Monday, September 14, 2009
Cross and Sorrow
I have a huge devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help, and am also developing a deep devotion, consistent with the Passionist spirituality, of devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows, whose memorial we celebrate today.
Recently in my Mariology class, the connection was made for me between OLPH and Our Lady of Sorrows. One of the two possible Gospel readings today spoke of the prophecy at the presentation of Christ at the Temple, where Simeon praised God even as he revealed to the Mother of God that her own heart would be pierced.
When we look upon an icon, any icon, we are drawn in to the mystery through the eyes of those portrayed. Our Lady of Perpetual Help portrays the Mystery of our Redemption as she holds the child Jesus, who sought comfort in her arms as the shadow of the Cross and the implements of his crucifixion and torture fell over him. The very point that pierced the side of Christ was the very same as that which pierced her own heart. She is revealed both in the cited gospel
and the other for today, her presence at the Cross, as the Mother of Sorrows.
She invites us into that sorrow, for she is our mother and knows that without sorrow, without suffering, there can be no redemption. We are invited to penetrate the Mystery of our salvation by becoming a willing part of it.
So you see, it is no surprise that the Memorial of Our Mother of Sorrows follows upon the Feast of the Exultation of the Cross.
Although so many want to look at the Crucifixion of Christ as a one-time event (which it was), they ignore the second part of the teaching on the Cross; that we are called to it as well. We cannot experience the exultation without the experience of sorrow, for Christ Himself was a man of sorrows. Consider His Agony in the Garden; His sorrow in recognizing the need for our redemption was so great that it was not His Passion that caused Him to sweat blood, but the reality of sin in the world. It was that reality that made His Passion and Death necessary, and even as He meditated upon the sin of the past and future from that point....Jesus said yes.
But Our Lady had to say Yes before Jesus could in His humanity. It is said that "All of heavenand earth held their breath" awaiting her fiat to the Angel Gabriel. Our Blessed Mother greatly pondered the greeting of the angel, and in her humility bowed her head and said, "I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to Thy Word." And the Word was made flesh, the living Torah, as the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary just as God had once overshadowed Mt. Sinai, the tents of the Hebrews in the desert, and the Ark of the Covenant, and the Holy of Holies. He overshadowed her and she conceived, saying "Yes" not just to that moment, but to every moment.
Mary didn't just say "yes" to bearing the Messiah, but to everything that came with that. When we gaze upon icons portraying our Redemption, we realize that she said yes to that, to sharing Our Lord's suffering, and that of the entire Church. We see her ongoing fiat as, in the Gospel of John, she remained at the foot of the Cross when all but the Apostle John had long run away. She remained, keeping vigil in her great sorrow, trusting in the Triumph of her Son
...for she knew who He was.
Mary is the woman of Revelation 12, whose offspring (Jesus) was taken up to heaven as she fled into the desert, and the dragon (Satan), angry, went off to make war on her offspring. It is we, the Church, who are her offspring. That day, at the foot of the Cross, Jesus gave her to John, who Himself stood in for Christ, and Mary, for the Church. At Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit overshadowed she and the Apostles together, the day we celebrate as the birthday of the Church, we see her expanded maternity.
Mary is the woman of Genesis , John and Revelation who is in travail; not at the birth of Christ, but at the foot of the Cross and forever after that. Her greatest suffering comes not from a single point of agony, but from the reality of sin in the lives of her children, we, the adopted sons and daughters of God. She is in travail because we run from the Cross, and she calls us back, pointing to Christ, pointing to the Cross, for our redemption is there.
We cannot run from that shadow, for no matter how far we go, we cannot escape suffering. It is only through understanding the suffering and triumph of the Cross that we can give definition to our own sorrows. It is the Cross that brings us through everything that comes our way, and there, in union with Christ, it is overcome.
Psalm 57 reveals this truth:
Have mercy on me, O Lord, have mercy.
Under the shadow of your wings
I will take refuge
Until the storms of destruction pass by
We must be willing to flee to the shadow of His wings and embrace the Cross, letting it change us. Let the Cross be our guide, recognize the suffering of Our Lord that brings us through that terrible Cross and into His Glory.
Look at Our Mother of Sorrows, perhaps in the comforting light of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. She gazes at us, pointing to Christ, but inviting us into the mystery, her own sorrow exposed. She invites us to join her Son, to feel the cold shadow of the Cross and know that it is our destiny as well, if we would only stop running away.
Will we let our own hearts be pierced, or will we continue to flee, to fight the suffering that in the end, if we embrace it, conforms us to Christ Himself?
If we aren't willing to live the Cross, we will never find our way to eternal life.
Lord, by Your cross and resurrection, you have set us free. You are the Savior of the world.
Our Mother of Sorrows....pray for us!