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“It’s no big deal,” my sister says on the phone of her recent hysterectomy. “Of all my surgeries, it was the easiest.” Of course, this is a woman who has had surgery on her eyeball. And endured a double mastectomy. It is not surprising to me that she is stoic. She knows the way of pain.

The way of pain is also Jesus’ way. Imagine, if you will, being tortured for hours by Roman guards, kept up all night, having a crown of thorns digging inexorably into your head…then being loaded up with a wooden crucifix you can barely lift and having to drag it to your own execution site. All this before getting nailed to said cross and dying of exsanguination or collapsed lungs or shock or all three. And yet the gospel-writers never include anything about Jesus hollering curses or demanding morphine or even venting slightly with a few cross words (pun intended). Jesus takes on the worst physical pain — and the pain of all the sins of the world — and still finds time to take care of his mother, forgive a thief and absolve his murderers. Now that is something.

Pain is lonely. It cuts a person off from others. There is no “sharing” pain; each person’s pain is unique. When I broke my ankle many years ago, I felt pretty bad. Then a friend of mine related the story of how she broke her ankle. Just hearing the story made me know that what I was experiencing was, frankly, laughable.

Pain is dehumanizing, reducing most of us to our worst selves. When an animal is in pain, it may hide. If confronted, it will bite. We humans do this too, in our own way. Neither strategy lessens the pain, but the kind of thinking that goes along with pain is seldom rational.

Pain has become something of a dirty word in this country. We will go to great lengths to extinguish it with pills, shots and other tinctures, both of the legal and illegal variety. No one wants to walk through pain. But pain is also salvific: It is perhaps our only means of intersecting our life experience with that of Christ. I will never be able to multiply loaves and fishes, but I can certainly understand how it feels to hurt.

Holy Week is coming up next week, a week wherein we remember Jesus’ suffering and his triumph over death. It seems an opportune time to reflect on the pain in our lives. We all experience pain, physical, mental or spiritual. But what we do with that pain matters. Non-Catholics tease Catholics over the use of the phrase, “Give it up to God.” We use it a lot, for everything from small deprivations to devastating losses. But what that phrase means is this: With this experience, I am touching, in the tiniest way, the way of the cross and the way of Christ. This provides an opportunity for something special — to choose Jesus’ response of understanding, acceptance and sanctification or to allow myself to be diminished.

The way of pain is not the easy way. It is not something to strive for. But when it is thrust upon us, as it inevitably is, it is a place of possibility. And in this place, we are at one with God.

 

 

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There’s something in the air. Easter is almost upon us. But before we get there, let’s take a moment. Let’s remember Christ crucified, Christ beaten and belittled and spat upon. Christ bleeding and gouged and broken. Let’s spend a moment with the deep terribleness of Good Friday.

Why? Because we can’t fully appreciate the joy of Easter without acknowledging the horror of what came before. And because it is a timely reminder of Jesus’ love and understanding for us. We all suffer. We all feel broken and forsaken. It is good to remember that Jesus felt this way too, and that he continues to feel for us in our most hurting moments. Jesus understands pain. He feels it with us, even though we are the ones who caused his pain to begin with. That’s a huge revelation. It is a portrait of forgiveness and love that points the way for our own lives.

I recently watched a video wherein homeless people read mean tweets written about homelessness and homeless people. I watched them sob as they read the cruel, dismissive observations of those more fortunate. This is why we must remember the crucifixion: Because the moment we lose our connection with our fellow human beings, and with their suffering, we become less than human. Jesus sides, and will always side, with those on the fringes, those who have less, those who are ridiculed and dismissed. Before we judge another human being, it would do us well to remember that.

Keep the cross in mind. Watch for the invisible crosses that those around you carry. Allow yourself to feel empathy for them. Help them if you can.

There is no resurrection without the crucifixion. If you can’t embrace the beaten Christ — and the beaten Christ in other people — you cannot, and will not, embrace resurrection. Amid the good tidings of Easter, let’s keep this in mind.

Here is a video of the anthem that we sang yesterday — note:  this isn’t the choir that I am part of but this is definitely one of my favorite anthems.  Listen to the lyrics with a tissue in hand!

–SueBE

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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