This year, the commemoration of Our Lady of Sorrows, which in Malta we traditionally celebrate with great devotion on the Friday before Holy Week, for me personally, has a much deeper and personal meaning than ever before. Because this year, Mary “standing by the cross of Jesus” (John 19:25) reminds me of how many people stood by me last year when I was going through an excruciating cancer treatment.
Mary standing by her crucified son Jesus becomes a beautiful example for us all, an example that mirrors the merciful heart of the good samaritan who in the words of Pope Francis in his recent Encyclical “Fratelli Tutti” “stopped, approached the man and cared for him personally, even spending his own money to provide for his needs.” (63) The Pope goes on to say, “above all he also gave him something that in our frenetic world we cling to tightly: he gave him his time.” (63). How wonderful it is to give some of your time to someone who is going through illness, solitude or some other form of suffering!
In my own pastoral ministry I have seen the face of suffering of so many sick persons: children, youths, parents who had just lost their son or their daughter at a tender age through sickness or a tragic accident, young adults riddled with drug addiction, among others. Before such situations, I always understood the need to be near these people at such difficult times, and did my very best to be there for them. But having experienced the sheer gift of human support at a time when I most needed it, I have never been more aware than today, that the best gift you can give to a person who is suffering is to give him or her some of your time, to give your presence and, when possible, your helping hand.
To be sick with cancer in hospital during this pandemic, doubled the suffering for me because hospital visits were prohibited. The number of those who could be physically close to me was very limited. But I must say that this shortcoming was truly made up for by the specialists, the doctors, nurses, the friars and other workers at the Haematology Ward. I will never forget their dedication, attention and love with which they treated me. That a doctor, nurse or carer comes into your room with a simple smile or to simply check on whether you need anything meant so much to me. It was a heartwarming experience, and it hit me as if they were constantly telling me: “We are here for you!”… “We are here for you like Mary!” How lovely it is to be like Mary near her suffering son.
Here for you like Mary, were also all those who used to call me to see how I was doing or simply sent me a message of support. In my heart I used to say, “See, He remembered me! She remembered me!”
Here for you like Mary, were members of my family, doctors, nurses, friends and others who knew me and who were always there for me in everything I needed.
Here for you like Mary, were those who during my illness and in solidarity with other cancer patients who were undergoing treatment and needed blood transfusions, chose to donate the much needed blood.
Here for you like Mary, were also all those who supported me with their prayers.
Here for you like Mary, we can all be by doing small gestures of human solidarity towards those who are suffering, who would certainly appreciate it immensely.
Standing by the cross and notwithstanding the helpless situation, Mary’s behaviour was certainly not that of the bitter vinegar of indifference, but rather the stimulant of love, courage, and solidarity. Today, I too wish to offer a word of encouragement and love to all those who are sick as well as those who are presently going through some form of suffering. Today, I can understand you that bit more and like those many who stood by me with their prayers, I promise you that I too will stand by you with my prayers to the good Lord, through the intercession of his mother Mary. Our Lady of Sorrows continuously invites us to act like her and be near those who are suffering because “we cannot be indifferent to suffering; we cannot allow anyone to go through life as an outcast.” (Fratelli Tutti, 68)
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