I have two treasures to share today. The first treasure is my wife singing the haunting Negro spiritual, He Never Said a Mumblin’ Word, accompanied by Dilya Shiderova. I am so grateful she allowed me to record it and share it here with you. Her voice transports me. The second treasure is the story of a man whose suffering gave me a new window into the Passion.
First, here is my wife:
Second, the story:
A man I know, who is in his 80’s, said something very moving to me. He gave me permission to share his thoughts. One of his adult children, who is also severely disabled, has been suffering terribly. He was sharing with me some details of a recent episode, and described his son’s mental anguish. In the middle of his explanation, he got choked up and broke down. “I can imagine no greater pain in life,” he said, “than watching your child suffer. No matter what age. And when there’s nothing you can do for them. You’re helpless. Yes, you pray. Yes, you’re with them. But in the end they’re really alone in their suffering, trapped inside. Only God can get inside their pain. I can’t. The deepest cuts in life come when you love someone down in your marrow, and they’re hurting. Your whole soul weeps.”
The mystery of all mysteries, the deepest mystery hid in God (1 Cor 2:10), is the Father’s handing over of His Son into our hands. What an act of supreme vulnerability. The first Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation expresses this mystery with such sober eloquence:
Indeed, though we once were lost and could not approach you, you loved us with the greatest love: for your Son, who alone is just, handed himself over to death, and did not disdain to be nailed for our sake to the wood of the Cross.
I asked a colleague of mine, Kevin Redmann, why John 3:16 uses the phrase “God so loved the world.” Specifically, why “so loved”? I had always thought it was equivalent to “God loved the world so much.” But I was wrong. He answered, with characteristic precision:
The main thing is that there is an adverb (οὕτως in the Greek, sic in Latin) meaning “so” or “in such a way,” and the job of this adverb is to set up for a result clause: “in such a way that…” The “that” clause (the conjunction is ὥστε in Greek, ut in Latin) expresses the natural or logical result of the “so/in such a way” statement: What is the result of God’s loving the world in such a way? The result is that He sent His Only-begotten Son.
In other words, in becoming flesh and being crucified, the Son of God reveals precisely the kind of love — love “in such a way” — His Father has for humanity. But more, seen through the eyes of that weeping father, I could now see anew a profound truth: the manner in which the Father “so loves the world.” Those breathless hours of the Passion and burial and descent into hell, sanctified by the suffering of the silent, waiting and watching Father. Pope Benedict captures this exquisitely:
For my part, that makes pass before my eyes an impressive image representing the suffering Father, who, as Father, shares inwardly the sufferings of the Son. And also the image of the “throne of grace” is part of this devotion: the Father supports the cross and the crucified, bends lovingly over him and the two are, as it were, together on the cross. So in a grand and pure way, one perceives there what God’s mercy means, what the participation of God in man’s suffering means. It is not a matter of a cruel justice, not a matter of the Father’s fanaticism, but rather of the truth and the reality of creation: the true intimate overcoming of evil that ultimately can be realized only in the suffering of love.
That 80+ year old man’s words were first uttered by Father who gave His Only-begotten up to death, given because He “so loved” His enemies (Rom. 5:8).
I sit here now in an empty room, still, shaken by this truth. I’m afraid. It’s too great for me, beyond my understanding. Listen. Can you hear the Father whispering to the dying Word (John 10:18)? Sounds traversing an infinite space, re-sounding awfully in His Son’s dying lament: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” A sword pierces your Heart, O God.
Only those who see this mystery of love’s agony from within — not I — are worthy of singing this lamentation. This musical rendition of Psalm 22 alone I have found to be truly worthy. Listen if you can. In silence: