STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Four — Jesus Meets Mary, by Henri Nouwen

stations of the cross nouwen

From Walk With Jesus

ANicaraguan woman who lost her son in the war is filled with deep sorrow, but she does not faint.  She looks me straight in the eyes with an immense confidence that there is victory beyond death.

I vividly remember meeting the mothers of slain Nicaraguan farmers in Jalapa, a small town close to the Honduran border.  I was with a group of North Americans who felt co-responsible for the war whose victims these farmers had become.  One of us asked them, “Can you forgive us for the violence you and your family have suffered?”  There was a long silence. . . but then one of the women said with a strong voice, “Yes, we forgive you,” and the others repeated her words, “Yes, we forgive you.”  Another one of us said, But can you also forgive us for the years of suffering and anguish caused by the economic boycott our country imposed on you?”  Again there was the answer, “Yes, we forgive you.”  Still another voice was raised.  “What about all the years in which we treated you as our backyard and exploited you for cheap labor and cheap fruit?”  The answer was the same, even stronger, “Yes, we forgive you, and we want you to work with us for a better world so that the deaths of our children will not prove useless.”  As I heard this litany of guilt and forgiveness and looked into the eyes of these women of faith, I realized that these women represented thousands of women all over the world who keep offering peace instead of war, hope instead of despair, forgiveness instead of revenge.  They are the women of Leningrad, Belfast, Teheran, and countless other cities and villages whose sorrow for their dying children becomes the fertile ground of compassion and healing.


Jesus met his mother as he was being led to his execution.  Mary did not faint; she did not scream in rage or despair; she did not try to prevent the soldiers from torturing him more.  She looked him in the eyes and knew that this was his hour.  In Cana, when she had asked his help, he had put some distance between them and said: “Woman, my hour has not yet come,” (John 2:4).  But now his sorrow and her sorrow merged in a deep knowledge of the hour in which God’s plan of salvation was being fulfilled.  Soon Mary will stand under the cross and Jesus will give her to John, his beloved disciple, with the words: “This is your mother,” (John 19:27).  Mary’s sorrow has made her not only the mother of Jesus, but also the mother of all her suffering children.  She stood under the cross; she stands there still and looks into the eyes of those who are tempted to respond to their pain with revenge, retaliation, or despair.  Her sorrow has made her heart a heart that embraces all her children, wherever they may be, and offers them maternal consolation and comfort.


As I look at Mary and all the mothers of sorrow, a question rises up from the center of my being: “Can you remain standing in your pain and keep forgiving from your heart?”  I am wounded, wounded by experiences of betrayal and abandonment, wounded by my own self-rejection, wounded too by my inability to reach out to those around me, whether near or far away, and take away their pain.  But I am constantly tempted to escape it all – to hide away in complaints or accusations, to become a victim of despair or a prophet of doom.  My true call is to look the suffering Jesus in the eyes and not be crushed by his pain, but to receive it in my heart and let it bear the fruit of compassion. I know that the longer I live, the more suffering I will see and that the more suffering I see, the more sorrow I will be asked to live.  But it is this deep human sorrow that unites my wounded heart with the heart of humanity.  It is in this mystery of union in suffering that hope is hidden.  The way of Jesus is the way into the heart of human suffering.  It is the way Mary chose and many Marys continue to choose.  Wars come and go, and come again.  Oppressors come and go, and come again.  My heart knows this even when I do whatever I can to resist the oppressor and struggle for peace.  In the midst of it all, I have to keep choosing the ever-narrowing path, the path of sorrow, the path of hope.  The sorrowful women of this world are my guides.

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