“Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt?” “You will cast into the depths of the sea all our sins.”
“Thy will be done.” “Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.”
The Church has presented us today with two fundamental themes that reverberate through Sacred Scripture: mercy and justice. Mercy, essentially, is, according to Pope Francis’s bull for the Year of Mercy, “the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.” Within the same text the Holy Father defines justice as “the faithful abandonment of oneself to God’s will.”
Unfortunately, for many complex reasons, which I won’t get into this morning, many Christians have come to see mercy and justice as opposing, conflictive attributes of God; however, we profess that God is one and that His attributes are ultimately united.
All this thought is abstract, and, maybe, uninteresting to many, so I’d like to provide a concrete example from my time at Loyola University Medical Center. This short story demonstrates one facet of the the justice/mercy situation: God’s justice, which asks of us conformity to His will, invites us to seek His mercy and to share His mercy with others. More succinctly stated, God wills for us to set our eyes on His merciful gaze and to be that merciful gaze to the weak and to sinners.
On the afternoon of May 3rd I received a page asking me to check-in on a patient in the cardiothoracic intensive care unit. She was a 15-year-old girl, named Juanita, who had been diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis at the age of 9. Since her diagnosis, she spent just about every other week in the hospital. She was so sick at this point that the doctors put her on “ECMO,” which is basically a machine outside of the body that pumps blood for a person whose heart is failing. The situation was dire, but, thankfully, Juanita still had a bit of consciousness: I could speak with her and with her mother. She struck me as a brave, delightful girl. Her mother told me about her interests in pop music, computer games, and time with her friends. At the end of the conversation, I asked Juanita if she would like to pray with me. She nodded and smiled. Her mother pointed to a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe that hung on the wall. I entrusted little Juanita to big Guadalupe, and I felt that something special had happened as I left the room.
The next day I was off, so I didn’t meet with the family again until May 5th, Cinco de Mayo. Once again, the pager went off, and I spoke with the nurse on the phone. She told me that there was a “Goals of Care” meeting planned for Juanita. My heart sank. A “Goals of Care” meeting almost always meant that the patient was about to die. The family would have some big decisions to make. Quickly, I gathered my things and ran up to the ICU.
I walked into the conference room. Juanita’s mother, Yesica, was sitting next to the social worker. Tears ran down both of their faces. The social worker quietly excused herself and left me to be with Yesica alone. We sat in silence for about 5 minutes, at which point I asked her gently, “What happened?” She replied, with intermittent tears, “Yesterday, her numbers started to crash. They told me that we could keep little Juanita alive for a while, but that, ultimately, the outcome would be negative. They asked me to consider taking her off the life sustaining support. They said that I could do it in good faith. It wouldn’t be immoral. It didn’t sit well with me at all though. I wanted to fight. Last night, I got only a few hours of rest… I had a dream. I saw Juanita playing in the sea on the shore. She was running, swimming, dancing, laughing. She was happy again–happy like she was when she was eight, before all of this started. I woke up crying. I thought that God was calling her home, that I should let her go. What do you think, chaplain, what do you think about my dream? Please tell me.”
She grabbed my shoulder and stared into my eyes. I let a few moments of silence linger so that I could reflect. What to say? God, somewhere in my heart, whispered to me to share with Yesica, “The sea is God’s mercy, and, I think that you’re right, God wants to submerge her in His mercy. He wants her to be happy forever in the depths of His mercy.” She took my hand. We sat without another word a while longer. She broke the silence by asking us to pray together. We entrusted Juanita to God once more, this time in complete abandonment to His will. God’s justice was His mercy.
Later that night, Juanita did die. By the generosity of her mother, Juanita became an organ donor. Her liver helped save the life of another child.
Brothers, as we prepare for vows and as we enter into the second year of the novitiate, may we always be open to doing the will of God like Yesica. May God grant us the grace to see that His will is mercy and that our abandonment to that will makes us just before Him, turns us into another Christ.
Names have been changed to protect the identities of the people involved.
David J.W. Inczauskis, n.S.J.