Sickness and death. Both concern us. But neither should surprise nor worry us. We all get sick and die. Lent is a good time to remember this; it’s the opening line after all: Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
This year has felt like a very long Lent. Many in our community here at Dolores Mission are sick and dying. Am I concerned? Of course. Am I surprised? Not really. Do I worry? I try not to.
Our neighborhood—predominantly Latin American, low-income, essential workers—has been hit particularly hard by recent waves of COVID-19 infection. The usual mix of social and economic inequality and decades of systemically racist housing and health policies means that our neighborhood reliably suffers more of what everyone else suffers a little, if at all. Sadly, this doesn’t surprise us anymore. But, gratefully, it concerns us still.
One of my Jesuit community members was at a mortuary recently to preside over a vigil. After the service he asked one of the staff, “So, how’s it been lately?” They replied, “We just can’t keep up. We have over 300 bodies waiting for services.” The priest, shocked, looked up at the simple facade of the small, family-run mortuary and asked, “Where do you keep them?” The funeral director grimly gestured to a large freezer truck parked halfway down the block. “In there,” he said. “We had to rent.”
In the Gospel today Jesus tells his disciples something they probably already knew: “We’re going up to Jerusalem.” I imagine they rolled their eyes, “Yeah, Jesus. We noticed.” But he also tells them something they shouldn’t be surprised to hear, but probably didn’t want to think much about: “And there will be a crucifixion.” These days we don’t need to go up to Jerusalem to witness crucifixion. But in it all, I try not to worry. I prefer concern. Concern draws me closer to those who suffer, to the truth of their experience. Concern helps me to ask the right questions: What’s causing this? What must it be like for them? What comfort can I bring? Worry is rooted in an aversion to suffering. The fruit of worry is anxiety, avoidance, or burnout. The fruit of concern is care. These are concerning times. But worry is a waste. Better to live in concern and with care. As Jesus often said: We’re not here to lose our life. We’re here to give it.
- What does it mean for you to live from a place of loving concern?
- How might this be different from endless worry?
- What grace would help you live today in the Spirit of compassionate concern for those who suffer?
Brendan Busse, S.J., is associate pastor of Dolores Mission in Boyle Heights in Los Angeles, CA, serves as a clergy leader for LA Voice, an inter-faith community organizing network, and helps coordinate the Los Angeles regional CORE team (Collaborative Organizing for Racial Equity) for the Jesuits West Province. Brendan is a board member of the Loyola Institute of Spirituality and local superior of the Casa Luis Espinal Jesuit Community which serves Dolores Mission, Proyecto Pastoral, and Homeboy Industries.