There’s no Saint Veronica in my church. Apparently, there are two sets of Stations of Cross you can pick from – Scriptural and Traditional – and my church went with Scriptural. Veronica isn’t named in the Bible. As far as the story of Christ’s Passion goes, Veronica is a bonus feature.
Do you know the story? Jesus is struggling on the road to Calvary. At one point, Veronica steps in and wipes his face with her veil. This leaves an imprint, thus capturing his likeness many centuries before Snapchat.
Veronica isn’t really all that useful. Jesus has been tortured and sentenced to death. This is his darkest hour. Veronica isn’t shouldering the cross, like Simon, or trying to fight off the soldiers, like Peter. She’s not rushing in there with a first aid kit or a stay of execution. She’s just giving Jesus a clean face before his brutal death.
My friend, one of my absolute favourite people, has suffered a shocking event in her life. She is walking her own way of the cross. It’s hard to know what to do.
A CUP OF TEA
I’ve always wanted to be the sort of person who is ready to drop a meal off on somebody’s doorstep. Something delicious and nutritious and comforting all at once. So far, this seems to require a level of coordination and domestic aptitude far beyond me. Still, I invite my friend over for a chat and a cup of tea.
We sit in my messy house, we eat store-bought biscuits, and we talk about nothing. A part of my heart feels the deep weight of suffering, but I enjoy spending time with my friend. She really is the loveliest person.
I am mid-anecdote about the time Harry put the wrong sort of soap in the dishwasher. I stop. ‘I’m really happy to be talking about me.’ I say, ‘It’s my favourite topic of conversation. But I’m also really happy to be talking about what you’re going through.’
My friend’s smile is warm and sad. ‘Nope. I’ve been talking to a counsellor all morning. I’m ready for some escapism.’
I TALK SOME MORE
I nod and talk some more. It’s what I’m good at. The time flies past and now it’s time to go. I hug my friend and clumsily explain how I wish I could press a lasagne into her hands. Or do something else really practical, so helpful that I can’t even think what it is. She gives my arm a squeeze. ‘I have other friends and cooking is their favourite thing. They love to deliver food to my door. But they don’t know how to have an entertaining conversation. Everybody gives according to their talents.’
I am sure there was somebody like Veronica on Calvary. Even if her name wasn’t Veronica. Even if her name was, I don’t know, Madge. We know there were women attending to Jesus in his time of suffering. I am certain that one of them would have tried to help by wiping his face.
In the face of immense suffering, being skilled at ‘chattiness’ seems so futile. Maybe Veronica wasn’t a useful person. But there is something to be said for doing something barely helpful in the face of helplessness. For being lovingly ineffectual. Most of the time, we’re not called to stop a person’s suffering, but merely to journey with them.
I might not be great at any level of practical assistance (like, at all). But if you would like to be momentarily distracted by drawn-out tales of the time my entire kitchen filled with dish-soap foam, I am ready to step up to the plate.