Hardness of heart and compassion

‘Most marriages survived because of this woman’

‘The magnitude of her sorrow was also the magnitude of her compassion for others in trouble’.[1]

Tsuneo Yoshikuni on Elizabeth Musodzi

This week in the Church’s calendar we have the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows. It is a moment when the camera zones in on the figure standing by the cross of Jesus as, ‘aloud and in silent tears’, he writhes in agony. Mary can do nothing to help her dying son. All she can do is be there and absorb his pain by suffering with him. That is the meaning of the word compassion. It is not easy and relatives visiting their sick family member in the hospital find it hard to just be there. Often they try to fill the ‘space’ with words of comfort that express empty promises. It is just too hard to face the pain of the moment.

Elizabeth Musodzi shows us there is away. Her closest relatives were killed, some by execution (Mbuya Nehanda was her aunt), during the Shona rising of 1896/7. Virtually an orphan, she was sent to the new school run by the Dominican sisters in Chishawasha. There she breathed in an atmosphere of faith which gradually transformed the bitterness in her heart to lively compassion for others. Attuned to the suffering she saw and felt the pain of women in the new ‘location’ in Salisbury (Harare) whose husbands failed to share their earnings and support their families. One who remembered those days asserted, ‘Most marriages survived because of this woman’.

Musodzi used to tell the women about gardens and having an income of their own and not being totally dependent on their husbands. And she showed this by example when she rented a plot and produced maize, groundnuts, rice, pumpkins and rapoko. She did not stop there but went on to advocate for classes in sewing and knitting, for a maternity clinic, registering marriages and other improvements in the township. She started the African Women’s Clubs with her friends and this included First Aid training.

This was compassion in action and when her grandson, Leonard Chabuka, was asked by Tsuneo Yoshikuni, a Japanese historian of early Harare, where she drew her inspiration, the reply was led Yoshikuni to write as above: ‘The magnitude of her sorrow was also the magnitude of her compassion for others’.

It is women Like Elizabeth Musodzi who unpack for us the message of Mary’s sorrow as she stood by the cross.

20 Sept 2020   Sunday 25 A               Is 55:6-9          Phil 1:20…27              Mt 20:1-16

[1] Yoshikuni T,  Elizabeth Musodzi and the Birth of African Feminism in Early Colonial Zimbabwe, Weaver and Silveira House, 2008, p 13


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