Suffering with Christ
The crucified Jesus refused to dull His excruciating pain or to shorten His misery
In the late 1940s, when I was a kid living in predominantly Irish and Italian East Boston, people practiced silence on Good Friday from noon to 3pm, respecting the three hours that Christ hung dying on the Cross. Business traffic slowed way down and cobblestone streets were silent of auto horns and noisy vendors in horse-drawn wagons. People bought and sold essentials, but only with hand signals and a nod or shake of the head. Holy Redeemer Church filled with local women and nuns in black, chanting the rosary. Unlike today, Boston was a devotional Catholic bastion.
Recently my 91-year-old friend Lou phoned me with news that he wasn’t feeling well and was going to the ER. I once wrote a blog post about his dying wife (“My Ticket to Heaven,” May 3, 2019), about whom his daughter had supplied details: “Hospice comes every day, and we take turns tending her needs… Mom takes only liquids now and sleeps most of the time… They have her on morphine.” Two years on, Lou has been experiencing gastric reflux, diverticulitis, and other unpleasant GI disturbances. Since his wife died, I’d been trying to get him to create a Living Trust with a Health Care Directive. Soon after his phone call, his daughter emailed that they were finally writing one, and wanted my advice.
“We have been delayed finalizing my dad’s trust due to his health issues within the past month… The attorney is waiting for my dad to review… Can you please assist? My dad would like your thoughts and opinion from a religious perspective.” She specifically mentioned “item 3” in a short list of end-of-life choices; “item 3” reads, “I want to die free of unnecessary pain and suffering even if pain medication will shorten my life.”
My thoughts on pain relief led to reflection on Christ’s refusing myrrh-in-wine in His last hour. Myrrh was one of the three gifts the Magi had brought to His birthplace. Why myrrh? The sap-like extract was used in ancient times as a psycho-active intoxicant and analgesic. It was worth its weight in gold, and thus fit for a king; it also signaled Jesus’ Passion. Perhaps His mother Mary kept that gift for 33 years and mixed some of it in the wine. “And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he refused to take it” (Mark 15:23).
The agony of Roman crucifixions could last from six hours to four days. Christ refused to dull His excruciating pain or to shorten His misery.
The three hours of silence Bostonians practiced back in the day was to remind us what happened to Him.
The dramatic finale of human life is when many deathbed conversions occur. Eleventh-hour converts inwardly manage to gaze upon the crucified Christ. Like the Good Thief they finally acknowledge a lifetime of sin deserving eternal punishment, unlike that of the innocent and holy Jesus whom they crucified.
Meditating on all this, I advised my friend against pain relief in his last hour, and any shortening of his life, so as to more fully participate in the agony of Christ.
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