I recently heard Christ’s Passion read at Mass. As it began, I felt distant from the story. Shouldn’t I feel remorse at Jesus suffering? Shouldn’t I feel like part of the crowd who condemned him? Instead, the words barely reached me. It was like listening to Charlie Brown’s teacher, “Mwah mwah mwah.”
I turned to the Lord in my heart and told him I was sorry for not being “into it.” Suddenly, he transported my imagination to the walk I took on the beach with our dogs the day before. It had started as fun, the dogs played in the water and with each other, but the walk had been extra long because I wanted more exercise.
There in my imagination, superimposed on the face of Jesus’ suffering, was my older dog, her Labrador face as gray as it is black, her head hanging and her gait slow. I realized then that the walk we took was far too long for her arthritic toes and for her elbow that has the bony growth. I looked into her eyes in my imagination, just as I had on the beach the day before, but now the veil was off my mind and I SAW her love and her determination to finish the long walk…for me.
Now I was ready to cry. I had felt distant from Jesus’ suffering until he showed me the suffering of one I love. As I realized that I was the cause of my old girl’s suffering, I understood something about how I caused Jesus’ suffering as well. He didn’t just suffer for the world. He suffered for me.
When the reading came to the crowd mocking Jesus, I saw our younger dog, an energetic male red heeler/retriever mix, biting the older dog’s legs as he’d done the day before. This time, she’d been in too much pain to join his romp. When I know she’s had enough, I usually step in and tell our rambunctious boy to leave her alone, but this day he disobeyed me and tormented her for fun. I remembered the momentary impotence I felt as our boy dog hurt our old Lab just as the crowd cried, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?” and relived it over and over until the congregation cried, “Crucify him!” I felt spent, knowing that Jesus’ suffering was now nearer to me than before.
At the carrying of the cross, I saw our old girl walking. Her back legs were stiff because of arthritis, her front left leg askew because of the spur in her elbow. The last half hour of our walk, I was far ahead of her in hopes that she’d catch up. My in-laws were coming for a visit and I needed to get home in time to greet them! Some kindly, Veronica-like dog lovers stopped to pat her. She gave them weak wags, not her usual full-body tail-generated gyrations, but she was gracious and loving to each person. And now I saw that she was grateful for the pause.
How selfish could I be? I caused the suffering of my beloved dog, the companion of my single days, the girl who checked on me when I was sick and lived thousands of miles from my mother, who got me up for work when I slept through the alarm, and who now cares for my husband as she does me. There, at Mass, I saw her face and Jesus’ face together.
As Jesus’ died in The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ According to Luke, I was no longer distant from his anguish. My usual response to this moment is to wish that I could alleviate his pain, even a little. This time, he showed me how.
Jesus suffered for each one of us. In his death, he took onto himself all our sin and suffering. If we can ease another’s suffering even a little, we can ease the pain of Jesus.
Lent is long past, but we are meant to carry its lessons into the rest of the year. When we think of Jesus, let us picture the face of someone we know who suffers. That is also the face of Christ. Whether it is loneliness, physical pain or spiritual emptiness, let’s live Easter’s joy by alleviating others’ pain.
***I wrote this in May 2010 when we lived on Topsail Island in North Carolina.