by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM September 25, 2022
When I told a friend that I’d be offering a reflection on the departure day of a retreat, which was also the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, he asked me what I’d be preaching about. I said, “Posture and grammar.” And he replied, “Well, that should empty out the chapel pretty fast!”
So permit me to explain. All during this directed retreat (September 7-15), we’ve cultivated a posture of openness, a deep listening to the Holy One. And what’s the very first word we heard in John’s Gospel this morning? Standing. Standing by the cross… Standing is also a posture.
As a former English teacher, I’m very fond of the present participle form of verbs. What I call the ING verbs, words ending in i-n-g. Verb forms like standing, staying, listening, noticing.
These I-N-G verbs are full of action. The –ing indicates that there’s movement. Everything is evolving. We haven’t become women and men for others, once and for all, over and done. We are constantly becom-ing such persons. We are always in process, cooperating with grace.
So standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. That’s their posture. They were standing. Sarah Otto writes that, “As almost all of Jesus’ followers flee from the scene of the crucifixion out of fear and disappointment, these women are standing. Not crouching in fear, not turning their backs, not slumping on the ground in defeat, not walking away. They are standing.”
And they are staying even though this seems like the end of a cherished dream. They are remaining even as their hearts are broken open. They are refusing to leave even though they can’t change what’s happening right in front of them. They are standing when it’s beyond their power to save Jesus. They are standing and staying with someone who is dying. Sometimes, that is all we can do, and it is everything.
Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk and spiritual writer, was once asked what his vocation was. I love how he described the essence of his call. Merton said that his vocation was really just this:
Sitting. “Sitting with the insoluble dilemmas and unanswerable questions of his time.” That’s quite a mouthful, isn’t it? Sitting with the dilemmas for which there seem to be no solutions. Standing with the questions for which we can’t find answers. Mining the place of Mystery. Merton’s vocation and ours: Not to run away. Not to be satisfied with glib, easy answers. Instead, standing with, staying with, remaining in the struggle.
It’s what I call the “school no one ever wants to attend.” The school of pain and loss and diminishment. There’s no waiting list for this school, no registration. I mean, who would ever want to sign up? But here’s the thing: there are some things we can learn in this school that we can’t come to by any other way. Learning that we can’t fix everything. Learning how to remain with people in pain even when it’s beyond our power to change their circumstances. Learning to trust that God’s grace will reveal itself somehow, some way, even in darkness. Learning how to wait. Learning what it means to be present.
Today, we are called to be standing with the crucified peoples of our world in their pain, their despair, their loneliness. And standing as well with our sisters and brothers in their joy, their delight, their gratitude.
Today also calls us to a place of remembering. To remember and give thanks for the many who have been standing with us through our lives. Accompanying us. Giving us the gift of presence and deep listening. Staying with us even when nothing can be fixed or changed.
Today, we are carrying with us the graces of retreat. I suspect that for a long time, we will be breaking open and pondering what these days have been about. As we leave, with God’s grace, may we keep standing with, staying with, remaining with these graces. And as we do, may our lives continue to be a blessing for our beautiful, yet wounded world. May it be so!
If you are able, stand in stillness with the Holy One.
Reflect on a recent time in your life when another person has remained with you in your pain or loss.
Recall how their presence, with or without words, made you feel.
Give thanks for all those who have accompanied you in your life.
Ask the Holy One for the grace to be that same kind of presence for others.
Featured Image: Melissa Askew, Unsplash
This blog has been adapted from a homily I offered on the last day of an 8-day directed retreat at Eastern Point Retreat House, Gloucester, MA, September 15, memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows. I served as one of the guest directors at Eastern Point.
Thank you for your prayer for all who were part of that retreat. Please now hold in your prayer all who will be part of my next retreat:
October 2-7, Guided Retreat for the Sisters of St. Joseph, Rochester, NY. Thank you.
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