A sculpture depicting Our Lady of Sorrows is displayed in a garden outside a Maryland church. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

The Voices We Carry

Cultivating the voice of Our Lady of Sorrows with love

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RaabAs priests, we carry within us the voice of a father that offers gentle authority and direction when our people feel lost and abandoned. We carry within us a voice of a child because we are a beloved child of God. We carry within us a voice of a fool when we feel sorry for ourselves, when life is difficult and when we play games of self-pity. We carry within us the voice of an addict when we circle our fears repeatedly expecting different results. We carry the voice of an artist when we are expected to find new solutions in parish life for people’s expectations and conflicts.

We priests also carry within us the voice of a mother as modeled by Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, which we celebrate in September. Mary’s posture toward the suffering of her son opens us to voicing compassion when we are confronted with tragedy, violence and corruption of our people. It is this voice of a mother that tempers our rage and anger. Her voice is courageous in us when we think anger offers us male identity in the world. It is this voice of patience from a mother who witnessed the brutal ways a son was treated that spurs us toward the redeeming love of Jesus Christ.

I so often need help cultivating this voice of love. As I face the complexities of our world, the unbelievable harm we do to one another, the unspeakable tragedies our people face, I want to shout in rage and in unfaithfulness. I do not want to repent when I harm others by my words when I am sparked in such anger. I need help remembering I also carry within me the voice of a mother that points all of life to the one who redeems the world.

Our people listen to us in the many voices we carry within our hearts. They wait to hear what we have to say, how we say it and why we condemn or love. They put their ears to the ground when we shake things up with our prophetic witness or when we remain silent. Our voices carry across congregations on Sunday and in gossip circles when Mass is ended. Our voices carry across the nighttime when we reach out in prayer to anoint a loved one or when we whisper during morning light the formula of absolution in a confessional. People wait to hear from us about many issues of our day and whether love is the bedrock from which we speak.

People wait for us to clear our throats to speak truth. They wait for mature voices of faith and our tradition. They listen carefully to us and anticipate a voice of pastoral care and concern. Sometimes our political voices squelch compassion. Sometimes, voices colored by red or blue distort the voice of nature. Sometimes, majority voices silence the voices of real people lost on the margins of society and the Church. People want us to listen to their voices of complaint or when we have not heard their real suffering. Our folks desire us to pray before we speak.

As we celebrate Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows on Sept. 15, a voice of comfort, we can examine our own voices of faith. How do we stand among our people inviting them to the living Christ? How do we stand among people facing loss, grief and tragedy, and listen to people’s quivering voices of need? How can we as leaders of congregations and communities learn from the tired voices of our people? How can we learn new patience toward injustice and heart-wrenching suffering? How can we speak with a mother’s voice of hope?

Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows is the patroness of the Congregation of Holy Cross, the religious community to which I belong. Our Sorrowful Mother has changed my voice in these many years. She has helped me voice fear and anguish of people. She has softened my jaw clenched with rage about how life unfolds. She has taught me to stand among people without trying to fix their suffering or change the outcomes of life. She has taught me reverence. She still shows me how to comfort the lost as we all surrender to the person of her son, Jesus, the Living Christ.

FATHER RONALD PATRICK RAAB, CSC, serves as religious superior at Holy Cross House, a medical facility and retirement home for the Congregation of Holy Cross, Notre Dame, Indiana. Learn more at www.ronaldraab.com.

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