STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Thirteenth Station — Jesus Christ Is Laid In The Arms Of 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 Embraced by Human Love

It has been said by a great preacher that “Jesus dead in the arms of Mary is the central fact of the world’s tragedy.”  Here we see it at last in its results – what, left to ourselves, we would do to Perfection if he would let us: the foolish cruelty, the destructive instincts of the separated human will apart from grace, from God.

Yet poignant though this picture be, terrible in its revealing power, perhaps it were truer to say that this cradling of the dead Christ in the arms of his human mother is the “central fact” which brings to a point the highest honor that humanity has yet attained.

Upon my flowery breast,
Wholly for him and save himself for none,
There did I give sweet rest
To my beloved one;
The fanning of the cedars breathed thereon.
[The Obscure Night of the Soul, Arthur Symons]

Here at last our long-desired union with reality takes place.  This is the meeting place of matter and spirit, the worlds of nature and of grace: the higher synthesis of Earth and Heaven, of man and God.

Here, more truly and completely than at any other point in the mystic way, human love at its highest meets Divine Love at its highest.  Human love supremely hopeless, crushed beneath unutterable sorrows, yet never swerving from its office of ministry; never shirking the terrible and direct encounter with failure and death.  Divine Love in its hour of complete humiliation, spent with self-giving for a heedless and unworthy world.

“Mater Creatoris!  Mater Salvatoris!”  [Mother of our creator!  Mother of our savior!] says the Litany of Loreto, striving to find expression for the ecstatic gratitude of Christendom towards the human instrument which forged this, our closest link with Perfect Love.  The Creator is dead, the Savior who saved not himself is cast back now into the arms of his mother – open, when all else is closed against him, to receive the wreck of all that she had brought forth, nourished, and adored.

It is the supreme paradox, final mystery, of the cross that the Eternal Wisdom should thus seem to us to frustrate himself.  “If thou art the Son of God, come down from the cross.”  He did come down at his own time, his work finished; to consecrate forever the loving ministries of the mourner by this sublime image of the Sacred Humanity lying helpless in his mother’s arms.

“It is finished!”  The true consummation of Calvary is here.  In this as in all else God treads unshirkingly the path of his creation.  He, who – as it seems to our dim vision – creates only to destroy; who strikes down heedlessly, who has so plaited death with life, weakness with strength, that we can hardly conceive a plane of being which lives and yet escapes the eternal strife, the sweeping storm of change – he offered himself to destruction, was willingly broken on the wheel of his own universe.  So broken, so slain, he found at last his home and refuge in the sheltering arms of human love.

The august figure of Mary sitting thus at the very gate of death, holding the maimed and broken body of her child and her God, demands our recognition – even in the face of this awful exhibition of God’s will for his sons and for his universe – as the mother of all hope and all beauty, no less than the mother of grief.  “Ego mater pulchrae delectionis et timoris, et agnitionis, et sanctae spei.  In me gratia omnis viae et veritatis; in me omnis spes vitae et virtutis” [I am the mother of fair love, and of fear, and of knowledge, and of holy hope.  In me is every grace of the way and of the truth, in me is all hope of life and of virtue. (Ecclesiasticus 24:24)]  It is a hard saying.  But look at me here where I sit, the slain body of my son upon my knees: the Mater Dolorosa, yet the help of Christians, health of sick souls, the veritable cause of all your joy.  I am the very symbol of life, patient maternal life, valiant in suffering, faithful in loss.”

“Gaudeamus omnes in Domino!” [Let us all rejoice in the Lord.] says the Catholic Church, celebrating the feast of Our Lady’s Assumption.  Let us all rejoice in the Lord of Life, because the faithful and sorrowing mother, the pure soul capable of receiving her God, is lifted up out of the ruck of humanity to become the Queen of Angels, the high-water mark of the race.

Thus Mary as well as Jesus is seen to be necessary to the elucidation of the total experience of the soul.  There is a sense in which each human spirit spares her supreme privilege, is destined to the high office of the mother of God.  In each, if we are ever to come to our full stature, achieve our inheritance, her son must be incarnate.  “Spiritus sanctus superveniet in te, et virtus Altissimi obumbrabit tibi.” [The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee. (Luke 1:35)]  Under these auspices, quickened by this brooding and supernal love, each, according to their measure, may bring forth the striving Christ; the redeemer and repairer, Life of our life, whose birth within us is our initiation into the plane of reality.

Thus the prayer of the Angelus epitomizes the soul’s true history: the angelic invitation to us, the meek and willing acquiescence in the divine purpose, the result.  Mysteriously, in silence, without human intervention, the word is incarnate in the ground of the soul.  The divine child is confided to us, our share in God’s life, the starry spark which we may cherish if we will.  Nourished by our humanity, willingly dependent upon our love and sacrifice, – each soul in this sense is the guardian of God’s interests, the mother of divine grace.

It is then to us, to the totality of the world’s love and will, that – by a supreme act of divine humility – the care of the infinite is confided: the cherishing of his life in the world is left to the material instinct of the race.  In the wonderful moment of his coming to us, the child of Bethlehem is placed in our arms: in the terrible hour of spiritual darkness, when our faith and hope are tested to the uttermost, when Christ seems dead, his cause seems vanquished, we must still be there, steadfast in love, our arms held out for him.  When we do not seem to get anything from it, when nothing is given us but an opportunity for the free spending of our sorrow and our love – here, even at the sepulcher, to do what we can for him; this is the soul’s last and mightiest opportunity to show itself an adept of the true chivalry of God.

If we are to love deeply, there must be the divine appeal of helplessness in that which we love.  We are all of us children of Mary in this: our lowliness, our profound need of self-giving, is best met by the immense humility of a Creator who can condescend to our gentleness and pity as well as to our obedience and our awe.  To know him thus an instant dependent on us is surely our sweetest opportunity: our inalienable right, of which no one can deprive us, not even those who nailed him to the cross.  Now, when the world has done with him, he is given back to us.  Now at this moment “despised and rejected,” he is more utterly ours.

At such an hour the soul asks not what the world has thought of him.  The inebriation of the cross is on her: the ecstasy of ministering love.  “Gloriari in tribulation, non est grave amanti.” [To glory in tribulation is no hardship for a lover. (De Imitatione Christi)]  In the sorrow of our lady the intuition of the mystic finds the most secret symbol of her joy.  She would rather have grief of him than gladness of any other: rather be associated in his passion than free of all the riches of the world.  Here, in this place of weeping, is the paradoxical source of her happiness.  Hither she comes through the darkness to claim the most sacred of her rights.  “Amans Deum anima, sub Deo despicit universa.  Solus Deus aeternus et immensus, implens Omnia, solatium animae et vera cordis laetitia.” [The soul that loveth God despiseth all things that be inferior unto God.  God alone is eternal and infinite, filling all things: the soul’s one solace, and the heart’s true joy. (De Imitatione Christi)]  He who fills all things, infinite and eternal – the only joy of man’s craving heart, the only consolation of his pilgrim soul – has not disdained to give himself into the eager arms of human love.

2 Comments on STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Thirteenth Station — Jesus Christ Is Laid In The Arms Of His Mother, by Evelyn Underhill

  1. Bev Wilson // April 15, 2017 at 2:29 pm // Reply

    Powerful, powerful words. Thank you.


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