By Sister Lisa Mary McCartney
Have you ever thanked a friend for sharing her suffering and pain with you? Recently, a woman in dire emotional and physical pain questioned why I carried her—what did she ever give me, essentially, and what good was she to me, or to anyone? Anxiously, I tried to affirm her, referring to her intelligence, insight, honesty, resiliency, generosity, sense of responsibility and humor.
Only later did I realized I had not touched on the greatest gift she has given to me, one that has come with the black cloud that has hung over her longer than the 20 years we have known each other. Our friendship, no doubt, began the day she walked into my office and asked, “How do you forgive?” She has tested my beliefs, my ideas, my prejudices, my articulation, my patience, my comfort. In sum, she has challenged my very self to be real and to be wary of those quick spiritual and theological responses.
Surely, each of us has befriended such a person(s) in the midst of our service and ministry. Often, they see themselves as outsiders or marginalized. My friend once observed: Sisters and priests ought to hang out more with people like me. I agree. Such people have a way of opening us up to the real stuff of God’s mercy. Through involvement in their anguish, can’t we say that we have been seized, laid hold of, pressed into service, made to bear another’s cross? Thus, Simon of Cyrene lives through, with and in us.
How is it that we are made to carry another person’s cross? Most assuredly, it occurs in the times when all else fails, and we face our limits head-on, be they personal or social—counseling, healthcare, social services. When our only recourse is God alone and we can do nothing else but pray, and pray in its simplest form: Jesus, I trust You for her, I entrust her to You.
The painful needs of such friends propel us into a prayer of the heart in all its authenticity, as it did whenever Catherine heeded the advice, “Trust in God alone.” Our one sure comfort is to know that our friend becomes a sacred offering, handed into God’s loving embrace. In trusting that someone, we can let go of the endless causes for worry, enabling our service and ministry to breathe in new life. Taking up another’s cross inevitably leads us to intercessory prayer—real, simple and heartfelt.
How often do we utter prayers of intercession? Just think, we often formally do that two or three times a day. How often do we vicariously sense the pain and anguish of the recipients of our words of petitions? How often have we thought to thank a friend for teaching us how to pray…by carrying a cross, be it hers or his or ours?