It has been but four days after 17 teens 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 only prayer that makes sense at a moment like this is the Way of the Cross. Did you ever notice how the Stations of the Cross are an astounding portrayal of the power of love in the experience of violence?
In this prayer, 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, about a community that gathers around the one who suffers.
And of course, the whole thing is love. What was meant to be a humiliating triumph over this rabbi, became like a jar of exquisite perfume that when broken filled the whole earth and every time. Jesus begins by opening wide his arms in love to accept the cross, to walk this way, to allow himself meekly to obey his executioners, to die in total trust, offering himself to his Father and handing over his spirit, and at last laid in a tomb, he sleeps in the heart of the earth, searching out the First Adam and those who have gone before and wait for his salvation in the shadowed darkness in the Limbo of the Fathers.
The Roman powers, the people calling for his death, those who played the political games that seemed to ensnare this innocent rabbi, even the sin of all the world seemed to have the power. The strength of love was the real power at play.
The first station: Jesus is condemned to death.
The second station: Jesus takes up his cross. The fourth: 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 Son, 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.
Even in our tears, we can take in the words of the Master, said the night before he died, “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)
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….
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. He comes in us, he comes in others, he comes in the Eucharist, he will come at the end of time.
Jesus, you are down in the dust,
crushed by the human struggle for life,
in both shooter and victim.
Underneath the grime of sin and the tears of pain
is your face, my Lord and Savior.
Give us the grace to wait
and to hold each other
in the soul’s long winters
and the desert sun’s heat
for the morning of the resurrection. Amen.
Sr Kathryn J. Hermes, FSP