Yesterday we pondered our beloved Lord Jesus suffering and dying on the Cross to conquer sin and death. We return to the foot of the Cross today, uniting our hearts with the sorrows of our Mother Mary. What is she doing as she watches her Son suffer and die? What is in her mind and heart?
We must begin by being careful not to romanticize what is happening here. Sometimes artists have “cleaned up” the scene of the crucifixion. In their images, Jesus’ body looks strong and healthy, with hardly any blood on it; his face seems most peaceful; and Mary stands below him gazing with love. In fact, Jesus died a horrible, bloody, excruciating death. He had been scourged almost to the point of death. He had collapsed three times on the way to Golgotha, carrying the heavy Cross. Then his hands and feet were nailed to the Cross with large spikes. He was in agony, covered in blood. This is what Mary saw and pondered, never turning away, and so her heart was indeed pierced with pain and sorrow almost beyond imagining.
Jesus and Mary both suffered terribly through his Passion and Death. As we contemplate them together at the Cross today, we are seeing the result of sin – not their own sin, for they are both perfectly innocent – but the sins of everyone else. Sin always brings suffering. And suffering is never good in itself – it is an evil.
God did not intend suffering to be part of his creation. Sin entered creation when our first parents rejected the will of God and chose their own will over his. In a sense, they were choosing to “kill” God and put themselves in his place. What they said in the Garden of Eden, exactly the opposite of what Jesus said in the Garden of Gethsemane, was, “Not your will be done, but mine.” This is what we also say each time we sin. Jesus’ suffering and death, then, reveals God’s response, as if he were saying to us, “You wanted to kill me so that you could be free to pursue your own will? Look closely at me as I die upon the Cross for you. My love remains unconquered, but you must see that this is what sin does.” Wars, violence, hatred, division, cruelty, sickness, abuse, oppression, pain and suffering – these are all the result of the rejection of God’s will. Adam and Eve brought suffering into the world by rejecting God’s will, and we continue to participate in their legacy each time we sin.
Mary our Sorrowful Mother shows us how to do the opposite, how to respond to God’s will with acceptance and love. If rejection of God brings suffering and death into the world, so much more does acceptance of his love bring grace and healing into the world. The saving love of God was shown most splendidly in the Blood and Water which flowed from the pierced side of Christ, and this outpouring of love was fully received by the Heart of Mary as the seed of the grace of redemption. This is why Jesus said to her from the Cross, “Woman, behold, your son.” The grace flowing from the sacrifice of Jesus “impregnated” Mary with the seed of new life in the Church. She received that life fully and nurtured it into birth.
We have an example of how the full acceptance of God’s will, even in a situation of terrible suffering, can bring forth new life, in the person of St. Stephen, the first martyr. He fearlessly proclaimed the Gospel, even when he saw that it was going to mean his own death. As he was being stoned, he prayed that God would have mercy on those who were killing him. In today’s first reading we see the result of Stephen’s willing participation in the suffering of Christ. St. Paul, who was present at Stephen’s martyrdom and concurred with the killing, has now been converted into the great Apostle of Christ. How did this happen? Paul testifies, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” The grace which moved Paul to repent of his proud persecution of the Church was won for him by the suffering and death of Christ, but also by the participation in that same suffering by Stephen.
This is what we can learn from Our Sorrowful Mother today. Rejection of God’s will brings suffering and death. Acceptance of God’s will, even in suffering, allows us to be channels of his merciful grace, which brings life and healing. Mary shows us today the perfect response to God’s loving mercy to us. Yes, Lord! At all times, in every situation, even in the most difficult moments, I open myself to receive your love and I return love to you. May your will be done in me.
Let us join Mary in making the words of the Psalm our own heartfelt response to God: “You are my God, and I give thanks to you; O my God, I extol you.”
What sufferings have my sins caused for me and for others? What prevents me from persevering in carrying my cross? How am I striving to be a channel of God’s merciful grace?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 18, no. 7. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.