CP&S comment. Yesterday, Friday in Passion Week, we celebrated the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady. Today, Saturday, always traditionally dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, let’s concentrate on the pain and anguish of her Immaculate Heart when she met her beloved Son, savagely scourged and crowned with a crown of vicious thorns, as He struggled under her weight of the Cross on His way to Calvary. Could we even scrape the surface of the agony Mary suffered at that moment?
It is also the Fourth Station of the Way of the Cross.
It is entirely reasonable that if Mary was at the foot of the Cross, then she was also somewhere along the route upon which our bleeding and beaten Savior was flogged and cruelly compelled. It is entirely reasonable that she would have raised her voice and, so, the Lord spotted her in the crowd.
In 2005, Joseph Card. Ratzinger provided the texts for the Way of the Cross on Good Friday, for their praying at the Colosseum. Remember the pictures of John Paul II, dying, seated and watching on TV?
Ratzinger begins his meditation on the Fourth Sorrow of Mary, the Fourth Station of the Via Crucis, by quoting what we looked at in my remarks on the 1st Sorrow, the prophecy of Simeon in Luke 2 that a rhomphaia would pierce Mary’s heart.
With his usual ability to discover new facets of the jewels of our faith, Ratzinger underscores that, at a certain point, Mary simply steps aside, out of the picture, as her Son embraced a new “family”. That process was foreshadowed in the last Sorrow, when He tarried in Jerusalem and then, in front of Joseph and those assembled, spoke of His other Father. Mary also had to stand outside a house Christ was visiting, trying to see Him. She probably heard Christ say, “Who is my mother?” They are my mother. (Matthew 12:46-50) That’s also something she would have “kept in her heart” to ponder in the long dark nights. And it was her Son who said it. She is being emptied, in a way, as He was, to take her humanity, and later to be crucified.
Fulton Sheen wrote that with each Sorrow, Christ was the one driving the “sword” into Mary, with each Sorrow more deeply, each Sorrow a different kind of pain. “Some new area of the soul is touched that before was virginal to grief. In each dolor it is the Son Who is the executioner, but He always makes His edge the sharper.”
Sharper. More piercing. St. Alphonsus Liguori, in his Stations wrote that when they looked at each other,
“their looks became as so many arrows to wound those hearts which loved each other so tenderly.”
But, the fact is, though she is silent after Cana, she was still there, somewhere along the road the Lord took in His earthly ministry, while He was healing the lame and teaching in synagogues and casting out demons. She wanted to be close to Him. She wanted to be close to Him now, in His driven agony.
What mother wouldn’t bear her child’s pain, if only she could do? Sheen says: “If carrying one’s own Cross is the condition of being Christ’s follower, then the condition of being the Savior’s Mother is to carry the Savior’s Cross.” So, she longs for His Cross as her own Cross, mediating His pain as she will come to mediate graces.
If this is so, friends, if being Christian means “taking up one’s Cross and following Him”, then this is also the condition of the whole Church as a Church. She is Holy Mother, the Church, Bride of Christ and Body. If Christ had His Passion, our Church must have her Passion, and we who are sensitive and faithful with her. I am a crucifer. You are a crucifer. And the Church will be pierced by bitter swords of sorrow, and the bitterest swords are those wielded by those to whom more has been given, who should love all the more.
Mary wanted to be near Jesus, bear with Him, in this hour more than at any other moment of their lives together. The end of the mission was nigh.
Would Mary have been intimidated by the crowds and the guards? At the beginning of her ministry with and to Jesus, the angel said, “Do not be afraid!” (Luke 1:30). Mary could hear – listen – differently than we do. Note that when angels appear to others, they usually say, “Don’t be afraid.” People tend to do terrified face-plants when angels show up. The first thing Gabriel said to Mary was “Hail!”. Only later, when describing her own ministry to and with the Lord, would the angel say, “Don’t be afraid!”
This surely is the fear-filled moment. She is not afraid. She is exultantly horrified, eager in dread. They are almost there.
Mary is really the only one present on that original Way of the Cross who has a fuller picture, knows something more than everyone else about what’s happening. She still had to have faith, but her faith was so much informed, which made her hope and love the stronger. She can both be filled with dread and be eager.
And yet – at the same time – she remains, quintessentially, a Mother watching her Son’s bitter agony.
She ponders in her lacerated Immaculate motherly Heart a new way to share in salvific pain.
She found Him in the Temple talking about a heavenly Father. No surprise there. But then she stood outside as He called others his “mother”. A single scene, but exemplary in her life, in those chapters that are silent about her. Now, “bruised, derided, cursed, defiled, she beheld her tender Child all with bloody scourges rent.”
Mary prepared, practiced for this “hour” for 33 years.
She is utterly in God’s hands in a new way, feeling, as Sheen said, a new kind of sorrow.
Now she knows what being truly helpless is.
I cannot do better than this image from Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of the Christ. He conflates a memory from Christ’s childhood with one of His falls along the way, and combines the meeting with His mother – in a stroke of true inspiration – with the words from Revelation 21:5.
I close these poor remarks with the same tears which that single scene has always drawn. And so, thank you for bearing with me.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” And he who sat upon the throne said,
“Behold, I make all things new.”