At about this time last year, I bumped into a friend at the laundromat. My mind was occupied with loaded laundry baskets and grumblings about my broken washing machine, but all that left me the moment my eyes met hers.
She was in pain. Her newborn granddaughter, she told me, was gone.
There were many words that followed then. Anencephaly. Beautiful witness. Courageous parents. Angel in heaven. Peace. Grace. Love.
But I could not stop my tears. And they seemed only to feed hers. As a row of dryers hummed beside us, we held each other and cried. Though I felt helpless, I knew that for that brief moment, her burden was lighter because I held it, too.
I remembered seeing her daughter-in-law weeks before that day. She was at Mass, in line for communion, heavy with the impending birth, and lugging two small children along behind her. I had looked at her and felt that I knew that kind of busy, that kind of tired, that kind of suffering.
But I had no idea. I did not know that she had spent months fighting for her daughter’s right to life against doctors who urged her to take an easier way out. I did not know that she was planning her baby girl’s baptism at the same time as she was planning her funeral.
We can never know another’s pain perfectly or completely.
Before I left the laundromat that day, I told my friend that I would pray for her family and she thanked me, saying, “It’s been hard for me to do, you know.”
I do know. Sometimes it hurts too much to pray.
In some of my most sorrowful moments since becoming a mother, I have knelt before the crucifix, looked Jesus in the eyes, and willed myself to pray.
Say something, my inner voice hisses. Anything. But no words come.
But as He hangs on the cross, Christ doesn’t ask us for our words. He asks only for our presence. Come to me, He beckons. Take up your cross, He begs. Follow me, He pleads.
We don’t like to suffer, though. We cringe and cower at the thought of sacrifice and pain. Our feeble minds don’t understand the mystery of redemption through suffering, and so we do all that we can sometimes to run away from it. Even if it means leaving Our Lord hanging alone on the cross.
Though we might sometimes try to block out Christ’s calling and pretend that we are the ultimate masters of our lives, we can never get away with it for long. We cannot escape the fact that we have been called. We have been chosen.
“It was not you who chose me,” Christ reminds us, “But I who chose you” (Jn 15:16).
One day not too long ago, an errant Nerf ball knocked a crucifix from the wall in our living room. Jesus and His cross clattered to the floor and fell into several pieces. As I knelt on the floor, attempting to hold Jesus in place and piece the bits of wooden cross back together, one of the boys noticed the wall.
“Look,” he said, “There’s a mark on the wall where the cross was.”
There was. The wooden interior walls of our house grow darker with age, and where the crucifix had hung there was a perfect imprint of a cross.
Jesus hung here. There is no hiding it.
We are all marked by Christ’s cross. We all have private pains that only He can see. But even when we have no words, we can stand beside Him and add our suffering to His.
Christ hangs among us today. We can recognize the private ways and the public ways we have been called to suffer too and strive to ease one another’s burdens. We can see Christ’s wounds in others’ hearts and be present to Our Lord in His time of need.