Sibling Empathy

“He was made like his siblings in every way, so that he might become a merciful high priest… For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses…”  Hebrews 2:17, 4:15

When my mother turned ninety, she entered her funeral instructions on a form entitled, ‘In the Event of My Death,’ a phrase she found amusing, as if death were something that might happen, or might not.

She nixed viewing hours. She hated being looked at, as countless ruined family photos attest. She also vetoed the sort of obituary that lists everything you’ve ever done and every last relative you’re leaving behind. She wrote five lines.

The casket? Nothing high-end. She wasn’t cheap, but she found ostentation silly, especially when it was headed six feet under. Besides, the Catholic funeral liturgy mandates a white cloth covering for caskets, signifying the baptized dignity of the body inside. No one would see the actual coffin. She told my brothers to buy a bargain box.

A few days before she died, she remembered that the cloth is placed on the casket after it’s brought into the sanctuary. People would see it after all; they’d know she skimped. She made the boys to go back to the funeral home to ‘take it up a notch.’ 

There are terrible sinners in this world. My mother wasn’t one of them. But there is a little wonkiness in every human soul. Hers was a vanity so slight, so sweet, so human, it made us laugh and weep. It was easy to indulge.

Maybe your weaknesses are not as sweet or slight. If, as mine do, they weigh on you or cause you shame, here’s Hebrews for consolation: The Great Mercy doesn’t judge our frailties, he feels them in his own human flesh. With sibling empathy, with laughter and tears, he indulges us, all the days of our lives, and at the hour of our death.


May your sibling empathy heal all our weaknesses some day, O Christ. Meanwhile, indulge us in mercy. Amen. 

About the Author
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.