There will be moments in our lives where words can't express what we have seen nor heard. How often we find ourselves saying, "You just had to be there." Such was the case during my silent pilgrimage through Africa's largest urban slum, Kibera, last summer. Children in tattered clothing, mounds of trash everywhere, the pungent smell of sewage, boisterous chatter in the market areas, and rough terrain made for one unpleasant experience. Then questions begin to surface: How can one live like this? Is there anything that can be done? Where is God in all of this?
We wrestle with such questions because we want answers. Mary shares in our own experience as she endured witnessing the Passion from afar, finding herself weeping at the foot of the cross in the end.
The second chapter in Luke's gospel gives us a glimpse into the spirituality of our Blessed Mother: "And Mary kept all these things, reflecting them in her heart." Characteristic of Mary's spirituality is her silence throughout, left only to ponder the major events of Christ's life in her heart. Outside of the Magnificat, there are very few instances of Mary speaking directly in Scripture. Throughout the Passion we find Mary silent, knowing in her heart that all must transpire for the redemption of humanity. As a mother, what pain must have churned inside her to see her son, the Son of Man, endure so much for the ransom of many. At a loss for words, the only means for Mary to express herself was through her tears.
Pope Francis found himself in a similar situation during his visitation to the Philippines. He experienced a profound encounter with a homeless girl, Glyzelle Palomar:
Weeping into his arms, Glyzelle asked him:
Many children are abandoned by their parents. Many children get involved in drugs and prostitution. Why does God allow these things to happen to us? The children are not guilty of anything.
Only twelve years old, Glyzelle had gone through what most of us have never experienced ourselves at that age. The posed question is ladened with such weight, to which Pope Francis could only respond:
She is the only one who has put a question for which there is not answer and she wasn't even able to express it in words, but in tears...The heart of your question has no reply. Only when we too can cry about he thing you said can we come close to answering that question...Certain realities of life we can only see through eyes cleansed by our tears. I invite each on here to ask yourself: have I learned how to weep? Have I learned how to weep for the emarginated or for a street child who has a drug problem or for an abused child? Unfortunately there are those who cry because they want something else.
The visitation was marked by a historical gathering, approximately six to seven million people, during his final Mass. Pope Francis also took the time to visit the city of Tacloban, the site where Typhoon Haiyan killed nearly 1000 people back in November of 2013. Standing before four million people, adorning a yellow poncho, he struggled to find the right words to say. Pope Francis had a script, but he realized that the words he had prepared could not do justice to the struggle that the people have gone through in the last year. He instead spoke from his heart:
So many of you have lost everything. I don’t know what to say to you. But the Lord does know what to say to you. Some of you have lost part of your families. All I can do is keep silence and walk with you all with my silent heart. Many of you have asked the Lord – why lord? And to each of you, to your heart, Christ responds with his heart from the cross. I have no more words for you. Let us look to Christ. He is the lord. He understands us because he underwent all the trials that we, that you, have experienced. And beside the cross was his Mother. We are like a little child in the moments when we have so much pain and no longer understand anything. All we can do is grab hold of her hand firmly and say “Mommy” - like a child does when it is afraid. It is perhaps the only words we can say in difficult times – “Mommy.”
Let us respect a moment of silence together and look to Christ on the cross. He understands us because he endured everything. Let us look to our Mother and, like a little child, let us hold onto her mantle and with a true heart say – “Mother”. In silence, tell your Mother what you feel in your heart. Let us know that we have a Mother, Mary, and a great Brother, Jesus. We are not alone.
Above is one of my favorite paintings, "Christ Carrying the Cross," by Tiziano Vecelli, a sixteenth century Italian painter. Take Pope Francis's words to heart that amidst these troubled times in our lives, where no words can express the pain we bear or encounter, may we look to the cross as we shed our tears in silence. Take a glance at the painting for a moment. Put yourself in Christ's place as one who bears the wood of the cross, the weight of humanity's sins. Now put yourself in Mary's place, weeping as you see your beloved son bear that weight alone. Let us remember that the pain that we feel and carry with us in our hearts, Mary felt similarly in hers. Furthermore, Christ desires to carry that pain with us!
Sometimes the only words that we can express come from the tears we shed, yearning for God as a child yearns for their parent. In these moments, we should unite ourselves more intimately with Christ for strength and perseverance. We are blessed to have both our Blessed Mother and Christ Jesus to accompany us. We are a people that believe in the Resurrection, that this turmoil is only for a time and the glory of God will indeed come. Pope Francis does not present us with an answer to suffering, but he reminds us that what we bear in our hearts as he does, as Mary did, is hope -- hope that good will come out this, hope that God's will be done.