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Being there in grief

I wish I were a better priest. I wish I prayed more. Then maybe I would have grace to share when needed.

I wish I knew the Scriptures better. Then I would have the right words to say when sorrows come and tragedy visits a household.

But time and again I know that I am inadequate.

This is not phony humility. I am not begging for consolation or a compliment; it is the truth. I don't have the holiness, the wisdom or even the faith that some occasions require.

Like most parish priests, there are times I just feel lost.

Not long ago I was called to the bedside of a 42-year-old wife and mother of three beautiful little girls. The young woman was dying of breast cancer. Her body was so distorted by the disease that I did not recognize her even though I had seen her every week for five years.

She had been so brave and confident through the course of her treatment that I never really understood how sick she really was. Ever the optimist, she waved off any worry.

So when I was called to the hospital to anoint her I was stunned.

She could not talk or swallow because of the tubes down her throat. If they were removed she would die. The hospital was keeping her alive until her husband could get back. He is in the Navy and was out at sea on a submarine. The Navy made extraordinary efforts to get him back. The sub had to surface and return to a nearby port.

I've seen many deaths in the last 25 years, but this one really got to me.

On the way back from the hospital I lost it. In the car I started shouting at God. It wasn't exactly a prayer. It was more of a complaint.

"Some loving God You are! You let this good woman, who by the way, is so dedicated to You, die. You leave her young children without a mother. You expect me to love You? Well, I don't!"

It was a long drive home. After a few miles my anger passed. Then I started pleading with God: "Why can't You just give me this one? It doesn't cost You anything. What is the value of taking a mother of three little girls? Why do You create so many people and then let them suffer? They are not guilty. You are guilty, God!"

I was angry, like Psalm 10: "Why, O Lord, do you stand aloof? Why hide in times of distress?"

A few days later she died. There was some consolation. Her husband had returned in time to see her.

When I went down to the house to visit with the husband and the girls and grandma, all I could do was sit there in silence, like the friends of Job.

Nobody ever said anything about this when I was in the seminary. It probably would not have mattered if they did. Nothing can ever equip you for such sorrow. This sorrow was only a tiny drop in the ocean of suffering in the world.

But, at such moments, all we have is faith. We trust that somewhere in the heart of the universe is the heart of a God who loves us.

I don't really have any words of wisdom or grace that will take away the pain.

I wish I were a better priest. Maybe then I would.

Fr. Daly is pastor of St. John Vianney Church in Prince Frederick, Md.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2010