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    sunlit warm brown stone wall

    A Broken Body Announces a Glorified One

    Too many people live to please their bodies at the expense of their souls. My dying mother taught me something else.

    By Jihad Youssef

    April 16, 2022
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    • TR

      As a mama, I can’t imagine a more beautiful tribute from a son than what you have written. She taught you about God and his love from the beginning to the end of her earthly life. What could a mama do that would be more important? To you both: Well done good and faithful servant. Thank you for writing and teaching through this experience.I couldn’t help but think too, your 33 day journey with her also matches Jesus’ 33 years on Earth.

    Father Jihad, head of Deir Mar Musa, a monastery in Syria, writes of the last days he spent with his mother, who died of Covid in May 2021.

    On the seventh of April, I had just arrived in Beirut when I received a call from my village, “Jihad, your mother is ill.” I could sense the presence of an ominous ghost swirling around my tender mother. On the thirteenth of May, she died while praying as I held her hand in mine. The greatest good that I knew in creation passed on to the mercy of God Almighty on Ascension Thursday, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, and the first day of Eid Al-Fitr, as a result of the ugly coronavirus. I had always thought about that day, dreaded it, and prayed for how it would come about.

    “What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Cor. 15:50). Over and over again, I have pondered the mystery of life, where nothing is as certain as death. I have often wondered how Christ entered the upper room to join his disciples while the doors were closed (John 20:19). The apostles thought he was a spirit, but he showed them his hands and feet and asked them to touch him, and when they remained incredulous, he asked them for food and ate it before their eyes (Luke 24:37–43). We are a people who believe in the resurrection, as the apostle Paul affirms: as for “the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable … it is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15:42, 44). This suggests that the physical body is a non-spiritual body. If it stops breathing, it dies. As for the soul, it has no body, and therefore it does not breathe because it is all breath. But the risen Jesus was, and still is, breathing. However, his body is no longer “physical” in the sense that Paul is talking about, but is rather a spiritual body, that is, glorified, and one of the attributes of glory is imperishability and incorruption.

    people enjoying mate in the sunlight by a wall

    Father Jihad, Sister Carol, and Raimon, a friend of the community, sharing a maté before the morning prayer All photographs by Cécile Massie. Used by permission.

    People in today’s world view the body as an idol. In television and internet advertisements, different products are promoted in a consumer market without mercy, where the body is always presented as young, graceful, fresh, attractive, athletic, strong, sexually alluring, and so on. Deep down, everyone desires to never get sick or grow old. It sometimes seems like no advertisement, even if for a car or a refrigerator, lacks a girl wearing minimal clothes or a young man displaying maximum muscles. The body is a cheap commodity in a world where all commodities have become expensive. Bodies, the bodies of the simple and the poor, are treated as fuel for heating by the powerful, for the benefit of their own bodies. Wars harvest the bodies of millions and do not take on the burden of their souls. Too many people live to please their bodies at the expense of their souls – their own as well as the souls and bodies of others.

    I spent thirty-three days with my ailing mother, during which time her condition gradually deteriorated until she lost her concentration, her memory weakened, and her movement diminished, and so she needed someone to serve her in everything. I haven’t spent that much time with my mom in over two decades. I sang for her and with her, fed her, satiated her thirst, gave her medicine; dressed her and cleaned her, washed her feet reverently and bathed her with modesty, combed her silky, silky hair. For a month I worked to give her what she had given me for many years. We laughed and joked, and in moments of fatigue and for lack of sleep, we quarreled, and out of despair and exhaustion, I even raised my voice in her face, thinking that I might help her when she was refusing to eat, for example, or to prevent her from doing something that might hurt her and increase my fatigue. I asked her forgiveness for that, so she forgave me and asked God to forgive me and be pleased with me. I told her over and over how much I loved her, to the point of redundancy, and each time, despite her pain and until her final breath, she answered me in her Lebanese accent: “I love you too.” I told her repeatedly how much I miss her, and she replied sweetly, “I miss you too.” I cried as I watched her fade and vanish, and no longer fearing the danger of infection, I didn’t prevent my lips from kissing her soft hands, and quenched my heart’s thirst by kissing her forehead and cheeks. We prayed together and thanked God for everything. She assured me that she was not afraid of illness and death. And she breathed her last breath while repeating, “With your suffering, Jesus.” Her attitude, patience, and submission were a lesson in faith for me, just as in my childhood, when she had taught me to pray. I watched her surrender to the Most Gracious One, and heard her calling out to him, “Lord, save me, O Jesus, take me, O Virgin Mother, I seek solace in you.” I witnessed her submitting to her Creator, waiting for God to be all in all (1 Cor. 15:28).

    man washing a persons feet

    Foot washing

    My mother’s weak body taught me many things, the first of which is the vanity of the world. It taught me patience and compelled me to humble myself before its greatness and the greatness of its Creator. The experience with my sick mother freed me from the taboos imposed upon us by a strict society and the wrong face of uncritical religious education. It showed me the sanctity and beauty of life that does not disappear with old age and which disease does not abate, and introduced me to the sweet scent of Christ that leads us from life to more life (2 Cor. 2:15–16).

    The coronavirus epidemic has imposed painful restrictions on us and caused severe harm to many peoples and countries. It is, however, a golden opportunity to learn what is important and what is essential. The question is, have we learned something? Has all of humanity gotten the message? Whatever the case, let each and every one of us enjoy those we love, let us serve our parents and grandparents, let us express our love to them before it is too late. Nothing is worth quarrelling over with anyone, so may we not let pride prevent us from seeking forgiveness and reconciliation with those we have wronged, and may we not be ashamed or put off the words “I love you,” even without occasion.

    man in robes standing in a sunlit room with a censor of incense

    Father Jihad incenses one of the buildings above the monastery, which was closed for several years during the conflict.

    I arranged my mother’s few belongings – some worn-out clothes, a comb, nail scissors, eyeglasses, a few small flashlights, a lighter and so on. When my mother died, she had nothing but a small wad of money that I had tucked into her wallet months before. Her poverty matched that of hermits, and almost exceeded it. I was ashamed of myself in front of her, I, who vowed poverty. How proud she was of my consecration, for even though she had forgotten many things and people, she still said to those around her sickbed, “My son is a monk at Deir Mar Musa.” She was attached to God Almighty, who set her free: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor. 3:17).

    Thank you, Mama.

    Contributed By

    Father Jihad Youssef was named head of the monastic community of Deir Mar Musa in June 2021. He grew up in a Syrian Maronite family, and became a monk in 1999.

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