies us in our sorrow, he makes something new out of it.

This brings me back to the man I knew from my early days as a priest. His obituary recounted how he grew up on a farm in the panhandle of Nebraska. His father died when he was young, leaving his mother and brothers to work the land. The older brother took over the farming, and one year everything came together: there was plenty of rain, a lot of sunshine, and his brother was proud that he could deliver a great crop for his family that year.

But then, one day, a hailstorm destroyed everything. The family had worked so hard, and now all their effort seemed wasted. They were inconsolable.

Just then, the mother came out into the field and saw how dejected the boys were. “OK, boys, gather up those hailstones,” she said. “We’re going to make ice cream for the neighbors.”

In that moment, she helped the boys to see their loss in a greater light and transform the loss into an opportunity to serve. This story was recounted in the man’s obituary, for he had often shared it with his children to teach them to have hope in moments of trial. 

The mother represents many holy people in our lives who encourage us as we experience loss. They all belong to that communion of saints that we affirm in our creed every Sunday.

The communion of saints includes all the saints in heaven, but also “the communion of all the faithful of Christ,” as the Catechism of the Catholic Church says (962). When we need help seeing beyond our immediate losses, we have that holy communion to help us to see how “in Christ, the riddles of sorrow and death grow meaningful” (“Gaudiem et Spes,” 22).

We are indeed in a time of great loss. That mother, no doubt, felt, just as much as her sons, the pain of losing a crop in a fluke storm. Yet she turned their loss into a moment of hope by directing their attention to the needs of others who also suffered loss that day, their neighbors.

As we grieve our own losses in these difficult days, let us be inspired by that good woman and the many people God sends in moments of crisis. They are the communion of saints who have taught us to trust the message of Easter: “In Christ, the riddles of sorrow and death grow meaningful.”


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