As the fourth station of the Cross has it: "Jesus, carrying the Cross, meets His Blessed Mother." Simeon had foretold that He would be a sign to be contradicted; now she sees that the sign of contradiction is the Cross. It was the advent of a long-dreaded evil. Every tree with its branches at right angles to the trunk had reminded her of the day when a tree would turn against its Creator and become His deathbed. Nails on the floor of a carpenter shop, crossbeams against a wall, arms of a youth stretched out against the background of the setting sun after a day's labor, throwing the shadow of a cross on the opposite wall — all these were advance tokens of this dread hour. But no matter how much one prepares for the misfortune of the innocent suffering for the guilty, the reality is always sadder than one had imagined. Mary had practiced for this blow, but it seemed to strike in an undefended spot. No two sorrows are alike; each has a character of its own. Although it is the same sword, the difference is in the depth of its plunging; some new area of the soul is touched that before was virginal to grief.
In each dolor it is the Son Who is the executioner, but He always makes His edge the sharper. His edge was not only to bear the sins of man on that Cross but also to permit her, who was innocent of it all, to share it as her own. But the Cross must have seemed heavier, not lighter, after His Mother saw it on His shoulders. How often Our Lord had said: "If any man has a mind to come my way, let him renounce self, and take up his cross, and follow me" (Mt 16:24). If carrying one's own Cross is the condition of being Christ's follower, then the condition of being the Savior's Mother is to carry the Savior's Cross. The curious on the roadway to Calvary could see what He was carrying, but only He knew the load she bore.
This world of ours has not only the dread of impending evil, as in Simeon's prophecy; the forced flight from a tyrant's wrath, as in the flight into Egypt; the loneliness and anxiety of the sinners, as in the three days' loss — but it has also the modern nightmare of terror. The just Abels slain by the Soviet Cains in Eastern Europe, the Chinese faithful living in mortal dread of execution, the countless multitudes panic-stricken by the injustices of communists, all these could have raised their eyes to Heaven as so much brass, did not one Man and one Woman feel the bitterness of that terror. And if only a Man Who is Innocent had felt the brunt of that terror, then what would the woman say? Must there not be among their sex, too, one whose soul was so flooded with it that she also could bring consolation and hope? If God in the flesh had not been patient at mock trials, the Chinese priests would not now have the courage to walk in His footsteps. If a creature, in the face of a maddened mob yelling for blood, had not shared that terror as her own, mankind would have said that a God-Man could bear it because He is God, but a human could not. That is why our Divine Lord had to be her Sword, with its fourth and agonizing thrust.
With this fourth dolor no word is spoken; one sees only the shimmering steel of the Sword, for terror is speechless. The Sword He drove into His Own heart made Him shed drops of blood, like beads in the Rosary of redemption over every inch of that Jerusalem roadway; but the Sword He drove into her soul made her identify herself with His redemptive sufferings, forced her to tread the streets over her own Son's blood. His wounds bled; hers did not. Mothers, seeing their sons suffer, wish it could be their own blood instead of their sons' that is shed. In her case, it was her blood that He shed. Every crimson drop of that blood, every cell of that flesh, she had given to Him. Jesus had no human father. It was always her blood that He was shedding; it was only her blood that she was treading.
Through such a dolor as this, Mary won compassion for the terrified. The Saints are most indulgent to others who have been the least indulgent to themselves. Those who lead easy, unmortified lives cannot speak the language of the affrighted. So elevated above terror, they cannot bend to console; if they do, it is with condescension and not compassion. But here Mary is already in the dust of human lives; she lives amidst terror, brain-washings, false accusations, libels, and all the other instruments of terror. The Immaculate is with the maculate, the sinless with the sinner, and she bears no rancor or bitterness toward them — only pity that they do not see or know how loving that Love is that they are sending to His death. In her purity, Mary is on the mountain top; in her compassion she is amidst curses, death cells, hangmen, executioners, and blood. A man may despair in his consciousness of sin from crying to God for forgiveness, but he cannot shrink from invoking the intercession of God's Mother, who saw sinners do these things and yet prayed for their forgiveness. If the good Holy Mother, Mary, who deserved to be spared evil, could nevertheless, in the special providence of her Son, have a Cross, then how shall we, who deserve not to be ranked with her, expect to escape our meeting with a cross? "What have I done to deserve this?" is a cry of pride. What did Jesus do? What did Mary do? Let there be no complaint against God for sending a cross; let there only be wisdom enough to see that Mary is there making it lighter, making it sweeter, making it hers!
FIFTH THRUST OF THE SWORD
The Cross unites not only the friends of Our Lord but also His enemies. Only the mediocre survive. Our Lord was too good; He disturbed consciences; therefore, He must die. The thieves were too wicked; they disturbed false security of possessions; therefore, they must die. Our Lord Himself had said that as Moses lifted up the brazen serpent in the desert, so He would be lifted up. The meaning was this: when the Israelites were bitten by serpents, God ordered that they make a brazen serpent and hang it on a cross. All who looked at it were cured of the serpent's poison. The brazen serpent had the appearance of the serpent that stung and yet was without venom. Christ is the brazen serpent inasmuch as He is in the likeness and the form of man and yet without the venom of sin. All who look upon Him will be healed of sin that came from the serpent, who is the Devil.
No one looked more closely at the Cross than the Blessed Mother. Our Lord drove one edge of the sword into His Own heart, for no one took away His life —"I lay it down of Myself." He was upright as a Priest, prostrate as a Victim. He delivered Himself up to the iniquitous will of man so that man might do his worst. The worst thing man can do is kill God. By permitting man to summon forth his strongest armaments and then defeating him by resurrection from the dead, Our Lord showed that evil would never be victorious again.
The other edge of the Sword went into Mary's soul, inasmuch as she had been preparing the Priest to be a Victim. Her cooperation was so real and active that she stood at the foot of the Cross. In every representation of the Crucifixion, Magdalen is prostrate; she is almost always at the feet of Our Lord. But Mary is standing; John was there, and it amazed him so much that she was erect during these three hours that he wrote the fact down in his Gospel.
Eden was now being reversed. Three things cooperated in our fall: a disobedient man, Adam; a proud woman, Eve; and a tree. God takes the three elements that led to the defeat of man and uses them as the instruments of victory: the obedient new Adam, Christ; the humble new Eve, Mary; and the tree of the Cross.
The peculiarity of this dolor is that the seven words Our Lord spoke from the Cross were like seven notes in the funeral dirge. Our Blessed Mother is recorded as speaking only seven times in Sacred Scripture. This does not mean that she spoke only that number of times, but that only seven of her utterances are recorded. Our Lord also spoke seven times from the Cross. As He spoke each word, her heart goes back to each of the words she herself had spoken, making the sorrow more intense as she saw the mystery of the "sign being contradicted."
The first word of Our Lord from the Cross was "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." It is not worldly wisdom that saves; it is ignorance. If the executioners had known the terrible thing they were doing when they rejected the Son of Man; if they had known that He was the Son of God and still gone on, deliberately putting Him to death, then there would have been no hope of salvation. It was only their ignorance of the blasphemy they were doing that brought them within the hearing of the word of forgiveness and the pale of pardon.
The first word reminded Mary of her first word. It, too, was about ignorance. When the angel announced to her that she was to be the Mother of the Son of God, she asked: "How can this be, seeing I know not man?" Ignorance here meant innocence, virtue, virginity. The ignorance extolled is not ignorance of truth but ignorance of evil. Our Lord would forgive sinners because they were ignorant and not like the angels who in rebellion knew what they were doing and therefore went beyond redemption. Our Blessed Mother was "blessed" because she was ignorant of man through the consecration of her virginity.
Here the two words fuse into one grief: a sorrow on the part of Jesus, and a sorrow on the part of Mary, that men were not wise with that wisdom which is given only to children and the little ones, namely, knowing that Christ alone saves us from our sins.
The second word of Our Lord was to the good thief. At first he blasphemed Our Lord, but then, hearing the word of forgiveness and seeing the loveliness of His Mother, he responded to grace and envisaged his punishment as the "just reward of our crimes." The sight of the Man on the central Cross obeying the Father's will inspired him to accept his cross as God's will, and with it came a cry for pardon. Our Lord answered: "This day thou shalt be with Me in paradise."
That beautiful acceptance of his sufferings in expiation for sin reminded Mary of her word to the Angel. When she was told that she was to become the Mother of Him Whom the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah described as the "one struck by God and afflicted," she pronounced her second word: Fiat. "Be it done unto me according to thy word." Nothing matters in all the universe except the doing of God's will, even though it brings a cross to a thief and a dolor to her at the foot of the Cross. Mary's Fiat was one of the great Fiats of the universe: one made light, another accepted the Fathers will in the Garden, and hers accepted a life of selfless fellowship with the Cross.
The Heart of Jesus and the Heart of Mary were made one on Calvary in this obedience to the Father's will. Everyone in the world has a cross, but no two crosses are identical. Our Lord's was the Cross of redemption for the sins of the world; Our Lady's was lifelong union with that Cross; and the thief's was the patience on a cross as the prelude to the crown. Our will is the only thing that is absolutely our own; hence it is the perfect offering we can make to God.
Our Lord's first word was to executioners, His second to sinners, and His third to His Mother and St. John. It is a word of salutation, and yet one that completely altered all human relations. He calls His Own Mother "Woman," and John her "son": "Woman, behold thy son. Son, behold thy Mother." It was the command to all humanity who would follow Him to see His Mother as their own Mother. He had given up everything else; now He would give her up, as well, but of course He would find her again, mothering His Mystical Body.
Mary's third word, too, was a salutation. We do not know exactly what she said except that she saluted and greeted her cousin Elizabeth. In this scene too, there was another John — John the Baptist — and even he proclaimed Mary as his mother. With John leaping with joy within her body, Elizabeth spoke for him and addressed Mary as the "Mother of God." Two unborn children established a relationship before either was born. As Jesus on the Cross pronounced His Word, Mary was thinking of hers. In the Visitation she was bringing Christ's influence before He was born, because she was destined at the Cross to be the mother of all who would be born. His birth cost her no sorrow, but this birth of John and the millions of us at the foot of the Cross brought her such agony as to merit her the title "Queen of Martyrs." It cost Jesus His Mother to make her our mother; it cost Mary her Divine Son to make us her sons. It was a poor exchange, but she believes it worth it.
The fourth word of Mary was her
Magnificat, and the fourth word of Our Lord was taken from Psalm
Twenty-One, which begins with sadness — "My God, My God, why hast thou
forsaken Me?" — but ends with somewhat the same note as the Song of
Mary — "The poor shall eat and be filled; all the ends of the earth
shall remember and adore in His sight." Both songs were spoken before
there was assurance of victory. How hopeless from a human point of view
for a woman to look down the corridors of time and prophesy that "all
generations would call me blessed." How hopeless, from a human point of
view, was the prospect of Our Lord, now crying out to His Father in
darkness, of ever exercising dominion over the earth that now rejected
Him. To both Jesus and Mary, there are treasures in darkness — one in
the darkness of a woman, the other in the darkness of a hill. Only
those who walk in darkness ever see the stars.
The fifth word of Mary was pronounced at the end of a quest: "My Son! Why hast thou treated us so? Think what anguish of mind Thy father and I have endured searching for Thee." Mary's fifth word was that of creatures in the quest of God. Our Lord's fifth word was that of the Creator in the quest of man: "I thirst." This was not a thirst for earthly waters but a thirst for souls. Mary's word sums up the aspiration of every soul toward Christ, and His words sum up her Divine Son's affection toward every soul. There is only one thing in the world that can prevent each finding the other, and that is the human will. We must will to find God; otherwise He will always seem to be the Hidden God.
Mary's sixth word was a simple prayer: "They have no wine" — words that prompted Our Lord to work His first miracle and begin His royal road to the Cross. After Our Lord on the Cross had tasted the wine given to Him by the soldier, He said: "It is finished." That "hour" which Mary began at Cana when He changed water into wine is now finished as the wine of His life is changed into the blood of sacrifice. At Cana, Mary sent her Son to the Cross; on Calvary, her Son now declares He has finished His work of redemption. Mary's Immaculate Heart was the living altar stone on which the Sacred Heart is offered; Mary knew that the sons of men could never be saved without offering the Son of God!
Mary's last recorded word in Scripture is abandonment to the will of God: "Do whatever He tells you" (Jn 2:5). At the Transfiguration the Heavenly Father spoke, saying: "This is My beloved Son — Hear ye Him." Now Mary speaks His valedictory, "Do His will." The last word of Jesus on the Cross was the free surrender of His life to His Father's will: "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit." Mary surrenders to Jesus, and Jesus to His Father. To do God's will until death, that is the inner heart of all holiness. And here Jesus teaches us how to die, for if He would have His Mother with Him in the hour of His great surrender, then how shall we dare to miss saying daily: "Pray for us sinners, now, and at the hour of our death. Amen"?
SIXTH THRUST OF THE SWORD
Our Blessed Lord bows His Head and dies. Certain planets only after a long time complete their orbit and then go back again to their starting point, as if to salute Him, Who sent them on their way. He, Who came from the Father, returns again to the Father with the last words: "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit." A double investigation is ordered to prove that He is dead. A sergeant in the Roman army then takes a spear and runs it into the side of Our Lord. He, Who had stored up a few testimonies of His Love, now pours them out from His side as blood and water — blood, the price of our redemption, water, which is the symbol of our regeneration.
Christ, Who is the Sword of His own death, continues the thrusts even after His death, by making Longinus the instrument for opening the treasures of His Sacred Heart, which becomes the new Ark into which souls to be saved from the flood and deluge of sin might enter. But, as the one edge opened the treasures of His heart, the other edge went through Mary's soul. Simeon had foretold that a sword her own soul would pierce; this time it came through the riven side of Her Son. Literally in His case, metaphorically in hers, it was a piercing of two hearts with one sword. It is this simultaneity of thrusts, this transfixion of His heart and her own soul, which unites us in adoration of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and in veneration of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Persons are never so much united in joy as they are in sorrow. Pleasures of the flesh unite, but always with a tinge of egotism, because the ego is put in the "thou" of the other person, to find there delight in its ravishments. But in tears and sorrow, the ego is killed before it goes into the "thou," and one wills nothing but the good of the other. In these successions of thrusts, Jesus grieves for His Mother, who must suffer so much because of Him; Mary grieves for her Son, caring not what happens to herself. The more consolation one has from creatures, the less one has from God. Few there are who can console. In fact, no one can console except the departed. No human can relieve the loneliness of Mary. Only her Divine Son can do that. In order that mothers who lose sons on battlefields and spouses who lose spouses amidst the joys of love might not be without consolation, Our Lord here becomes the bereaved, as He makes Mary their consolation and their model. No one again can ever say: "God does not know the agony of a deathbed; God does not know the bitterness of my tears." This sixth dolor teaches the lesson that, in such sadness, God alone can give consolation.
After the rebellion against God in Paradise through the abuse of human freedom, Adam one day stumbled across the body of his son, Abel. Carrying it back to Eve, he laid it on her lap. She spoke, but Abel answered not. He had never been that way before. They lifted his arms, but they fell limp at his side. Then they remembered: "The day that thou shalt eat the fruit of that tree, on that day thou shalt die the death." It was the first death in the world.
The cycle of time whirls, and the new Abel, slain by the jealous race of Cain, is taken down from the Cross and laid in the lap of the new Eve, Mary. To a mother, a son never grows up. For the moment, Mary must have thought that Bethlehem had come back again, for here was her Boy once more on her lap. There, too, was another Joseph — but this time the Joseph of Arimathea. There were also the spices and myrrh for burial, now so redolent of the gift that the Magi brought at His birth. What a portent of death was that third gift of the Wise Men! A child is no sooner born than the world suggests His death, and yet with justice, for He was the only one who ever came into this world to die. Everyone else came into it to live. Death was the goal of His life, the goal that He was always seeking.
But for Mary, this is not Bethlehem; this is Calvary. Her Son is not white as He came from the Father, but red as He came from us. In the crib He was as a chalice of the offertory, full of the red wine of life. Now, at the foot of the Cross, His body is as a chalice drained of the drops of blood for the redemption of mankind. There was no room in the inn at His birth; there is no room in the inn for His death. "The Son of Man hath nowhere to lay His Head" — except in the arms of His Mother.
When Our Lord told His parables of Mercy, in particular the parable about the Prodigal Son, we hear only about the kind father of the prodigal son. Why is the Gospel so silent about the mother of the prodigal son? I believe the answer is in this sorrow of Our Mother. Our Lord is the true prodigal son; she is the mother of the Divine Prodigal, Who left His Father's house to go into a foreign land — this earth of ours.
He "wasted His substance," spent His body and blood, that we might recover our heirship with Heaven. And now He has fallen among citizens of a country foreign to His Father's will and been herded with the swine of sinners. He prepares to return to the Father's house. On the roadway of Calvary, the Mother of the Prodigal Son meets Him. In that hour she became the mother of all the prodigal sons of the world, anointing them with the spices of intercession, and preparing them for that day, not far off, when life and resurrection will flow through their veins as they walk on the wings of the morning.
SEVENTH THRUST OF THE SWORD
There can be no more sorrows after the Resurrection when death will be swallowed up in victory. But until the bursting of the bonds of dust, there was still one great sorrow that Jesus had to will and Mary accept, in order that those who bury their loved ones would never be without hope and consolation. Our Lord ran the sword of burial into His own heart, inasmuch as He willed that man should never have a penalty for sin that He Himself did not bear. As Jonas was in the belly of the whale for three days, so would He be in the belly of the earth for three days. The Apostles' Creed puts so much store upon the bereavement that it mentions the fact that Our Lord was "buried."
But Our Lord did not pierce His own soul with the penalty of burial without at the same time thrusting that grief into Mary's soul. When it happens, the earth is dark, for the sun was ashamed to shed its light on the crime of Deicide. The earth also shook, and the graves gave up their dead. In that cataclysm of nature, Mary prepares the body of her Divine Son for burial. Eden has come back again as Mary plants in the earth the Tree of Life — which will bloom within three days.
All the fatherless, motherless, sonless, husbandless, and wifeless griefs that ever tore at the hearts of human beings were now bearing down on the soul of Mary. The most any human being ever lost in a bereavement was a creature, but Mary was burying the Son of God. It is hard to lose a son or a daughter, but it is harder to bury Christ. To be motherless is a tragedy, but to be Christless is hell. In real love, two hearts do not meet in sweet slavery to one another; rather there is the melting of two hearts into one. When death comes, there is not just a separation of two hearts but rather the rending of the one heart. This was particularly true of Jesus and Mary. As Adam and Eve fell through the pleasure of eating one apple, so Jesus and Mary were united in the pleasure of eating the fruit of the Father's will. At such moments, there is not loneliness but desolation — not the outward desolation such as came through the three days' loss but an inner desolation that is probably so deep as to be beyond the expression of tears. Some joys are so intense that they provoke not even a smile; so there are some griefs that never create a tear. Mary's dolor at the burial of Our Lord was probably of that kind. If she could have wept, it would have been a release from the tension; but here the only tears were red, in the hidden garden of her heart! One cannot think of any dolor after this; it was the last of the sacraments of grief. The Divine Sword could will no other thrusts beyond this, either for Himself or for her. It had run into two hearts up to the very hilt; and when that happens, one is beyond all human consolations. In the former dolor, at least there was the consolation of the body; now even that is gone. Calvary was like the bleak silence of a church on Good Friday when the Blessed Sacrament has been removed. One can merely stand guard at a tomb.
In a short time the Sword will be pulled out, for the Resurrection is the healing of the wounds. On Easter Day the Savior will bear the scars of His Passion to prove that love is stronger than death. But will not Mary bear also the hidden scar of the seven thrusts of the Sword in her own soul? The Resurrection will be the sheathing of the sword for both, as the debt of sin is paid and man is redeemed. No one can tell the griefs that either bore, and no one can tell the holiness that she achieved through sharing, as much as she could as a creature, in His act of redemption. From that day on, God will permit sorrows, griefs, and dolors to His Christians, but they will only be pinpricks of the Sword compared to what He suffered and Mary endured. The Sword that Christ ran into His Own heart and Mary's soul has become so blunted by the pressings that it can never wound so fiercely again. When the Sword does come, we must, like Mary, see "the shade of His hand outstretched caressingly."
(1) Rudyard Kipling, "Song before Action," from I Sing of a Maiden.