STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Fourth Station — Jesus Christ Is Met By His Mother, by Evelyn Underhill

underhill stations of the cross

From The Path of Eternal Wisdom, written under the pseudonym, John Cordelier

The Eternal Wisdom Encounters Human Love

It is surely humanity’s most poignant moment when the best that it has produced confronts the best that the spiritual universe has given. Then, as at no other station of our journey, the awful travail of the Eternal Wisdom is revealed to the soul in whom he has been born, and who has learned to love him as her dearest possession, adore him as her God.

In this supreme hour she looks into the eyes of that Perfection who is at once her creator and her son: the most intimate of all mysteries, the most mysterious of all intimates.  That glance brings with it the full realization of her impotence, as well as of her love.  She knows then that for all her self-devoting passion, all the humanity that she can muster – her care, her patience, her grief – her place, in so far as she is human, is still at the foot of the cross.  The holy thing which has come forth from her, the Christ whom she has borne, must mount it alone.  Earth, even at her highest – deep-bosomed, warm, most glorious Earth, the very handmaiden of God – can only look on in grief and amazement when the Spirit that she has borne passes suffering but unswerving on its way.

It is of the essence of our love for the Blessed Virgin that she is thus “one of ourselves.”  We produced her: she is our lady, humanity’s contribution to the Eternal Plan.  Our lady – our very own – utterly of our substance.  Ma-donna says the Italian, with a yet deeper sense of intimacy.

“Ave, Maria gratia plena!” [Hail, Mary, full of grace!] cries the Catholic church, speaking here the very tongue of angels.  “In thee the Earth has fulfilled itself.  Humanity in thee has ascended to the summit of its spirit, dramatized its most sublime potentialities.  Therefore – as it were of necessity – Dominus tecum.” [God is with you.]  Because of this plentitude of grace in the soul of a woman, because Mary first conceived God in her heart in a purer, deeper, and completer sense than all the saints could do, he was born in her womb.  Her human perfection, soaring up, met the Divine Perfection half-way.  In this complete fusion of matter and spirit, the word was made flesh and dwelt among us.

Mary, then, standing at the summit of the race – Earth’s purest prayer taking material form – stands for us all in this encounter with her son.  In her humanity, so far as it possesses spiritual vision, encounters its suffering creator: the repairer at his eternal work amongst man’s sins and blunders.  In her all lovers of the Eternal Wisdom taste their share of the anguish of his cross.  Here, too, perhaps, we may see under veils something of the share taken by God, the infinitely loving – who is, says Julian of Norwich, not only our father but our mother – in the necessary passion of his striving sons.  Because he is in the deepest sense one with us, “not only with us but in us” – as all life-givers, all artists persist actually in their creations, as the mother cannot be wholly severed from that which she has borne – so he suffers in and with us, as mothers in their children’s griefs.  Infinitely pitiful, he makes our pain his own, as Mary made the sorrow of her child; and crowns it with the thorny diadem of supreme, self-giving love.

“Here,” says Julian, revealer of the secrets of love, “I saw a part of the compassion of Our Lady Saint Mary: for Christ and she were so oned in love that the greatness of her loving was the cause of the greatness of her pain.  For in this I saw a substance of nature’s love, continued by grace, that creatures have to him: which kind love was most fully showed in his sweet mother, and overpassing; for so much as she loved him more than all other, her pains passed all other.  For ever the higher, the mightier, the sweeter that the love be, the more sorrow it is to the lover to see that body in pain that is loved.”

God’s love, then, which is height, might, and sweetness, brooking above us, sorrows for our pain.  Our love in its turn, so far as it participates in the nature of Divine Charity, grieves for his travail when, as it must, in encounters Eternal Wisdom on its way.  Then we meet face to face the pain and effort of the universe: that crescent love within our souls which urges us homewards sees, abruptly, the greater love, “che move il sole e l’alter stelle,” [that moves the sun and the other stars], straining at its task.  Then, indeed, we know “the compassion of Our Lady Saint Mary,” the grieving helplessness of mere humanity confronted by the divine, inexorable process of the world.  The higher, mightier, and sweeter the love which it evokes in us, the nearer to the pattern of his mother and ours – the more closely we are associated with Mary’s heart, the maternal heart of humanity – the more sorrow we shall have to see his pain.

Now since the human soul is in essence the source of manly energy no less than of maternal love – since we are destined not only to bear and cherish in our ground the Inward Christ, but also to ride with Wisdom in the lists – this sorrow of ours must be no passive emotion.  Like all other dormant faculties which Christ’s touch stings to life in us, it must work in us according to its measure, rouse us to new energies, send us out into the road to follow him.  Our encounter with Divine Suffering is no mere opportunity to static grief.  It is one more invitation to spiritual freedom, one more chance to volunteer, to enlist in the ranks of the Real, offered to the reluctant human soul.

If we do volunteer, if we elect to play a conscious part in the pageant of the universe, then, once again, Christ’s experience becomes ours.  In so far as we are human, we have looked with Mary’s bewildered grief and love at the tortures of others who have trod the Way of the Cross.  We have deplored, though we can never understand, the necessary anguish endured by sanctity on its road towards its source.  Now we, too, in so far as we obey the Christ-ward tendency within our souls, must suffer under the grieving gaze of those whom we love.

There is something which exhilarates us in the thought of cross-bearing in the teeth of our enemies.  But it is a hard saying that we must here defy the hopes, the gentle counsels, at last the bitter sorrow of our friends: disappoint the loving care of those to whom, as it seems, we are most closely linked by God – in and through whom, perhaps, his love has forced an entry to our tight-shut souls, and who have been for us indeed the “mothers of the Divine Grace.”  We hate it.  We rebel: call it an “unchristian act.”  But “so did your lovely forerunner,” says an angel’s voice in the ear of the poor maddened soul, caught there – held as in a vice – between the inexorable call of Calvary and the last, most passionate appeal of Mary’s breaking heart.

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