The Pieta – Experiencing Christ’s Passion Firsthand
By Marlene Sommer
I have had many mystical experiences in my life and believe God wants them to be shared. As a lifelong Christian, but certainly one thatwould never outwardly express my common and ordinary faith, I am now compelled to share the most profound experience in my life. This Lenten season seems the appropriate time to share.
Everyone in life has crosses to bear. I, like everyone else, have had many crosses to bear. But, God has a purpose for everything in our life. I was extremely blessed to be given a very tangible sign as a personal acknowledgement from God that He knew and understood my family’s pain. These personal messages are meant to give us reassurance that there is a God and love and goodness always comes from Him in the end. The horrible five year struggle and heartache my family endured will forever be a part of me but also one that left an indelible sign from God.
I have finally realized that this life is not meant to be heaven as it is full of pain and suffering, be it physical or emotional. God did not make Himself immune from what we humans experience during our lifetime on earth. He Himself experienced watching His only son suffer the most unbearable passion and agonizing death imaginable. This historical moment would be retold throughout the world for thousands of years. This ultimate sacrifice would change lives for all eternity.
My own true and personal glimpse of that epoch…
During my sister Patty’s five year battle with breast cancer, I watched human suffering at its worst. After her first chemotherapy treatment, she had virtually no white count, a 104 degree fever, and sores in her mouth, throat, and on her puffy lips. The poor girl’s hands were purple and swollen almost like boxing gloves, her hair and blackened nails were falling out, and she was getting sick every fifteen minutes around the clock for days. She could not eat anything and nothing came out of her except some black foreign gel substance. Little did we know that there would be five more years of chemotherapy, surgeries, and radiation that would be physically and emotionally grueling. My sister always lived with an incredible grace, strength, and faith throughout her ordeal and never complained. And she was always dressed like a designer fashion diva even when she had chemotherapy appointments I might add.
From the moment this advanced disease was diagnosed it was so exceedingly above human help that the only person we could turn to was God. We pulled out all the stops! Patty, my mother, and my family and I went to Mass, spent time in prayer with a priest that is a true living saint, prayed the rosary daily, committed to novenas (my daughter in Washington, D.C. even prayed the novena with us via cell phone on the Metro), we even exchanged our Tiffany necklaces to wear blessed medals of Padre Pio and St. Peregine –“good ole Pergy” I called him. My husband shook his head and chuckled as I prayed along with the rosary on EWTN at night, occasionally switching back and forth to “Sex and the City” when Mother Angelica had a long pause reciting the Hail Mary!
My mother and I went to Mass and communion every day for five years to pray for my sister. This was not always done with a smile on my face. (I am the first to admit I am no Mother Teresa although she is my most admired person and I earnestly try to follow her life principles.) I never get enough sleep and am therefore always tired. So, I often grumbled because I had to get up an extra hour earlier than usual to get to Mass before work. I seriously acted like I was doing God a favor as if He had not done anything for me!
Quite a few times when I left home at 7:20 A.M. on a cold and dark wintry morning, I would complain and occasionally swear that I had just about enough of this #*#* #*#*! It was too early for the Beatles or Springsteen so I would hit number nine on my CD player of Nat King Cole singing “What a Wonderful World.” I looked around at the dark and silent morning listening to this incredible one of a kind voice and felt peace.
Many days as I went to my pew in the back of church after communion, I looked intently at the Pieta, the huge statue of the Blessed Mother holding her Son’s crucified body.
“You only had to watch your Son suffer for three hours, and my mother has had to watch her daughter suffer for five years!” I thought to myself.
I actually had the gall to say that many times. But somehow, I still always knew God felt and understood my family’s pain. (We did experience the miraculous Hand of God on many occasions throughout my sister’s illness.)
The week that my sister died I stayed with her around the clock. I slept in the same bed by her side at night as well. She was in a comatose state by then, lying motionless with labored breathing, never awakening or uttering a word the entire week. Except that is, for one night when my mother and I were alone with her and she started an agonizing ordeal between the exact hours of twelve and three o’clock. My mother and I were beside ourselves as we tried helplessly to ease her pain and suffering.
We exhausted all of our resources of assistance to no avail. I administered a syringe of the most powerful drug at our disposal but it did not give any relief. We were both literally kneeling on the bed at her feet anguishing as we watched her body thrashing about. Later, I reflected how utterly helpless we were. How did Christ’s mother, Mary, and Mary Magdalene survive when they were in total despair at the foot of the cross?
Patty finally cried out in what sounded like a man’s voice in a foreign language! All of a sudden at precisely three o’clock, both of her arms flung straight out horizontally to the side, her feet were crossed, her head dropped to her shoulder and the tube from her side was gushing with water. My mother could not believe her eyes as she exclaimed, “Oh my God, she looks like Christ on the cross!”
At that moment, I felt an overwhelming feeling like nothing I had ever experienced before in my life come over me. Surely, I will never have a more compelling moment again in my entire life. I knew. I knew that God was telling me He was aware of my sister’s suffering and therefore our torment as well. I was witness to three hours that only now could I even imagine what an ultimate sacrifice God endured when His only son suffered and died for us. Also, the agony and heartache the mother of God endured watching the passion and death of her only beloved son. I saw the heartbreak my own mother felt as I observed this horrific ordeal firsthand and it still could not remotely begin to compare with Christ’s suffering on the cross.
When I was a child, Easter meant a pretty new dress, hat, and patent leather shoes, a chocolate rabbit and jelly beans, hunting for pastel colored eggs and a big family dinner. Easter will always have a totally new and profound meaning for me. Insurmountable goodness and love came from Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Goodness and love would come from my sister’s suffering as well. When we take up our own crosses in this life and still have faith and trust in God, we are true witnesses to Him. We can be assured He knows and we will be rewarded.
Comments from the Original Post
Dawn H. 3.22.14
Beautifully written Marlene…thank you for sharing your personal story. You are a remarkable woman of God…blessings my friend!
You are such a conduit of God’s love. Your beauty (inside and out) and your love that flows like a fountain never cease to lift me up! God has given you an amazing gift of encouraging others……even finding a way to use your unimaginable sorrow and pain, turning it to encouragement for His children and ultimately HIS glory ! That is the crux of this life here on earth isn’t it?
I am so very blessed to call you friend, so very thankful for your love!
Much love to you sister in Christ !
Marlene, This is a wonderful witness of God’s love and faithfulness. I never knew how much you and your mother had to go through seeing the pain of your sister.
Your faith has been a blessing to me again, thanks my dear friend.
God bless and keep you.
Diana Russell 2.28.14
Marlene Sommer – your timing to share this is perfect – we just discussed “ultimate sacrifice” last nite in CCD – thanks for sharing yourself with us. . .