STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Fourth Station — Jesus Meets His Mother, by Joseph Cardinal Bernardin

Bernardin stations of the cross

From The Journey to Peace

Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “this child is destined to be the downfall and the rise of many in Israel, a sign that will be opposed – and you yourself shall be pierced with a sword – so that the thoughts of many hearts may be laid bare. (Luke 2:34-35)

Mary is a Woman of Strength and Courage

One cannot really understand our Christian faith unless one accepts and appreciates the Incarnation.  The pivotal point of our faith is the fact that God redeemed us by becoming one of us.  God’s son, Jesus, took his flesh from the Virgin Mary, and he redeemed us through his humanity: It was through his Passion, death, and resurrection that he reconciled us with his father.  As Paul told the Galatians, “When the designated time had come, God sent forth his son, born of a woman, born under the law, to deliver from the law those who were subjected to it, so that we might receive our status as adopted children.” (Galatians 4:4-5)

The late Pope Paul VI published a beautiful apostolic letter on Mary and Marian devotion in 1975.  In that letter he said that Mary is a model for us today, not because of the precise type of life she led or the social and cultural environment in which she lived (since this hardly exists anymore), but because in her own personal life she fully and responsibly accepted the will of God.  She heard the word of God and was obedient to it.  When God revealed to her, through the angel Gabriel, that she was to be the mother of his son, she did not and could not understand all the implications.  Her first response was an indication of how perplexed she was: “How can this be since I do not know man?” (Luke 1:34)  She was bewildered, even terrified.  And yet she said without any hesitation, “I am the maid-servant of the Lord.  Let it be done to me as you say.” (Luke 1:38)

Pope Paul also suggested another reason Mary can be an example for the rest of us.  He admitted that some of the past images of Mary are so removed from real life that it is understandable that some people will think it too unreasonable or too idealistic to consider her an authentic model.  But this is not the real Mary.  The real Mary was a down-to-earth, faith-filled person who gave her active and responsible consent to the Incarnation, an event of world importance, an event – as I said earlier – that lies at the very heart of our Christian faith.

In every respect Mary was a woman of strength and courage who experienced poverty and suffering, flight and exile.  She was not only a mother who quite understandably was concerned with her own divine son, but also a woman whose presence and action helped to strengthen the apostles and disciples in their faith in Christ and whose material role was expanded and became universal on Calvary when the dying Christ offered Mary to John and to all those who would come after him as their mother.

So we can truly say, as Pope Paul did, that Mary was a perfect Christian whose example can give us direction, strength, and inspiration as we strive to respond to the Lord’s call.  Indeed, it is correct to say that Mary’s true greatness rests not so much in the privileges and honors that were bestowed on her in virtue of her special calling as in her own intense faith, which promoted her to accept God’s will joyfully and without any hesitation or reservation.

Lord God, I thank you for the gift of Mary, the
mother of Jesus, the mother of the church, and
 the mother of us all.  Send your Holy Spirit into
my life so that, like Mary, I can allow Jesus to
abide within me and share him with others.  By her
example may I develop the strength and courage to
say yes to you always.

Mary, the First Disciple

Let us reflect for a few moments on Mary’s wonderful song of praise (the Magnificat), for in that canticle Mary reveals her true greatness.  In her song Mary refers to two kinds of people.  On the one hand, there are the anawin: the poor, the lowly, the sick, the downtrodden, the unfortunate.  On the other hand, there are the proud and the arrogant, those who feel no need of God.  The lowly recognize their utter dependence on God.  But the proud assert their personal power and independence from God.

Mary is first and foremost among the anawin.  She contrasts her lowliness with God’s greatness, power, holiness, and mercy.  She rejoices that God is God and Mary is Mary.  It is in prayer that Mary comes to know who she is – both lowly and blessed.  She also comes to know who God is – the Holy One, the merciful father, the all-powerful God, the great one of Israel.  God, Mary asserts, makes wonderful promises to his people and has both the power to realize them and the faithfulness to carry them out.

Mary is a wonderful model and a source of inspiration for all who seek to meet the challenges of today’s church and society.  She did not run away from life and its demands.  She accepted life – and her own particular role in life – freely and eagerly.  She was not a timid woman.  Rather she proclaimed for all to hear that God vindicates the poor and the oppressed, that he dethrones the arrogant, proud, and powerful.  She proclaimed a vision of God’s kingdom that was daring, challenging, and full of hope, a vision that left no room for the fainthearted and complacent.

With faith and love she entrusted her entire life to God.  She made an irrevocable commitment, calling herself his “handmaid.”  This commitment, this all-encompassing orientation, determined in a decisive way her relationship with the Lord and, indeed, with all people.  Despite the suffering and hardship that were such an important part of her life, she knew the freedom and peace that come from knowing the truth and living in conformity with it.

God of wisdom and holiness, I admit that at times
I want to run away from life and its demands – and
sometimes do so, as you well know.  Help me to
learn from Mary’s example to entrust my life
entirely to you.

Mary, Our Model of Faith and Trust in God

Mary is our model of faith and trust in God, a wonderful example of how we are called to entrust our lives to the Lord.  For her to be an apt model, however, she must be like us – in all things but sin.  And if this is true, then Mary, too, must have found it difficult at times to be a handmaid of the Lord, to surrender her life to the Father’s will.  It is not always easy to see the truth about ourselves, about our relationship with God or with one another.  But there is no other way to achieve freedom, no other way to bring about a transformation of our world into the kingdom of God.  Mary found freedom in the truth.

Heavenly Father, it is not easy for me or any of us
to see the truth about ourselves, the world in which
we live or our relationship with you.  Help me to
walk steadily along the path that leads to truth,
the truth that will set me free.

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