We were standing in line, waiting to use the bathroom, during the Sign of Peace at Mass, when Teenasia asked me if Jesus had been shot.
“What?” I thought I had heard her wrong.
“Was Jesus shot?” she asked, worried. She glanced over at the statue nearby. Jesus stood, arms outstretched, palms up, with a resigned look on his face. His side was pierced and blood was flowing from it. I could see why she had asked the question.
“No, he wasn’t shot,” I whispered, hoping the bathroom door would open at any moment and we could whisk Teenasia in and stop the conversation. “He was cut with a sword.”
Her eyes widened, then her brow furrowed. I looked again at the bathroom door. It didn’t open. Teenasia, our six year old foster daughter, had been with us just two weeks since being removed from the home of her biological father. Last week she hadn’t needed to use the bathroom in the middle of Mass, so we had not run into this issue.
Teenasia peppered me with questions as I watched other parishioners smiling, shaking hands, hugging and chatting at the sign of peace.
Who stabbed Jesus with a sword?
Why would they do that?
Was this the same Jesus who was BABY Jesus?
Did someone get him a Band Aid?
Are you sure he wasn’t shot?
I explained as best I could, stressing, as much as possible, that after all this suffering, Jesus rose from the dead and lives still. T seemed unsatisfied.
Teenasia, more than anyone I’ve ever known, understands what real suffering is. While I have known several people well who have suffered from illness, an accident or disability, T is the only person I know whose intense suffering has been at the hands of another. Watching T look at the suffering Christ while we waited in line for the bathroom was at the same time excruciating and enlightening.
I have always been a Resurrection person. I grew up at Holy Family parish, in Whitefish Bay, where instead of a crucified Christ in front of the church, we had a resurrected Christ, with the cross in the background. My image of Jesus growing up was a strong, peaceful man who the cross could not conquer. That always made sense to me. Crucifixion was not the point, I felt. Many people suffer. The point was the Resurrection—that Jesus overcame death to bring us all to a much better place.
It was in college that I first understood that maybe, however, the crucifixion was just as much of the point as Resurrection was. I learned about the poor and oppressed throughout the world, and how they held onto the crucified Christ—finding solace that their God suffered, just as they did.
“It’s first-world countries and often wealthy suburbs where the Resurrected Christ is given the most attention,” I remember a Jesuit telling me. “In poor areas, it is all the crucified Christ.”
And now, as the parent to three children who have known little suffering, and one who has known too much, I see the truth in his words. Teenasia is attuned to Jesus’ wounds in a way my other children are not.
One Sunday, we missed Mass at our usual church and went to Three Holy Women, where all four children were asked to bring up the gifts. I brought the kids to the back of church as the ushers collected the offertory. As I explained to Jacob and Liam that they’d be carrying the bread and wine, I turned to the girls to tell them about the basket, and saw that T had huge tears rolling down her cheeks.
“What?” I asked. I was somewhat annoyed, thinking she was going to complain that she had to share carrying the basket of money with Jamie.
Wordlessly, she pointed. I looked. It was a replica of the Pieta. Jesus, dead, in the arms of his mother. Teenasia covered her mouth to keep the sobs from coming out.
“He’s hurt,” she gulped. “Is he dead? His mom is holding him. Is he DEAD?”
Again, I quickly went over the story. Yes, dead today—resurrected three days later —lives with us still—happy ending. But Teenasia kept looking at the dead, sad Jesus in the lap of his mother.
And I had nothing to say. Because three days means nothing to a six-year-old. Now is the only reality. Adults understand days, weeks, months, but kindergarteners do not. T looked at Jesus and saw his pain; his mother’s pain. It brought her to tears, and it wasn’t the time to talk about the resurrection, I realized
“Jesus died,” I whispered, as the ushers made their way up the aisle. “It was very sad. His mother was very sad. This is a statue of Jesus and his mother on this sad, sad day.”
T nodded, still looking at the statue.
“Sometimes sad days are as important as happy days,” I said. The ushers were getting closer to us. “And we need to make a statue for those sad days.”
“That was the saddest day,” T said. “I wish he didn’t die.”
Now, all I could do was nod and blink fast. But T’s tears were gone. The ushers had made it to the back of the church, and as Teenasia, Jacob, Liam and Jamie brought up the gifts, I looked at my third child. I prayed for her—for the suffering she had endured. For her own resurrection someday. And I prayed for my husband and myself. That we would find a way to honor Teenasia’s own sad, sad days. Not with a statue, but with something just as real. Something that told T we understood that this happened to you, and we are so sorry. We believe in your sad days.
My children brought up the gifts that day, and I watched with the congregation. They handed the gifts to the priest, and I looked at the crucified Christ in the front of the church. Not the Resurrected Christ of my childhood. My children handed their gifts to the priest under the crucified Christ. And even though they all bowed to the tabernacle, it was only Teenasia that I prayed for.
Bless her. Heal her. Thank you for bringing her to us. Crucified Christ, give her strength.