Son, Behold your Mother

The phrase that has been echoing in my heart in India has been one that the beloved shepherd of St. Paul-Minneapolis Bishop Andrew Cozzens regularly preaches to us, his flock: Jesus is asking, “am I enough for you?”  When I landed in Calcutta last week, I didn’t know what to expect. I had been on mission trips before and each time the Lord blessed the experience. I had confidence that this would be no exception, as He called me to be here, and scripture assures us that “God’s gifts and His calling are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). What I was unaware of was how the Lord intended to do so. St. Therese of Lisieux was known to say that the best thing that God could have done for her was “to have shown her her smallness, her powerlessness” because it allowed her to realize that all good things come from God and not from man. “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). God’s plans and His grace acting in us is the source of all that is good and that manifests itself in a deep interior peace. This beautiful and profound insight into my own helplessness and God’s unfathomable power working in me is precisely what the Good Lord has been showing me throughout my time in Calcutta. I’d like to share one of many examples with you.

As has been mentioned by my brothers, we get the chance to serve both the children with special needs as well as at the house for the dying. As we arrived at Kalighat for the first time, I remember being admittedly quite crabby. I was exhausted from a morning at Daya Dan and wanted nothing more than to let my jetlagged body sleep. The Lord had other plans. “Your heavenly Father knows what you need” (Matthew 6:32). My frustration selfishly continued as service began. The volunteers at the house for the dying aren’t always given specific tasks from the sisters like at Daya Dan, so I was unsure of what to do with myself. I walked into a room filled with Indian men all staring at me and my Minnesotan “Heyyloww” was met with a mix of Bengali phrases I couldn’t understand. I felt incredibly weak and helpless. I wanted to serve these men in some concrete way. I wanted to understand what they were telling me, hear their stories, and listen as they told me of their pain. I wanted to console, to understand, and to love as I heard the sisters pray every morning. But I couldn’t. “My grace is enough for you, for my power manifests itself in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). After 20 minutes of this, I wandered out from the refectory to the bed area. As I turned the corner, the bed labeled “24” caught my eye. There was a man laying there in a red hat and my heart was immediately drawn to him. He was fighting for every breath and seemed to be in a lot of pain. As I sat down beside his bed, I overheard sister saying “this man is very close to death.” My mother, being a hospice nurse, often talks about the look those near death will get. They gaze back and forth into the air like they are seeing something or someone (often times they see family members that have already passed). She also said that the last of the 5 sense to go is one’s hearing. With this in mind, I grabbed this man’s ice-cold hand as I looked upon him in his agony. Within hours this man would be meeting his maker, his God and my God. He would be born into eternal life and His eyes would gaze upon the Father. God had sent me to India, to Kalighat, to bed 24 to accompany this man on this tale end of his earthly journey. “I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord” (Jeremiah 29:11). As I sat there, time was nonexistent. I spoke to him, sang him praise & worship songs, held his hand, and rubbed his freezing head. After some time I looked up and saw a crucifix hanging just beyond where we were. The realization came to me: this man was truly Jesus right in front of me, suffering on His cross. As I knelt by this man’s bed, at the foot of the cross, the Lord told me in my heart to pray the rosary. St. Teresa of Calcutta would always say “in times of darkness, holding the Rosary beads is like holding your Blessed Mother’s hand.” I knelt at his bedside and recited the entire rosary out loud. I was literally at Calvary in the place of John the Beloved, as my Lord fought for breath in front of me and my Mother, and his, held my hand. Just as I finished the Rosary, the man in bed 25 wanted to lay down, so I needed to leave. Obediently, I said goodbye and was on my way. My heart wanted so much to remain with him longer until the Lord took him to Himself. I longed to anoint him and give him the sacraments. But that wasn’t what God was asking. This man had given me so much. In his weakness, in his helplessness, he was Jesus to me.

When we returned in two days, sister informed me that the man I was with on Saturday peacefully passed away shortly after we left. Initially, I felt like I had received so much and had given so little. But the Lord reminded me after hearing sister’s news of one of the posters I had been seeing everyday as I entered Daya Dan. Next to a massive image of Our Lady of Guadeloupe are the words Mary spoke to Juan Diego: “Am I not here who am your Mother? Is there anything else that you need?” While I didn’t give this man anything of my own, what happened was so much more extraordinary. Jesus Christ had used me as his instrument to give this man His Mother to accompany him on his journey home. He used the Rosary I said as a way to unite Mary to this man to comfort Him better than I could ever have hoped to. I didn’t leave this man alone to die. God had me bring His Mother to him so she could hold his hand as he passed. I left him with Mary. “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom He loved, He said to His Mother, ‘Woman behold your son.’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold your Mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home” (John 19:26-27).

This experience thus far has been so beautiful.  The Lord continues to show me my own weakness and helplessness while simultaneously doing beautiful things through me. I can’t do anything good apart from God, but “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). How incredible this is and how great is Our God! Thank you all so much for your prayers and support, for allowing us to be here and serve in this way. The Lord’s impacts on each one of us here will extend far beyond these weeks. I have already learned so much about Fatherhood, priesthood, and Jesus Himself in my time here, and each of our priesthoods will greatly benefit from it. Know of our sincere gratitude! We love you and are praying for you.

 

In Jesus through Mary,
Ryan Sustacek

 

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