There is overlap in readings chosen for funerals and for the pastoral care rites. In looking to Saint Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, we know the apostle is struggling. He has his own doubts and deep feelings. In conflict with his conflicted and beloved community in Greece, he pours out his heart.
At a time of serious illness, even when we are dying, we can unite with Paul in this pilgrimage. We looked at a longer excerpt here in our treatment of the funeral rites. The situation when faced with the end of life, or even advanced age presents the same Scripture:
Therefore, we are not discouraged;
rather, although our outer self is wasting away,
our inner self is being renewed day by day.
For this momentary light affliction is producing for us
an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,
as we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen;
for what is seen is transitory,
but what is unseen is eternal.
In old age, we lose vitality. Our own body becomes unfamiliar, no longer able to resist fully the illnesses and injuries of human life. Even the mind may be cast adrift from sanity and reason.
I suspect Saint Paul is suggesting a deeper “inner self” than just our intellect. Have we been rooted in Jesus? Can we continue our discipline of prayer, faithfulness, and discipleship? Even if confined to a limited mobility, even a single room at the end of life?
A pastoral care minister might need to take care with this passage. If presented casually, it might be interpreted as empty sentiment. A person with deep faith will instinctively know the person is more than the body or even the mind. Pedro Arrupe’s reflection (cited here) seems apt:
More than ever I find myself in the hands of God.
This is what I have wanted all my life from my youth.
But now there is a difference;
the initiative is entirely with God.
It is indeed a profound spiritual experience
to know and feel myself so totally in God’s hands.
For an in-depth treatment of the Pastoral Care rites, check this page that outlines our examination from a decade ago.