“Remember, you are dust…” 
“Remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return.”
Fr. Edward Talbot Oakes, SJ died on the Feast of St. Nicholas 2013. It was practically six months to the day from the time he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He was a member of the ordination class of 1979, a fine group that included Gerry Stockhausen, me, and other fine Jesuits.
Eddie made his mark as a commentator, critic, & teacher whose great interest in the Swiss theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar eventually led him to teach at the University of St. Mary of the Lake (Mundelein Seminary for the Archdiocese of Chicago). He wrote & published as a widely-recognized scholar on von Balthasar. He was a good friend & fierce opponent. Not to besmirch his memory, but many Jesuits around his time knew him as “Mad Dog.”
I was in St. Louis when Eddie came to the infirmary at Jesuit Hall, St. Louis University in the fall of 2013. Like the Stockman, his cancer progressed quickly the last weeks of his life and he slept much of the time. His sister related this story:
“Ed was sleeping deeply this particular evening. He hadn’t talked in days. Suddenly, he sat bolt upright and asked with particular ferocity, “Why am I sick!” “I don’t know, Ed, you’ll have to ask God about that when you see him.” Without pausing, he said, “Not deep enough!” He lay back down to sleep & didn’t communicate from then on.
Just like Eddie, Gerry asked, “Why is this happening to me? I’ve taken great care of my body all these years…?”
Here’s my reply: Asking WHY often doesn’t do a dang bit of good when it comes down to inexplainable events or “acts of God.” There may be an answer to “Why”?” otherwise. One may have taken a risk, ingested too much of a good thing, or had those genes that upset the apple cart when least expecting it. In many cases, there is no answer to “Why?”
Instead, I translate “Why?” into “This hurts like hell and I don’t like it!”
I’m compelled by Eddie’s statement, “Not deep enough!” to seek for a deeper answer by asking, What can mortality teach me? What could loss & disillusionment possibly have to offer that could help me delve deeper into Christ’s death & resurrection? Mind you, I ask this with the hope that I don’t want to learn this stuff TOO soon (!) My plans, O God, are to do this gradually at a pace that fits with my needs not to be overwhelmed. Got it?
Thanks for composing this piece, Scooter. –roc,sj
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