STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Station 4 — Jesus Meets His Mother, by Joan Chittister

The Path to New Life

Jesus Meets His Mother Joan Chittister

From: The Way of the Cross

The Experience

This fourth station is a life lesson far beyond either the dull or dour particulars of life.  This station is about the place of love in life.

It is one thing to have zest enough for the future; it is valiant to recognize reality and to embrace it with spirit.  But it is something else entirely to find ourselves alone in the midst of the painful but defining moments of life – birth, death, castigation, humiliation, failure, and rejection.  With love we can do anything, even the clouded parts of life, so tenebrous but at the same time so necessary, so commonplace.  But without love, we can only die long before death takes us.

Even in the Stations of the Cross we find this comment on human need and human gifting.  Even here, in the life of the one we call “the Jesus of history, the Christ of faith,” there is a clear sign of the need for support, of the place where care becomes a universal part of the human enterprise.

There is no bravado in the stations, no affected disregard for pain, no display of sophisticated disinterest from bystanders.  On the contrary.  People stand like honor guards in the street to weep as the procession of cross and criminal goes by.  And there in the midst of them, Mary the mother of Jesus, sees her good son persecuted in order to satisfy a few autocrats fearful of his impact on others.  Surrounded by people struggling with the loss of hope that the loss of Jesus represents, Mary reaches out through her own unbearable pain to give support here.

No, the stations are not a gladiatorial script imposed on the ignominious execution of this first-century rabbi.  Jesus is suffering, struggling, falling in the street.  The onlookers, unlike the crowd outside the house of Pilate during the trial, are not screaming for blood.  These are people strong enough, involved enough, to give sign to the world of the wrong being done in their midst but at the same time powerless to do anything about it.

Central to it all is Mary, the mother, the one who never goes away regardless who says what about this savior of the people who is at one and the same time the enemy of the state, the apostate of the law.  Mary who herself braved the negative reactions of both religion and culture to have this child refuses to deny him now.  Love for the outcast is the gift she brings to the moment.  The proclamation of presence is the sermon she preaches.  Disgraced in the eyes of the population who have abandoned him, she does nothing to hide her love or her continuing commitment.  They have leaned on one another all their lives.  No way to change that now.  They will simply both suffer this cataclysmic moment together, she for him, he for her, both of them for the sake of the world which they serve.

The Call

The fourth station is the station of unconditional love, the kind of love that cannot be diminished under any conditions, regardless of any accusations, whatever the cost to the self.  This is the love that is Godly – that does not judge, that stands by, that knows the best and believes in it.  It is the best a human can do, whoever the person, whatever the crime.

To grow in the spirit of the fourth station, we must learn to do the same, to love without boundaries, to love without censure, without condemnation.  Love lets the rest of the world do that.  It is for the lover to simply accept what is and stand by to see it through.

The Model

The face of Jesus cradled in the hand of Mary is an icon of the unity that bonds souls in times of shared pain.  There is a oneness here that is above and beyond the biology of birth.  There is in the common bond between them a unity of hearts formed by the pangs of pain.  Having borne his body, she is now bearing the weight of his soul in hers.  There is no recrimination here, only acceptance.  There is no distance here, only a melding of hearts that is beyond anything merely physical.  Now, he knows, they are bearing together the beginning of a whole new world.

The fourth station of the cross teaches us the freedom that comes with real love.  Jesus and Mary meet under the worst of circumstances.  He has become an enemy of the state, an outcast from the synagogue.  She is a widow left alone in a male world without the sustenance of her only son and no visible means of support.  Both of them, in a way, are condemned to death.  But she does not beg him to change his life for her sake, she does not spend herself in self-pity, and he does not tailor his life given for others to give only to her.

At first, the reality of that jars the soul a bit.  Shouldn’t he live his life to please her?  Shouldn’t she demand from him his conversion to the ways of the world around him, for his sake, of course, but for hers, as well?  Isn’t that what good sons, good parents, good friends, good lovers do?  The answer is, yes, only if we believe that our children belong more to us than to God and only if we believe that anyone – our teachers, our parents, the people we love in life – has more claim on our souls than God does.  The answer is, yes, only if we think that love requires molding a person to ourselves rather than changing ourselves, giving ourselves, so the good of the other is realized.  In this case, mother and son love one another enough to respect the place of God in both their lives.

The Rising

The question with which the fourth station of the cross confronts us is, Why do we love and how well?  If we love another for our own sake, that love is doomed for both of us because it stands to twist both of us into shapes that are not our own.  The truth is that there is no one who can ever satisfy all our needs.  The moment of new life happens for us when we can love the other and at the same time let them go.  Let them free to become the wholeness of themselves.  Allow them to do what they are meant to do in life.  And let them do it better because they feel the support of genuine love every step of the way.  Love like that can never fail us because the freedom we give to the other to become frees our own becoming as well.

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