702) “May the Angels Lead You Far, Far From Here”

 

Father Rick Frechette (1953- )

     Father Rick Frechette is a Roman Catholic priest who has given his life to serving among the poorest of the poor in Haiti.  He has been there for over 30 years, and has loved his ministry with the Haitian people.  They have such miserable lives, he says, but are always so cheerful, so filled with gratitude, and many of them have a strong faith despite their desperate circumstances.  He describes it as a wonderful blessing to serve among them.

     In 2010 there was an earthquake in Haiti that killed somewhere between 150-250,000 people, destroying much of the capital city of Port-au-Prince.  Bodies were piled high in the streets, the smell of death was everywhere, everything was in ruins, and there were few places for the injured and homeless to go for refuge.  For a long time after that, it was not so wonderful for Father Rick to be there.  For months, it was just day to day misery.  It was Father Rick’s duty to stay, and he stayed.  He loved those people, he knew how to help them, and he worked through that tragedy with them.  But the days were filled with grief, mental distress, physical exhaustion, and spiritual agony.

     You may remember the truckloads of bodies that were carried out of the city to the mass graves.  For days, Father Rick made it a point to be at many such burials, seeing to it that those dead, so hastily buried, could at least have the dignity of God’s Word read over them as they were laid to rest.  Sometimes there were family members present.  Other times, dozens of unknown bodies were being buried even as loved ones in other parts of the city were looking all over, hoping to find alive the very ones who were being buried there anonymously.  It was a tragedy beyond comprehension.

     One of the places Father Rick often went in the days after the earthquake was the city morgue where many of the bodies were collected.  From there Father Rick would ride along out to the country for burials, or, if unable to go, would just offer a quick blessing at the morgue.  This is how he described those blessings:

In this barbaric cave for the dead, my trembling hand blesses them, and I say, “May the angels lead you far, far from here, and do so in all haste, you and this throng of dead that surround you.”

     This is a simple blessing, said in haste, but filled with the truth of the Christian hope.  It is a hopeful, even pleasant word, spoken in the very pit of that hell-on-earth.  May the angels lead you far, far from here, he said, speaking to those corpses as though there was something left, someone there yet.  And he would tell them that there was someone coming for them.  He would tell them that they were going somewhere else, far away from that hell-hole.  And he was able to speak like that only because Jesus had spoken of that other place, Jesus who rose from the dead to show us it can be done.  And then Jesus said that we too may live again.  Without Jesus, all that was left of those lives was a warehouse full of rotting flesh.  But because of Jesus, Father Rick could make that outrageous claim that all who believed in him were on their way to somewhere else.  Only because of Jesus’ death and resurrection is such a blessing possible.  

     The resurrection of Jesus answers the larger question of death itself that underlies not only disasters like the Haiti earthquake, but all of life.  You see, the tragedy in Haiti was that so many died all at once.  But in the long run, all of those people would have died anyway, as will each of us, and then we will be no more or less dead, no more or less without hope, than any one of those hundreds of thousands buried in mass graves by the truckload.  Two hundred thousand all at once, or, one at a time, either way, the same fate still awaits us all.  And then our only hope, like theirs, is that, as Father Rick said in the blessing, there will be someplace else to go; someplace far, far from here.  It is that certainty, that blessing, that eternal hope and promise, that is the central message, meaning, and purpose of the Gospel.  Christ died so that we might be forgiven, and Christ rose from the dead, so that we too might rise.  Anything else we might pray for or hope for from God is only a far distant second best by comparison.  In the meantime, there will be many things that we too must suffer, and we may not see any purpose in such suffering.  But our vision is limited.  God is a big God, and his creation is a big creation, and eternity is a long time, and we see such a small part of any of it.

Father Rick presiding at a mass burial of unclaimed bodies after the 2010 earthquake

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John 14:1-6  —  (Jesus said), “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  You believe in God; believe also in me.  My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  You know the way to the place where I am going.”  Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”  Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

John 3:16  —  (Jesus said), “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

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May the eternal God bless us and keep us, guard our bodies, save our souls, direct our thoughts, and bring us safe to the heavenly country, our eternal home, where Father, Son, and Holy Spirit ever reign, one God for ever and ever.  Amen.

–Sarum Missal