I spoke recently to a woman who is a Catholic hospital chaplain. Sherry had asked me to write a letter of reference. We sat in a small room behind our parish office for our first private conversation. Even though I have known her for a decade, I never heard the important pieces of her story. Sherry spoke softly about the events that changed her life. She slowly remembered to me the car accident that left her a paraplegic. Sherry breathed slowly, deliberately as she recalled the tragedy. I could hardly hear her words as I sat spellbound by her tears.
Sherry named again her desire to join the Catholic Church some years after the accident. She professed her belief in the mystery of Christ’s human suffering and resurrection. Sherry told me her suffering still only makes sense in the suffering Christ. Her eyes conveyed deep pain as she stared at me and told me that she is so grateful for the Crucifix in our sanctuary so that she can always see Christ’s redemptive suffering. She connects her own unimaginable pain and the suffering of other people so profoundly with the suffering Christ. She lives the cross she professes.
I am deeply humbled by people who live the meaning of the Lenten season every day of the year. I sat in silence after our conversation trying to offer her life and pain to God. The only place I can rest my heart is in Christ’s journey to the cross. This is not sheer piety or a holy formula for sanctity, but a deep realization that no person can control or heal so much of the suffering people experience on a daily basis.
The collect for the First Sunday of Lent invites us all into the hidden riches of Christ Jesus. For many people these hidden riches are obvious and exposed. I see these hidden riches in people who have come to terms with great loss in their lives. When parents have lost their jobs and their children bear the weight of losing home, school and their sure footing in society, the riches of Christ are obvious when that same family helps others in need. I see the hidden riches of Christ when people finally admit their alcoholism or when I sit with an elderly man dying of cancer and witness the glimmer of love in the eyes of his wife. The hidden aspects of love, mercy and forgiveness are revealed in so many lives that survive loss and poverty.
I listened to Sherry describe her relationship with Christ Crucified. I sat in silence because her love is so real and obvious. She sits in the wheelchair only moving her arms to drive the chair. The chair is her cross. Her body pain waits for redemption. Her very presence in our community invites people into the Lenten journey with no words or convincing needed. The hidden riches of Christ are revealed in her deep faith, her constant trust and her willingness to offer her pain to other people. Her Lenten journey continues throughout the year.
This Lenten collect invites us to examine suffering in every community. Every priest must come to understand the silent suffering of the community and the hidden riches of Jesus’ healing. This prayer invites us into the sacred mystery of life where love is even deeper than pain, where forgiveness is stronger than rage and hope is the balm for loss. This simple collect must be prayed with great integrity and with the invitation in the continuing Eucharist that faith is lived with honesty and genuineness. Human suffering must not be glossed over in the Eucharist or in parish life especially during this season of Lent and Holy Week.
The collect of Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion continues to invite us into profound humility. Christ’ patient suffering is lived among people in every worshipping assembly. As ministers of the Eucharist, we are all called to walk the path of the Crucified and journey with people who have no control over their suffering. We all have profound choices to make in our lives of body pain, emotional distress and in all the ways our lives have not turned out the way we once dreamed. This is the journey of Holy Week. These are the message our liturgies must convey to people who have given up hope or people who have lost their way into tragedy and despair.
I learn new lessons from people who wait patiently for healing. I will pray these collects standing in front of our congregation with a deepened humility. My conversation with Sherry in a small room enriches my understanding of us all who are called to journey the path of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.