(On September 15, the Church celebrates the Feast of Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows. Our Lady of Sorrows is the patroness of the Congregation of Holy Cross. I will be posting one of the seven sorrows each day leading up to the feast day. This is only part of a larger reflection that has not yet been published. The stories are meant to encourage your own reflection about each of the sorrows found in the gospels.)
The Sixth Sorrow: Mary receiving the body of Jesus in her arms
Mark: 15:42- 47
When it was already evening, since it was the day of preparation, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a distinguished member of the council, who was himself awaiting the kingdom of God, came and courageously went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus, Pilate was amazed that he was already dead. He summoned the centurion and asked him if Jesus had already died. And when he learned of it from the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph. Having bought a linen cloth, he took him down, wrapped him in the linen cloth and laid him in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance to the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses watched where he was laid.
Rock away, my baby
Several years into my priestly ministry, I served in a parish that was close to a children’s hospital. There seemed to be a special relationship between the hospital and the parish community. Parents within the worshipping assembly were especially attached in prayer to the large hospital that served the needs of families from far beyond the crowded neighborhood. Most parishioners were profoundly aware that very dedicated staff members in the hospital were caring for very ill children.
I was not a full-time staff member at the parish but only in residence. However, I was part of the nighttime watch for emergencies for not only the children’s hospital but for several other medical facilities in the neighborhood. Before going to bed on the nights I was on duty, I would move the large, heavy black phone in my room to the floor next to my bed so I could easily reach it in case of an emergency.
I remember this particular night when I received a call from the children’s hospital. I could almost feel in the bells of the phone that that this ring would be for an emergency from a desperate parent. Somehow I could tell the terror and fear of the family by this ring that would beckon me to another child’s bedside.
The soft voice of a nurse on the other end of the phone told me that a newborn child was going to be taken off life-support. I jumped into my black clothes and walked over to the hospital fearing for the parents, the family and the child. I hurried through the shadows of streetlights reflecting on the broken sidewalks. I dashed among the headlights from cars piercing the darkness as they passed me by. I scurried among the fallen leaves on the sidewalk, feeling the fallen hopes of this family within my heart and imagination. I never wanted to go to this hospital in the middle of the night because I knew the outcome of this call would be great sorrow for so many people. However, I found my way through the emergency room entrance and into the neonatal unit and into the room where the child was struggling for life on earth.
I entered the room quietly and first glanced around the facility to try to figure out what was really happening. Several nurses where working diligently around the newborn. A couple of doctors where whispering to the parents in the corner of the room. The room was small and packed with emotion even though I could not hear one word of conversation.
The only thing I could hear was the sound of machines trying to keep the child alive. Even the piercing hum of the machines sounded incredibly desperate, trying to do the best thing, trying to do the very thing that they were designed to do, trying to work overtime to keep the fragile life here among the family.
I stood in the room silently waiting to meet the mother. She was sitting in a wheelchair, waiting in the corner. The father stood patiently next to her. She was drenched in fear and exhaustion. I made my way to the corner and stooped down to hold the mother’s hand. I do not remember any words between us, just our eyes meeting. I tried my best to just receive her fear.
After awhile the doctors and nurses invited the parents and me over to the tiny bed of the premature child. The sounds of the machines seemed to herald fear as our eyes gazed down to the tiny bundle. The doctors gave into me as a representative of God, in their desperate search for answers. They opened up a space for me to pray out loud.
I started the prayer singing a psalm refrain over and over again. The sound of my voice hovered over the room. Everyone knew this was a sound of a different remedy. The doctors unplugged the machines and then the only sound in the room was my voice calling out for the Shepherd’s care. After a few minutes, the child died.
The only sound that remained was the silence of all of our lives huddled around the body of the child. This silence was the most overwhelming sound of the night. This silence of grief and letting go was the sound these parents would never forget.
The nurses cuddled the body of the child in blankets. They handed the body to the arms of the child’s mother. We all sat and waited in silence for the mother to receive the body of the child that she had just given birth to hours before. The doctors left the room and the nurses cleaned up the space.
The nurses escorted the parents and myself into another room. There was an oversized rocking chair in the corner facing a window. The mother carried her dead child over to the rocking chair and began rocking the body of her beloved. The mother then invited me to sit in the chair with her. I went over and sat down in the rocking chair. I raised my arm over the mother’s shoulders to hold her as she held her dead son. We rocked and rocked. We rocked away the grief until I could see the sun rising through the blinds of the window. We rocked the nighttime away, waiting for the light of a new day.
How can we learn to receive in our arms and in our hearts the suffering of our world?
What stops us from reaching out to others who most need our assistance?