Yesterday, together with the whole Church, we pondered the Cross of Christ from the perspective that only faith can give us. We hailed the Cross as the sign of a glorious victory, something to be treasured, a cause for rejoicing. Without faith, we cannot see suffering this way. It does not appear glorious in any way, especially when we experience it in our daily lives. The sorrows that suffering brings easily obscure the beauty of the Cross.
Today, still standing at the foot of the Cross, and perhaps still bewildered at the way God uses the Cross as a means of blessing us, we turn to Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows. Mary is the model woman of faith, the expert in the art of “looking at him whom we have pierced.” She sees most clearly what is taking place at the Cross, for she does not rely on her natural vision alone, but instead views all things with eyes of faith. This is the perspective Mary gives to us when we turn to her in our moments of suffering. She is with us at the foot of every cross we experience. When we are in darkness and see no hope of any resurrection, we find strength and consolation in Mary’s faith.
To turn to Mary at the Cross is to recognize a new dimension of her motherhood. She is experiencing both the painful loss of her only Son and the gift of new life which his death brings about. Today we ponder both of these experiences, the pain of witnessing death and the pain of giving birth. Jesus’ death pierced his mother like a sword – as Simeon had prophesied so long ago. To experience the death of a child is one of the deepest wounds that the heart of a mother can endure. As we reflect on Mary’s loss, it moves us deeply. Today’s Sequence, an ancient meditation on the sorrows of Mary, asks, “Is there one who would not weep,/ ‘Whelmed in miseries so deep,/ Christ’s dear Mother to behold?” In other words, who could look at Mary at the Cross without feeling deep sympathy for this mother watching her Son die in agony?
But there is more to Mary’s sorrow than the experience of losing her Son. She was not simply watching what was happening to Jesus; she was sharing his death fully with him, participating in the work of redemption. This made her suffering most fruitful, like the labor pains of a woman bringing forth new life. Jesus refers to her maternal role when he announces from the Cross that Mary is now the mother of the beloved disciple, “Behold your Mother!” She is the mother – the sorrowful yet joyful mother – of every “beloved disciple” who finds new life through the Cross of Christ. Ever since that moment, “her motherhood has extended to the brothers and sisters of her Son ‘who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties’” (CCC 2674).
We all face “dangers and difficulties.” Perseverance at the Cross is never easy. Sometimes it seems impossible. We can understand why most of Jesus’ followers abandoned him as he was dying on the Cross. Only a few had the courage to remain, a few faithful women and only one of the Apostles. What was their secret? They found strength in the faithful love of Mary. From the very beginning of the Church, the followers of Jesus found Mary to be a source of consolation and strength in the difficult journey of faith.
Reflecting on Mary’s presence at the side of her dying Son also brings to mind our sure hope that she will be with us when we are dying. We voice this hope every time we pray the Hail Mary, asking that she “pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” This “death” includes both the last moment of our life on earth and the countless daily “deaths” we face in the course of our journey of faith.
The Catechism, in its beautiful section on “The Way of Prayer,” describes how Mary assists us: “By asking Mary to pray for us, we acknowledge ourselves to be poor sinners and we address ourselves to the ‘Mother of Mercy,’ the All-Holy One. We give ourselves over to her now, in the Today of our lives. And our trust broadens further, already at the present moment, to surrender ‘the hour of our death’ wholly to her care. May she be there as she was at her Son’s death on the cross. May she welcome us as our mother at the hour of our passing to lead us to her Son, Jesus, in paradise” (CCC 2677). Together with our sorrowful Mother, we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, confident that every suffering, joined with his Cross, can bring forth abundant fruit.
Do I turn to Mary in my moments of suffering? If not, why not? In the Today of my life, how do I surrender “the hour of my death” wholly to the care of Mary? What sustains me as I struggle daily to persevere in carrying my cross?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 17, no. 7. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.