“I’m looking forward to a season of retreat and contemplation,” I told a Dutch priest upon my arrival to Italy.
“And you’re moving to Rome?” he asked incredulously. “Have you been there before?”
Of course I had been to Rome before and I knew exactly what he meant. Rome is extremely chaotic, noisy, and bustling.
But I have the great privilege of living in a place known as a “retreat” of the Passionist Congregation – a beautiful site atop the Celian Hill – about which the founder of this religious community wrote in 1747:
It is one of the most solitary places in Rome, a place of great silence and recollection, almost a mountain, with good air, a garden, with water […] There are cabbages, enough fruit for summer and winter, at least partially, figs, grapes, artichokes, beans, broccoli, enough even to give to your novices. […] It is a fine location, not a better one is to be found in Rome with delightful air – a place prepared by our Great Father for his servants.
Recently a friend of mine said something to me that was an epiphany. She reflected, “I don’t know anything about suffering being redemptive without others’ suffering being open to me.”
This immediately struck a chord and resonated within me profoundly.
Sometimes we need a friend to speak the truths we’ve known all along with the credibility of living witness.
In Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict XVI explains the way in which suffering that is shared becomes transformed:
Indeed, to accept the “other” who suffers, means that I take up his suffering in such a way that it becomes mine also. Because it has now become a shared suffering, though, in which another person is present, this suffering is penetrated by the light of love. The Latin word con-solatio, “consolation”, expresses this beautifully. It suggests being with the other in his solitude, so that it ceases to be solitude.
Something else that comes to mind in thinking about this is the line from the Anima Christi prayer which says: “Within your wounds hide me.”
What is it to be hidden within another’s wounds?
How can a loved one’s wounds actually be a shelter for us?
Have we considered the ways in which a wound creates the actual space for greater openness and depth?
Without attempting to justify any evil, hurt, or injustice, how can revealing our woundedness to others create the hospitality in us for others in their woundedness such that “suffering is penetrated by the light of love”?
Several years ago, I heard the story Bosco Gutierrez Cortina, a Mexican architect who was held hostage by kidnappers attempting to extort a ransom from his family. What struck me most about his story is how he devised a disciplined schedule for himself while is solitary confinement and he resolved to make good use of his time even while being held captive. Stripped of all of his ordinary resources, attachments, and supports, he was forced to discover what he actually had within inside himself. Without books, work, family, community, means of communication, and so much more, Bosco discovered what was a matter of his inner reserves versus what he had not yet deeply interiorized and made his own.
Sometimes I think about this and wonder just how well I know my faith, my family, and my friends. If I lost the ability to worship in community and to communicate with those I love, what would I have interiorly that would sustain me amid such deprival?
These thoughts also bring to mind an anecdote shared by Cicely Saunders, the founder of modern hospice and palliative care. In her biography, Shirley du Boulay writes, “When Cecily offered to read to David Tasma [the man who became the ‘founding patient’ of St. Christopher’s Hospice], thinking to comfort him, he said, ‘No — no reading. I only want what is in your mind and in your heart.’ She never forgot that simple reaction; and mind and heart became twin poles of St. Christopher’s philosophy.”
What do we have inside ourselves with which to comfort the dying? Without props, without activities, without prestige, who do we have to give when someone says, “I only want what is in your mind and in your heart”?