Tongues of fire rest on Mary and disciples of Jesus in this 15th-century depiction of the Pentecost by Jose Pessoa. CNS photo/courtesy Newark Museum

Mary Marrocco: Humanity’s secret name: ‘Cared For’

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  • April 30, 2021

Bicycles are a popular means of transportation, with a long history — my grandfather’s bicycle, the only vehicle he ever owned, got him to and from work at the Quaker Oats factory 364 days per year.

But a shiny bicycle, as time goes by, will collect scratches and rust if not dents. The gears and brakes will need oil. The seat will need to be patched. With care and attention, that bicycle will serve many years before it wears out, or is scrapped for something new.

Human beings, too, will collect hurts and bruises, from the world they live in, from other people, even from themselves. They will tear and break. Along the way, they could become bitter or violent, and weary or lightless. Humans, even more than bicycles, need care and attention, but with a different end. Not so they’ll “last longer,” but so they will come to the new dawn, in the garden of the resurrection, with tears of joy in their eyes and a light of love unto eternity.

It’s said that “hurt people hurt people,” though that doesn’t excuse anybody for hurting others. Hurt people who hurt people still have free will and are responsible before God. We don’t lose our humanity even when we become harmful and destructive. But caring for others is preventive medicine and a spiritual vaccine we may hesitate to take. So, who will care for us? How will they do it? This isn’t a new question, and indeed rings out through human history.

At Waterloo, in Belgium, a museum features replications and records of the battle which finally defeated Napoleon. There is an account by a contemporary physician who arrived a week after the fight to discover bodies and groans still strewn throughout the surrounding woods, a mass of humanity suffering unattended. That’s us, too: suffering and in need of tending. But our human need — of physical care, soul-care, person-care — is often less apparent to us than the nicks and fatigue of inanimate objects like computers and bicycles.

Our world is suffering, too, as we experience crises of polarization, mutual distrust, misunderstanding and hostility. One of the reasons is surely this: our tendency to live as though there is no Providence, no divine care for us. Who can bear such emptiness and isolation?

The growing acceptance of euthanasia stems not so much from our fear of physical suffering, but from our fear of being an unwanted burden. Being uncared-for is such a deep anguish for humans that it can rob us of our sanity; or, we can build ourselves a little inner bomb shelter where that anguish remains bricked in while we act out.

The bare truth is that existing as if there’s no divine care for us is living a lie. Not necessarily a deliberate lie or even a knowing lie, but an untruth that does immense harm. That’s why the Church has so many ways of remembering. Remembering is not an intellectual pastime, but an activity of the whole person and the whole community.

Eucharist is the ultimate remembering (anamnesis), the making present of God’s care for us. Little regular rememberings also bring balm to the human heart, like the fioretti of St. Francis, who collected these “small flowers,” or ways the community enjoyed divine care.

Nobody is forgotten by God, even when we forget. His mother, the Gospels tell us, knew how to remember deeply, to “ponder in her heart” all that happened. Much that happened to her was joy. “Rejoice” is the first word spoken to her by Gabriel. Much was anguish, the sword she knew would pierce her heart. She remembered both within her. Mary’s godliness is simply that she carries God. This is what goodness is. She is God-bearer, as the title Mother of God says, claimed for her by the Church since the fourth century.

But there is no carrying God without bearing also God’s love of humanity. We see Jesus confer this duty upon Mary moments before His death, when He gives her as mother to His beloved disciple. At the foot of the cross, she opens herself to care for those He cares for, which is all of us, just as she cared for Him.

“Cared For” is really the secret name of humanity, from Adam and Eve on down to each of us. It’s the name we deeply want, even though it’s hard for us to accept that it’s what our hearts long for.

In 2021, the Church seems to be shrinking and our common humanity seems at risk of disappearing entirely. It’s time to reclaim the high adventure that Christian life really is. Let’s remember that life, long for it and row hard for it … let’s remember the truth of what God is doing among us.

(Marrocco can be reached at marrocco7@sympatico.ca)

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