They opened her up; then closed her again. The cancer has spread; there’s nothing they can do. Sentenced to death, her passion has begun. The woman is 94 years old. The doctors are surprised that she survived the surgery; her family is surprised that the doctors even attempted it. Their mother/sister/grandmother has cancer. Now they will walk the way of the cross with her. Before her surgery, she asked her daughter to pray with her. They prayed together in their Garden of Gethsemane. When she leaves the hospital to return to the nursing home where she lives, the hospice nurses will go with her. They will accompany her on her way to Calvary.
Her baby stopped moving. She was eight months pregnant. The doctors confirmed her worst fears. Her baby was dead. Her womb had become its tomb, but it would be weeks before the stone could be rolled away. She must carry her sweet, dead child until it could be delivered safely. Too soon or too late and the child’s life would become her death. She stood at the foot of her child’s cross and cried out in pain. It was the Pieta, this mother holding the body of her dead child close to her heart.
Thankfully, most of us will never have to experience this kind of pain and death. But there are other experiences of pain — and other deaths. One may be betrayed by a rival, denied by a friend, rejected because of the color of his skin or the number of years she has passed on this earth. Another may be beaten down by financial worries or concerns over deteriorating health. And still others may be scourged by prejudice, pierced by the nails of oppression or crucified on the tree of marginalization.
Crosses come in many shapes and sizes. How do we respond to the Passion of the Christ being lived out in the lives of the people around us? Do our actions identify us as a resurrection people? Or are we content to simply sit and watch Mel Gibson’s version on late night TV?
Van Benthem is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and a longtime pastoral minister, retreat leader, spiritual director and published writer and poet.