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Thank God always for the happiness and beauty of life - it is beautiful.
Venerable Mary Potter's Last Words.
At the Heart of the Cross - Sr Bernadette Fitzgerald LCM
At the Heart of the Cross……
This Year of Mercy seems such an appropriate time to reflect again on our call to be of the Cross. – Why is this place of suffering so special to us when we know that the Cross was followed by the Resurrection and we walk in the reality of a Resurrected Christ. Even as those called to walk in the Calvary spirit, we know that ours is a God of life, not death.
For me, I think we can find our answer at the heart of the Cross itself.
There is a tension when we consider the Cross. In no way do I wish to legitimate the suffering or the powerlessness forced upon so many in our world. Many are rightly wary of an emphasis on a suffering God, in a world where many are trapped in situations of oppression which have nothing to do with the suffering of love.
At the same time, there is recognition that there can be power in the suffering God, a power found in the images of the suffering of childbirth, of suffering that acts to end oppression: an empowering of events with bringing to new life.
Far from glorifying suffering, the suffering God is the mystery of solidarity and a source of strength to those who suffer. Importantly, a compassionate God, who struggles against the forces of oppression, as on Calvary, and finds glory in the full life of Resurrection, challenges us to live that reality in our world. Such a God demands of God's followers the same compassion, solidarity and struggle against oppression of self and others, that there be action to end the suffering of others.
Sometimes though, one’s call is different. It is to choose to act in ways which might be described as a “taking up” of the suffering, a response of love that believes the suffering of the human person to be united to that of Jesus on the cross (2 Cor. 4:7-15). In this action of taking up and union, one is drawn into a deeper union with God, through union with Jesus. It is the choice to do so in love that is its power. The People of Tonga express “mercy” as “manava’ofa or love that comes from the womb. What better icon for Mercy can be found other than the Calvary image – the outpoured love of our God in the outstretched arms of Jesus upon the cross. It is an icon that speaks of the actuality of love as an "openness to the ones loved, a solidarity with their wellbeing…..which belongs to love's very essence".
Venerable Mary Potter is one who made that choice. Mother’s personal sufferings provided her with the stuff of which reflection is made: physical suffering due to her congenital illness and social stigmatisation due to the tensions within her family. Further pain was inflicted by the negation of her spiritual experiences. Personal experience of suffering led Mother to her own attempt to make sense of her reality. Her spiritual experiences drew her to a contemplation of the Cross. There she found a Christ who entered into suffering, not as an end but as the price of following the call of love. In the crucified Christ, she perceived that “suffering was the touchstone of love” 1and that, while it was not the purpose of the human person to suffer, suffering was inherent in the risk of living authentically.
Like Christ on the cross, in deep anguish, Mother had cried out her sense of being forsaken by God.2 In answer, she had experienced the Presence of God, as “the Blessed Trinity who made (thee)”3 and of being “enclosed in (Godself) by God,”4 who held her, in constant care. She knew God as Trinity, a God of constant and dynamic love.5 In her understanding, the Father is love, the Son is love and the Holy Spirit is love.6 The overflowing of God’s unceasing love results in creation. Thus, creation is created by Love and draws its life from the eternal Love that is the very Being of the Trinitarian God.7 That ongoing overflow of eternal love maintains an abiding care for humanity.
It is to this abiding care for all humanity that all who follow the LCM spirit are called and why we choose this celebration of the cross, the heart of love, as the one for our Province.
Those who remained standing at the foot of the Cross are those who have accepted this call before us. They were those who stood in the company of Mary8. Woman, behold you Son…. And knew themselves as son, as daughter of Mary; not in some weak and infantile way but as those called to find within themselves something of her steadfast love, a love willing to stand with, in the face of hopelessness and “be” for the other. That is why they were entrusted to Mary: that they might receive the power to give new life to Jesus for their world, through the living of one’s own life, abandoned to the will of God.9
She knew as women of wisdom of our day know ….
The cross reveals to us the heart of God because it reveals the vulnerability of God’s love.10 The age of science fashioned God into a distant being governing the world from above, deaf to the cries of the poor. But the God of Jesus Christ belongs to the cosmos from the beginning and until the end of time, sharing in the sufferings of every age so as to rise in the glory of ever deepening love.11
For God is most Godlike in the suffering of the cross, in which we see the power to heal and to transform death to life.12 Delio challenges us to be the instruments and points of God’s “in-break” into our world, the bearers of transcendence.
God is born from within when we come to know ourselves in the divine love that lies deep within us. There too we discover that we are not strangers in this evolving universe. We are its future.
Mother ached for the world to recognise that in the suffering of Jesus is the tender and compassionate touch of a God who loves deeply the people of God’s creation. Mother knew that the world would know this only if love was made real, through those who would touch an aching heart, nurture a lonely spirit and ease pain through its people, each and every one. Or as Pope Francis would say in this Year of Mercy, to make tenderness present in our world.
Bernadette Fitzgerald LCM
1.Potter, Mary (1883) Our Lady’s Retreat. Our Lady’s Library: Sydney. p.165
2.Potter. Virtue Letters op. cit. No.10, p.21
3.Potter. Virtue Letters. op. cit. No.3, p.8
5.Potter, Mary (1948) Mary’s Conferences. (Aust. Edn.) Advocate Press: Melbourne. p.52
7.Ibid . p.53
8.Ibid . pp.19ff.
9.Ibid . p.22
10.Delio, Ilia (2013) The Unbearable Wholeness of Being Orbis Books, New York p. 84.