It has been but five days after 17 teens have died at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and the pain of this event, born primarily by those closest to these teens and their community, still lies heavy on my heart. The sacred sorrow of this shooting, as all the other shootings that have marred the peace of soul of all of us here in the US, has been violated by the political wrangling that immediately broke out in articles, comments, and social media posts and comments.
Those who shoot, those who make the laws, those engaged in the political dance may leave us feeling powerless. But, really, are we?
Too often in these past months we are standing alongside Mary tenderly laying our dear ones to rest too soon, their lives snuffed out by the violence and insanity of another.
It is the Lord who has surrendered to the blows of suffering and death, and who still suffers at the hands of others. Caryll Houselander, an unexpected English mystic who lived through two World Wars in the first half of the twentieth century, had several visions in her life which convinced her of this. After her 9th birthday, Caryll’s parents separated. She was sent to the cloistered Convent of the Holy Child. At the school, the French and Belgian nuns taught the children how to make jams, knit woolen helmets, and hate Germans. Here, Caryll experienced her first mystical experience. One day, she noticed a Bavarian (“To us, Bavarian meant German”) nun sitting alone, cleaning shoes and weeping. After a long silence, Caryll saw a mental picture of the nun’s head weighed down by a crown of thorns. From this vision, she came to understand that Christ was suffering in this nun.
Later in her life on a crowded subway train station, she suddenly saw Christ in each passenger—“living in them, dying in them, rejoicing in them, sorrowing in them.” In these passengers she saw the whole world. Later, as she walked among the crowds in the street, she saw Christ in every passerby.
In her prayer she pleaded with the Lord that she might not be moved by pity by the Christ on the wall but be a stone to the Christ suffering around her. She asked the Lord that she might be a modern-day Veronica and wipe away the ugliness of sin from the human face. Under the sorrow, the tears, the wounds and the pain is truly the face of the Lord.
In the seeming powerlessness to protect ourselves from pain and terror, we can attend to each other…to the other as Christ…to wipe her face, to carry his burden, to support, to be with, to sorrow alongside, to lay tenderly to rest….
Has it ever happened to you to be deeply surprised by a prayer you have said a thousand times before but which suddenly strikes you to the heart? This happened to me last Friday as I prayed the Way of the Cross with my community.
The first station: Jesus is condemned to death.
Eagerly I bend my spirit to follow the Lord on the way to Calvary.
Did you ever notice how the Stations of the Cross are a moving portrayal of the power of love in the experience of violence?
The second station: Jesus takes up his cross. The four: Mary, who has followed him as mother, support, disciple, faces her Son and the look that passes from one face to another…. The fifth station: Simon of Cyrene takes up the cross of someone who may have been a stranger to him, but who–either out of duress or out of compassion–seeks to lighten this poor condemned man’s load…. The sixth station: The woman Veronica wipes the sweat, the tears, the blood from the divine face of her Master to give him at least a passing moment of comfort and pity. The eighth station: The women of Jerusalem weep at the sight of goodness treated with such violence and hatred. The eleventh and twelfth stations: Jesus extends his arms on the cross, offering his body to be nailed to the wood of the tree that would become our life, and there he dies, handing over his life for us. The thirteenth and fourteenth station: Nicodemus appears to help Mary and John care for the body of their Lord and Teacher, and together they lay him tenderly in the tomb. In silence they depart.
Where violence seems to have the last word, the only word, the tenderness of love is poured forth like oil into the wounds inflicted on the body of the Savior. Most of the Stations are about that love that rises higher than the undertone of hatred and death, soaring in delicate harmony that outlasts the other elements of the walk of death they have witnessed.
There are many ways to love–weeping, remembering, acting, advocating…. Each of them arises from the will to hope in the passing away of the storms of the world and the coming of the One who alone now gives life, promise, future, and happiness.
“I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (Jn. 16:33)
Sr. Kathryn J. Hermes, FSP