In his extraordinary urbi et orbi message on March 27, Pope Francis preached about the story of Jesus calming the storm at sea (cf. Mark 4:35-41). In his meditation on this passage, the pope mentioned that the stern in which Jesus was asleep is the part of the boat that would sink first.
I found this to be a powerful consoling image at this time in our world. Jesus is not only in the “boat” of suffering with us; He goes all the way to the stern, to the most dangerous part, to the place of deepest suffering. He goes, to borrow a favorite phrase of Bishop Robert Barron, “all the way down” into our humanity, into our lives, into our sorrow and pain.
Jesus is not only in the “boat” of suffering with us; He goes all the way to the stern, to the most dangerous part, to the place of deepest suffering. He goes, to borrow a favorite phrase of Bishop Robert Barron, “all the way down” into our humanity, into our lives, into our sorrow and pain.
This image of the stern has become for me a way of seeing not only our own situation at present but also the whole of Jesus’ life. He was constantly going “all the way down,” to the depths of the “stern”: the Son of God pouring Himself out by becoming a human being; being with the sick and suffering to heal them, even to the point of touching lepers; lowering Himself to welcome and eat with sinners; humbling Himself to the point of a shameful and horrific death, “even death on a cross” (cf. Phil. 2:8). Throughout His life, He was constantly with His people in their pain and need for God.
Jesus holds nothing back. In His Incarnation, life and death, He pours Himself out completely. He is constantly with us, there in the depths of all our sorrow, confusion, pain and loss. In the midst of this worldwide crisis, He is here, “asleep” in the stern perhaps, but in the stern — the most dangerous part of the boat — nonetheless.
But notice that the apostles actually go to Jesus in the stern to wake Him up and beg Him to save them. They cannot just stay in the safer part of the boat, but must reach out to Him, who is there in the depths of their suffering. If we try simply to rid ourselves of all suffering, just to “push through” or “grin and bear it,” we will miss Christ and the life message He has for us in the midst of this suffering.
Staggering as the realization might be, you and I were born for such a time as this (cf. Esther 4:14). God knew from all eternity that we would be alive during the time of this pandemic. And so He is, at this moment, actively giving us the grace not only to live during this time but to thrive spiritually in it.
While the Paschal Triduum and Easter this year were not as many of us would have hoped they would be, perhaps there is something more He wants to give us than we would have been able to receive if everything were as it “normally” is. That “something more” will, no doubt, be unique to each one of us, since God loves each of us individually.
But I will not be able to discover the “more” He wants to give me unless I am willing to meet Him “in the stern” — in the depths of His self-emptying for love of me and my own self-emptying love in response. May we each have eyes to see that here — in the midst of our current suffering and pain — is Christ Jesus Himself.
Sr. Mary Martha Becnel is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.