In a land where, by and large, crucifixes show as much as possible the marks of the cruel torture and agony Jesus suffered on the way to his death on the Cross, it is no surprise that among the most popular images in Peru of Mary are those that show the great sorrow she bore in her heart on the long journey with Jesus from the presentation to his burial in the tomb.
In our parish of El Senor de la Esperanza or “The Lord of Hope,” there is a very large processional statue of Mary, robed in untraditional green, whose crystalline tears flow from her eyes and drip down her cheeks but without disturbing the contemplative and serene countenance of her face. This particular statue is called Our Lady of Hope rather than Our Lady of Sorrows, and except for the color of her dress, it would be difficult to tell the difference between the two Ladies. But the difference says something about how the woman whom we in Holy Cross celebrate as our principal patroness moves us from sorrow to hope and shows us the way to being bearers of that hope for others.
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Among its many ministries, our sprawling parish on the edge of Lima has a health-care apostolate whose members look after shut-ins, transport sick people to medical appointments, pray with the bedridden, visit hospitals, comfort the dying, and lead families in prayer in their homes at wakes for their beloved deceased. Most of these ministers are women. I like to refer to them as las santas mujeres after the acclaimed “holy women” of the Scriptures, including those who walked with Jesus to Calvary and to his empty tomb.
What these women share in common is not just that they have chosen to participate in the same ministry in their parish, but more importantly that they themselves have suffered: life-threatening health issues, great personal losses, long-lived family crises, separation from family, and so on. They know all too well those tears they contemplate on the face of the Lady in green. If we were to meet any one of them on the street, in church, or on a visit to our own homes, however, we probably wouldn’t have a clue as to the extent of their personal suffering. What we would find is a smile, a hug, a cup of tea, and a reason to hope.
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These holy women, like Mary, carry a lot in their hearts—things they hope someday to understand—but they don’t let the pain, sadness, grief, or anguish that they bear overwhelm them, stop them, or define them. Rather, what pours from their hearts is like that overflowing love that Blessed Moreau saw in Mary’s heart. They are credible and effective ministers! Somehow the people to whom they minister know that these women understand and embrace their sorrow because it’s their sorrow, too. But they also feel their warm invitation to move from that sorrow to a better place where their sorrow can be turned into strength.
We in Holy Cross know that, if we accept suffering in our discipleship, we will move without awkwardness among those who suffer and will have hope to bring. The Lady of Sorrows is for us, in fact, our Lady of Hope.
This reflection for the Principal Feast Day of the Holy Cross Family was written by Fr. Donald Fetters, C.S.C., a member of the United States Province who served for many years in Latin America, including Chile, Mexico, and Peru. The reflection is taken from The Cross, Our Holy Hope (Revised Edition) published by Ave Maria Press.