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Death is a moment of sorrow, not of sadness

18/02/2011: General House

The reality of the Marist Family is becoming increasingly more present in the General House. The lay people working here feel themselves members of this Family. The death of Mr Francisco da Rosa, father of our web master Luiz, offers an opportunity for writing a little reflection about death, as well as presenting our fellow worker with the assurance of our prayers and friendship at this sad moment in his life. The reflection aims to situate death in a wider human vision, leaving aside the tragic aspect which often accompanies the event. Many spiritual writers observe that death is not something to be seen as a tragedy, but as an essential moment in every life: the moment which introduces us into true life, into definitive light.

Death is a moment of sorrow, but not of sadness. We speak of sorrow and not of sadness because the moment of death is always a moment of sorrow. That is normal. But not of sadness, at least in the Christian perspective. I would go so far to say that sadness is not Christian.

·         Sadness kills, sorrow gives life.

·         Sadness is closed in upon itself; sorrow opens up the way to trust.

·         Sadness suffocates; sorrow brings relief.

·         Sadness conceals the meaning of existence; sorrow reveals it, perhaps without understanding it, even when it seems distant, inexplicable.

·         Sadness is resigned in the face of death; sorrow accepts in courage and silence the possibilities of a true life opening on unlimited horizons.

·         I accept sorrow as a constitutive element of existence in which life can be strengthened and come to maturity; I reject sadness as a foreign element which can insinuate itself into my daily life and steal its meaning from it or simply deny it.

·         I accept sorrow, even if I do not understand it, as a constitutive element of my being which will bear fruit in the future and places me in solidarity with so many suffering men and women; I reject sadness as if it were an element unable to be given form, especially when I think of the relationship between life and death.

·         I say yes to sorrow, even if I fight it; to sadness, on the other hand, I say no, even when I succumb to its control.

In writing this reflection, I am mindful of the great devotion to Our Lady of the people of Brasil (Luiz da Rosa’s country). I want to make this reflection starting precisely with  Mary, whom we invoke in the Marist Family under the title of Our Good Mother. Catholic  tradition gives her innumerable titles. In Brasil Mary is invoked in a special way under the formal and historical title of Nossa Senhora Aparecida. But we have had no problem  inventing, with our Argentinian Brothers and with much creative imagination, the title of  Nossa Senhora do Chimarrão ou do Mate (Chimarrão : a typical Brasilian drink, called  mate in Argentina).

During the 8 years I gave Mariology courses in Nairobi, I had a particular interest in the titles of Our Lady. I never found the title « Our Lady of Sadness ». On the other hand, I frequently found the quite widely spread title of «Our Lady of Sorrows ». This is what leads me to say that sadness is not Christian, but sorrow is.

Looking on Mary as « Lady of Sorrows » is a very Catholic way of seeing and venerating her. We venerate Mary, the woman who remained standing by the Cross in face of her Son’s suffering and certainly her own. Lady of Sorrows, mother of the « Man of Sorrows » who, through his sorrow, suffering and death conquered death definitively, in order to introduce us into the world of true life. At the moment of death, this inspires my prayer for all who have lost a dear one. And I share this prayer with them:

Lady of Sorrows, I see you at the foot of the Cross and I admire your woman’s courage at the time when, for the sake of humanity, you lose your beloved Son. It is not a tragic destiny that has taken him away from your mother’s love, but the faithful response to God’s plan of salvation which he accepted in his life. Lady of Sorrows, give me your courage beneath the Cross when I see the sorrow of the loss of my dear father. His existence has not been pointless: he has given me life and the sense of faith; he has shared with me the same hope of eternal life, the same love for you.

It was in front of the image of Our Lady of Sorrows in my village that I wrote this prayer whem my father died. I also wrote the following poem. The poem is another way of expressing, with the same certainty of hope, the Lord’s power over death: « I am the resurrection and the life ». This power is the fruit of the love the Lord bears us so that life springs and ripens in us. The Lord’s love is a love which gives life. The Lord’s power and love together transform our existence and give it meaning. The Lord’s initiative in our story is never without fruit. It transforms it right up to what seems most radical, most destructive, most inhuman: death! So that in the story of each of us life may emerge triumphant.

Death,

Just the time of the limit,

Not the time when all finishes.

Life does not lower its arms,

It takes on another dimension!

Expanse linking earth and heaven

In the body which lies lifeless,

Prisoner of the earth which unmakes it!

There, prisoner, inert,

Waiting for the Word which will free it

From time and history…

Waiting for the word Victory!

I want to say simply

Waiting, always waiting

For the Spring

Which is no longer dead

And which will now be reborn!

Teófilo

Rome, 13 February 2011

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