In Bethlehem on Christmas Day, Mary delivered us the Spotless Lamb of God, born to take our sins away. On Calvary on Good Friday, sinful humanity gave Mary back her Son, bruised and bloody, drained of every drop of His Precious Blood and Water.
As poignantly imagined by the artist-sculptor Michelangelo, the Sorrowful Mother held her Son, taken down off the wood of His Cross, the Son she first placed in a wooden manger….
“Don’t let Bobbie see me like this.”
Those were the last words I heard my grandmother speak before she went into a coma; the last time I heard her voice.
Unaware that I was standing in the doorway to the room where she lay dying, I was amazed, as my mother tried readjusting her mother’s head on the pillow, by the incredible length of my grandmother’s auburn hair–hair that I had never before seen un-bun-ded.
Mesmerized by her long hair, I longed to brush it, as my mother was doing. I wanted to draw near to my grandmother, no matter that she lay dying. She was my spiritual mother. I loved her–more than, differently than–I loved her daughter, my mother.
Instead, respecting her wishes, I stood immobile, not even uttering a whimper, though I was deeply saddened by her words. I wanted to call out that I loved her. I wanted to run into the room, yank the brush out of my mother’s hand and minister to my grandmother.
Long after she died–years and years after that March day when I was eight years old and she died–when I was married with teenage children and a dog, our dog of sixteen years, died. But not before suffering a series of seizures and strokes one night–even though the vet had assured me, just a couple of hours earlier, that she would be fine, that she just needed some extra “watching” that night, as I did all night, laying on the floor next to her, ministering to her.
In the morning, when I knew I had to bring her back to the vet for the unthinkable, I had an irresistible urge to brush her coat. To make her look presentable for the vet, I told myself. So she looks well-cared for and loved, as she truly had been by all of us.
It wasn’t until weeks later, reflecting on my determined, almost desperate desire to brush our dog’s hair for the last time, that I realized what I had done, and why I had done it.
The eight year old girl inside the woman’s body was acting out a drama she had missed–terribly missed–acting out years earlier.
And I remember thinking that inasmuch as I believe with all my heart that my grandmother is with God, she knows–she has known, even without my realizing or articulating it, my motivation. And I think she accepted what I did for the dog as if I were doing it for her–as I had so longed to do.
And maybe that’s what the Lord meant when He said as long as we do something for the least of His brothers, we do it for Him. God gives us a chance to do for another person the things we never got to do for Him, as well as giving us an opportunity to make up for some goodness we neglected to do (or never had a chance to do) for someone else. God graciously gives us that chance, even if we have to sublimate our desires through actions directed toward another of God’s creatures–even a dog!
One Good Friday, as I listened to a Benedictine monk speak about the Shroud of Turin, I was struck by his observation that between the time His Body was removed from the Cross and laid in the tomb, likely someone “neatened” Our Savior’s matted hair–hair matted from blood and thorns. And it was His Mother, the monk supposed, who had lovingly done that work.
She knows, I thought. The Sorrowful, Merciful Mother of God knows how I felt. Both times, she knows how I felt. She had the same impulse.
Funny how sublimation works. We do things, and often we don’t even know why. Glorious, merciful healing–that’s what our God of another chance offers us–that’s how God’s infinite, timeless love works for our good. Restitution. Restoration. It’s a beautiful thing. As beautiful as gleaming hair that has been lovingly brushed.
More than once I have heard Our Merciful God referred to as the “God of Second Chances.” The Mercy of second chances—of unlimited chances, really, as long as we are repentant--is lovingly revealed in the words of absolution spoken in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
What second chance has God Mercifully given you to do something you wished you had done, for another’s sake–and for your own? As long as we have breath--one way or another--it is never too late in this life on Earth for us to express mercy!