From The Way of the Cross
Jesus is on his feet again, once more he starts on his way. As he lifts his bowed head and looks at the road he is to tread, he comes face to face with his mother.
It is not by chance that she meets him at this moment, just as he falls and struggles to his feet again. She sees that which no one else in that crowd sees, the tiny child taking his first unsteady steps and falling on the garden path in Nazareth. She is there beside him, holding her breath, longing to put out her hands to hold him, to prevent the fall, but she lets him go alone, the little child whose independence she must respect, her son who must learn to walk on his own feet, and to walk away from her.
For his mother, those first steps of the baby learning to walk were the first steps on the road to Calvary. The “Word was made flesh,” her flesh. God had taken human nature, her human nature. The way of the Cross had begun. Already his face was set steadfastly toward Jerusalem. It was for this journey that she had fashioned those blameless feet from her own flesh and blood.
Seeing the first fall on the Via Crucis, his mother sees the first fall on the path in Nazareth. Now as then she is silent; she holds back her hands as she did then. His will is her will. It was for this hour that she gave him to the world, for this that he grew from the infant to the child, from the child to the man.
He goes on his way. He passes her by. This is something at the very heart of his suffering: that it must afflict her whom he loves; that because they both love, neither can spare the other. He goes on his way to do his Father’s will.
“And now my soul is distressed. What am I to say? I will say, Father, save me from undergoing this hour of trial; and yet, I have only reached this hour of trial that I might undergo it,” (John 12:27).
But why – why? The unvoiced cry in the soul of the mother of Jesus is the cry of every woman who sees her child suffer or die (and every woman sees her innocent child in the grown man). Mary is identified with every woman to come who must be separated from her child by his pain, his sorrow, his death, his impotence to spare her, her impotence to save him. Standing there, while Christ passes her by, she is every woman who must stand aside while her son goes to war. She is every woman who knows that her child is to die on the scaffold. She is every woman whose child is a failure, covered in shame and loved only by his mother. She is every mother who must sit, with heart constricted, by the bedside of her dying child, strangling that cry in her throat – that question hammering on the drained-out brain – “Why – why – why should innocence suffer this thing? Why should this one in the flower of his manhood be sacrificed? Why should this child whom I love bear the shame and grief of the whole world?”
Mary asked the question long ago, asked for all the mothers yet to be: “My son, why hast thou treated us so?”
Down the years echoes the voice of the answering child: “Did you not know that I must be about my father’s business?”
What is his Father’s business but the business of love, the Father’s love for mankind? “The Father so loved the world, that he gave up his only son to save the world.”
The Father so loved men because each one of them, in his eternal decree, was to be identified with Christ, his beloved son, to be given Christ’s own life to be his. Had there been no sin, everyone whom God created would have been “a Christ,” each one a glorious expression of God’s love, living with Christ’s life.
Christ is given to save the world.
Mary has given him the precious blood that is to be shed. It is to be shed in order that it may become the blood stream that is the life of every man who lives in Christ, the blood stream of the mystical body of Christ on Earth through all time, the lifeblood of the world flowing through the heart of humanity. When Mary uttered her Fiat – “Be it done to me according to thy word” – when she conceived Christ and gave him her own humanity, she made every mother to become a potential mother of Christ; every child who would come into this world, one who was to come to be a Christ to it. “If anyone does the will of my Father who is in Heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother.”
Every woman who sees her child suffer, every woman who is separated from her child, every woman who must stand by helpless and see her child die, every woman who echoes the old cry, “Why, why, why my child?” has the answer from the mother of Christ. She can look at the child through Mary’s eyes, she can know the answer with Mary’s mind, she can accept the suffering with Mary’s will, she can love Christ in her child with Mary’s heart – because Mary had made her a mother of Christ. It is Christ who suffers in her child; it is his innocence redeeming the world, his love saving the world. He too is about his Father’s business, the business of love.
Suffering is the price of love. The hardest thing but the inevitable thing in the suffering of every individual is that he must inflict his own suffering on those who love him.
It is love that redeems, love that can heal the world, love that can save it. Suffering has no power in itself; it is only powerful to save when it is caused by love, and when it is the expression of love.
The mother of Christ loved the world with his love. She gave him to the world for the love of those whom he loved, those who would be born into the world generations hence, those among whom are you and I. Witness the lyrical song of her love for us, ringing down the centuries from the first Advent: “Behold, from this day forward all generations will count me blessed,” (Luke 1:48). She rejoiced because her child was to bring joy into the world, was to flood the world with his love.
The cause of Christ’s suffering was his love for the world; the suffering he gave to his mother was the gift of his own love. The increase of Christ’s own grief because he must afflict her was an increase of Christ-love in the whole world – the suffering which is a communion of love.
Compassion, the communion in suffering of those who love, is the suffering that redeems; it is Christ’s love in the world; it exists only because people love one another, and because it exists it begets more love.
Christ goes on his way; no word is spoken now; Mary follows him in the crowd. Another woman has anointed his feet for his burial; another will meet him on the way and wipe the blood and dirt form his face; others will weep aloud for him. Mary remains silent, she does not lift a hand; only when he is suffering no more will she anoint his body. She simply accepts this supreme gift of his love, his suffering given to her. It is a complete communion with him. They are as completely one now as they were when he was the child in her womb, and her heart was the beating of his heart.
Mother of Christ,
help me to be willing
to accept the suffering
that is the condition of love.
Help me accept
of seeing those whom I love suffer,
and when they die
let me share in their death
Give me the faith
that knows Christ
and knows that his love
is the key
to the mystery of suffering.
to see with your eyes,
to think with your mind,
to accept with your will.
Help me to believe
that it is Christ
who suffers in innocent children,
in those who die in the flower of manhood,
in those whose death is an act of reparation,
in those who are sacrificed
that their suffering is Christ’s love
healing the world,
and when I suffer for them
and with them,
I too am given the power
of his redeeming love.