When Gladys Staines was told that her husband Graham and two small sons, Philip and Timothy had been burnt alive, she forgave their murderers. People were stunned by her ability to forgive in such circumstances. A Hindu, newspaper reporter said that in this one act, this disciple of Jesus had borne more witness to Jesus, than all the missionaries, who had sacrificed themselves in India for 400 years.
Gladys, quoting Job, said: "The Lord has given; the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. If we receive blessings from his hands must we not also be ready to accept suffering too." At the funeral, as the charred remains of her beloved husband and sons were laid to rest, this valiant woman sang: "Because he lives, I can face tomorrow; because he lives, all fear is gone. Because I know He holds the future; and life is worth the living, just because he lives".
In John 15, Jesus tells us, that we are pruned by the Father, in order to bear more fruit in our lives. Pruning comes to every home in big and small ways. Our different temperaments and personalities can sometimes clash. At times we face financial difficulties. There is job uncertainty, sudden retirements, unemployment, poor wages. We have mounting bills and expenses. Illnesses and operations are a heavy drain on our wallets. We fall instant prey to consumerism and materialism and constantly want more and more. Children and parents clash over perceived needs and different values. The cross is in the life of every disciple. What are the crosses you face? How do you react to them?
A friend who looked after her ailing husband for 15 years, felt grief stricken, when he died. She went to see Mel Gibson's movie on "The Passion of Jesus Christ" She noticed that the cross, an instrument of torture and humiliation is now transformed into an instrument of salvation. When he falls down and sees Mary, he picks up the cross resolutely and resumes his journey to Calvary. Mary, by her silent presence, helps Jesus to take up his cross to save us. Beneath the cross, she gives birth a second time, as she becomes our Mother. A woman forgets her labour pains when she sees her new- born child. In saving us through the cross, Jesus gives it a new look. It becomes an instrument of salvation.
Through life's difficulties, the Divine gardener prunes us to bear more fruit. We tend to complain about the type of scissors he uses. Very often the scissors are the members of our own family. We may want to sympathise with a friend whose husband or mother-in-law ill treats her. We may increase that person's hatred, bitterness, anger and anxiety.
Silently accompanying the person, praying with him, listening to him with love and respect, reaching out with a helping hand in practical ways, are more effective ways of reaching out to a suffering brother when he faces the cross. Be Mary to someone and give them courage and faith to sustain them. We can also be Simon of Cyrene and Veronica to a suffering spouse of child. At times though we may be like the soldiers who prod, kick and jeer at Jesus when he is down. Unkind remarks, criticism, blaming, unsolicited advice, may only add to the pain and bitterness, especially of a spouse.
Some years ago, I had occasion to meet a lady who was suffering from bone cancer. She found it hard to accept her lack of self-control when faced with suffering because she had always given the impression of being calm, strong and in control. I listened and prayed with her. It was a Good Friday. I told her that she was celebrating it in hospital even more than we were in Church. On Easter Tuesday she died. She sat up in bed at 4.00 p.m. and said: "Jesus, why did you take so long to come?" Then she smiled and lay down again, saying: "It is so beautiful! It's so beautiful!!" Her family came over to ask me to interpret her words to them. I told them that at the funeral liturgy, we ask the angels and saints to come and lead the departed into paradise. Everyday we pray: "Holy Mary Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death." Is it surprising then that Mary comes to be with us to turn death from something painful and distressing into a gateway to salvation?
The family rosary gives us many beautiful memories of the 20 mysteries in the lives of Jesus and Mary. As we quietly recite those beautiful, familiar prayers, we recall how we participate in these same mysteries today. Misunderstandings, being taken for granted, ingratitude, impoliteness, brash statements, lies, deceit, being used by others, silence in the face of attempts at reconciliation, physical pain, humiliations, betrayal, inaction, cowardice, fear, anxiety are all part of these mysteries we participate in. But Jesus' victory is ours. "Because he lives, we can face tomorrow, all fear is gone, life is worth the living."
The cross can indeed become an instrument of salvation for all of us. As disciples of Jesus, let us expect and accept it in our lives. Let us embrace it. "No cross, no crown" is what the saints tell us. All the crosses in our lives reach an apogee in the final cross of death. And all the victories in our daily life as disciples, reach their climax in the resurrection.
In a Christian Marriage and home, we should venerate the cross of Jesus and reflect on how this instrument of torture and humiliation became for us who believe, an instrument of salvation. Like Jesus we too can glorify the Father, by opening our lives at such moments to the Spirit of sonship. He made Jesus Lord. He will help us also to accept Jesus as Lord of our lives and King of our homes.