Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala (Jn 19:25)
On this Good Friday, I choose to be there, I want to be there, standing with Our Lady. I know she can rely on the other women and Saint John, but perhaps another loving presence will be a source of added comfort for her.
So I stand with her, there on the hill of Calvary. I see how intently she gazes at the instrument of her Son’s agony; as Venerable Fulton J. Sheen states in The World’s First Love, “No one looked more closely at the Cross than the Blessed Mother”. I notice, though, that even when her eyes are downcast, her hot, silent tears give proof that those eyes unwillingly continue to see what they are loath to behold.
Our Lady’s gaze lifts upward, focusing on Jesus’ arms – muscular tradesman’s arms, stretched wide now to encompass a vast sea of sins. And His hands – in her memory, His tiny newborn fingers grip hers so tightly there in the stable; later they work under Joseph’s patient direction crafting a small piece for her in the carpentry shop. Wood of the manger; wood of the workshop; today she must view those hands, bloody and pierced, spiked so cruelly to the splintered wood of the Cross. Surely it must break her heart.
Then I strain my ears to listen, as Our Lady listens, to Jesus’ stunning words:
“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34) ~~~ Faith
Our Lady turns to me, wordlessly. Her gaze impels me to quell my amazement at Jesus’ plea for forgiveness on behalf of His brutal executioners. Her look challenges me: no matter how difficult, if I am to follow her Son well and truly, I must imitate His merciful example toward those who hurt me, just as she is doing at this very moment.
This moment speaks so powerfully of faith. If not for her staunch, uncompromising faith in the Father, how could Our Lady stand so resolutely, hearing her Son, from the depths of His agony, voicing words of mercy and forgiveness for those who would take His life?
“Amen I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43) ~~~ Hope
These words of Jesus, spoken in response to the Good Thief’s request to be remembered when He enters His kingdom, represent hope personified. Again, Our Lady glances in my direction, her gaze reminding me that human life – her life, the life of her Son, my life – encompasses so much more than pain, suffering, and sorrow.
Human life is so much greater than these because it is destined for eternity – and not only for eternity, but for eternal joy and happiness in the Kingdom of God. Jesus promises this to the Good Thief. He promises it to me as well. In this lies my hope.
As the hours pass, I witness Our Lady as she stands shaking – with that certain kind of chill brought on by shock and grief – here at the foot of the Cross. I watch as Saint John holds her tenderly to still the trembling. Her grateful acceptance of his support reminds me that, like her, I do not stand alone during my most difficult, painful trials.
Then Jesus, knowing that His time is coming to an end, models charity itself – bequeathing to all of us the one who is most precious to Him.
“When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother.’” (Jn 19:26-27) ~~~ Charity
At these words, my heart, burdened with sorrow and with sympathy for Our Lady, rejoices nonetheless. Jesus has given His Mother to me, to be my Mother for always!
The words of Pope John Paul II in Redemptoris Mater resonate: “The Mother of Christ, who stands at the very center of this [Paschal] mystery – a mystery which embraces each individual and all humanity – is given as mother to every single individual and all mankind…..so this ‘new motherhood of Mary,’ generated by faith, is the fruit of the ‘new’ love which came to definitive maturity in her at the foot of the Cross, through her sharing in the redemptive love of her Son.”
With steadfast faith in the Father, stricken with grief at the death of the Son, strengthened by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit – my Mother models the Trinity’s movement in our lives. Standing there on Calvary, I am a privileged student, learning from Jesus Himself and from my Mother Mary – lessons of faith, hope, and charity; lessons of forgiveness, obedience, and most of all, lessons of love. The love lessons of Calvary are all-encompassing in their magnanimous generosity and boundless mercy.
Father Peter John Cameron, O. P., writes in Magnificat: “The only way that the Mother of God can face what is unspeakably unbearable is through the spoken assurance that she still has spiritual children to bear. We take part in this promise by taking Mary into our care … by allowing Mary truly to be our Mother.”
As I leave my Mother to receive the body of her Son into her arms, I vow that, with Saint John and her countless spiritual children, I will take her into my care. I will allow her truly to be my Mother.
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