The thousand faces of love
(Lk 23:28) (Jn 19:25)
Jesus’ friends do not necessarily take away His pain, rather, when Peter dares to say to Him that he should not suffer, the Master reproaches him (Mt 16: 21-23). His followers slowly learn from Him and like St Ignatius of Antiochia, arrive even to the point of saying “I beseech you, do not show me an inopportune benevolence. Let me be food for the wild beasts so that I can reach my God.” The Man of suffering has assumed on himself the evils of men of all time, so that in love man can find the salvific meaning of his pain (cfr Salvifici doloris, 31).
On the Way of the Cross, Veronica, the pious women and Our Lady surround Jesus in profound friendship of reassuring presence, intense communication through their gazes, their faces, the tenderness of their words and hands. Their powerlessness is only apparent. In today’s world, the objective is no longer to care for but to cure. Consequently if an illness is incurable it is also defined to be not worth caring for. “There is nothing more to be done” can be considered a failure for doctors. But for us Christians, for us who bring life, for us who testify that death can be conquered, for us who believe that Jesus is risen, there does not even exist an illness that cannot be cared for even though it may be incurable. Looking after someone who has a problem encompasses many levels, from the affections of human warmth, from being interested in his welfare to giving of your time, from listening to him to being physically present, from medical expertise to the quest of political justice, from respect to an eager disposition in caring for him. There are a thousand dimensions to loving.
Eliminating the discomfort is only one part of caring for someone. The women on the road to Calvary were not able to tear Jesus from the cross, but being the courageous friends they were, they remained until the very end so that He wouldn’t die alone. I remember the scene from Dead Man Walking in which the man condemned to die already sitting in the electric chair finds strength and meaning when his gaze meets that of a nun who loved him so much that she came to the execution room so as not to abandon him at the moment of death. Stabat mater dolorosa…Our Lady present at the foot of the cross (Jn 19:25).
The night before his sacrifice, the lion in the Chronicles of Narnia did not refuse the caresses of his mane and the tenderness of the two little children who were unable to free him from his agony, but were ready to warm his heart. It is our Jesus in the garden of olives that asks his three faithful friends to keep vigil with him (Mt 26: 38). It is not the first time that Christ appreciates the presence of those who went to visit him, regardless of profession and competence: “I was ill and you came to visit” (Mt 25:36) and not to beg me for anything.
If it were possible to conquer suffering and postpone death as much as possible, we would not be satisfied until we had not only the remedy but also a human heart that beats with compassion. In the most painful of situations “what is needed is the caress of the Nazarene”, affirms a lay doctor called Jannacci; and sometimes He wants to offer a caress using our hands.
Mother Theresa herself found herself face to face with inevitable death each day. If that which Jesus called her to was simply the resolution of problems, she would have been an enormous failure given that oftentimes her work was simply to accompany the dying in their final agony, giving back to them their dignity in a human death. On the World Day for the Sick, Benedict XVI indirectly confirmed her work when he reaffirmed that “the life of man is not a disposable good, but a precious treasure chest that must be looked after and cared for with every attention possible, from its beginning to its ultimate and natural conclusion.”
The greatest evil is suffering, and fortunately it does not require a degree lighten it. The fear of becoming a burden destined to isolation can set off many unnatural thoughts. The friends of Jesus did not tear him away from the cross, but accompanied him on the journey. He who suffers has the possibility of opening up before himself a way towards the discovery of the Face of Christ when he shows his own suffering and welcomes a presence. Here is the testimony of Mario, the father of Anna, a woman who has been seriously ill for many long years: Wounded by this powerlessness and sense of incompleteness, … I became “attached” to those who looked at Anna with a “strange” profundity and different humanity that I, who was her father, did not have. Anna wanted to be treated as something greater. Anna was there to challenge my usual ways of reasoning and reacting – as understandable and inevitable as they may have been. But these ways did not take into consideration an evident fact: that reality has within it a quid, that something that goes beyond what we can see. If something does not happen in life, we would not know how to give a name to this “quid”, this “something”, but this does not take away the fact that it exists. It was evident that there was something greater in Anna that I could not hide to myself simply because I did not see it, while what I saw was very painful for me. It is in this way that I have learnt how to know Anna in a way completely new, different … Simply because she is, she is a person. This is an evident sign that there is an Other who wants her and who brings her to her destiny of happiness. This is so much more than being resigned in the wait for heaven, because this destiny of happiness was so evident that he who gazed upon her and became conscious of it, changed … I would never have been able to imagine that a sorrow such as this would be a seed of human newness.
Our Lady came to Lourdes to remind us that we are merely sojourners on this earth and that the real and definitive homeland of man is heaven. It is to this that we must all tend to. The light that comes “from Above” helps us to understand and make sense of the value of the experience of suffering and death. And to help us see that “quid”. In letting himself be helped, Jesus has impressed his face upon people, much like the real icon that he gave to Veronica when she drew near to him to wipe his face. She offers love and receives Jesus. He accepts love and gives himself. In this same way, when we help, we receive Jesus. When we welcome love with a simple gaze, offered even in a clumsy way, we impress the face of Jesus in the life of those who draw near to us. In both cases, there is more love in the world. From us towards the others or in the opposite direction: it makes no difference. Let us make love go around: Jesus loved precisely in the moment he let himself be loved.
Let us make Love go around
I love: I seek out those who are sick, Imitating Our Lady and Veronica, knowing that love will pass from me to Him and I will go away with Jesus impressed on my heart.
I let myself be loved: I accept the attention that is offered me in my pain and imitate Jesus on the road to Calvary, knowing that I am an instrument that he will use to show His face to those who try to love me.