Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 23, 2006
Mary radiated peace under the cross
By FR. RON ROLHEISER, omi
As Jesus was dying, the Gospels say Mary, his mother, stood under the cross.
On the surface, it seems she wasn't doing anything at all: She wasn't saying anything, wasn't trying to stop the crucifixion, and she wasn't even trying to protest its unfairness or plead Jesus' innocence. She was silent, seemingly passive, overtly doing nothing.
But at a deeper level, she was doing all that can be done in this kind of situation: She was standing inside of it, in strength, refusing to give back in kind, resisting in a much deeper way.
Sometimes well-intentioned artists have pictured Mary as lying prostrate under the cross, the wounded mother, helplessly distraught, paralyzed in grief, an object for our sympathy. But that doesn't honour what happened there nor teach us its lesson. Prostration, in this situation, is weakness, collapse, hysteria, resignation. In the Gospels, "standing" is the very opposite, a position of strength. Mary "stood" under the cross.
In essence, what Mary was doing under the cross was this: She couldn't stop the crucifixion but she could stop some of the hatred, bitterness, jealousy and anger that caused it and which surround it. She helped stop these by refusing to give back in kind, by transforming rather than transmitting them, by swallowing hard and (literally) eating them rather than give them back, as everyone else was doing.
Had Mary, in righteousness and outrage, begun to scream hysterically, shout angrily at those crucifying Jesus, or physically tried to attack someone as they were driving the nails into Jesus' hands, she would have been caught up in the same energy as everyone else, replicating the same anger and bitterness that initially caused the crucifixion.
What Mary was doing under the cross, her silence and seeming unwillingness to protest notwithstanding, was radiating all that is antithetical to the crucifixion: gentleness, understanding, forgiveness, peace, light.
And that's not easy to do. Most everything inside us demands justice, screams for it and refuses to remain silent in the presence of injustice. That's a healthy instinct and sometimes acting on it is good. We need, at times, to protest, to shout, to literally throw ourselves into the face of injustice and do everything in our power to stop the crucifixion.
But there are times too when things have gone so far that shouts and protests are no longer helpful, darkness is going to have its hour come what may and all we can do is to stand under the cross and help eat its bitterness by refusing to conduct its energy. In those situations, like Mary, we have to say: "I can't stop this, but I will not conduct its hatred."
That's a bitter pill to swallow, but sometimes it's our only choice. As the Book of Lamentations says, there are times when the best we can do is "put our mouths to the dust and wait!" Sometimes too, as Rainer Marie Rilke says, the only helpful thing we can do is to absorb the heaviness: "Do not be afraid to suffer, give the heaviness back to the weight of the earth; mountains are heavy, seas are heavy."
That's not passivity, resignation or weakness, but genuine, rare strength. It's "standing under the cross" so as to help take away some of its hatred, chaos, bitterness, and violence. We see this illustrated in the reaction we see to capital punishment in our society. Whenever a convicted killer is executed, we see two basic reactions: One group, generally sincere and good people, stand in strong approval of the execution, chanting for justice, convinced that it's necessary to execute this man or woman for the overall good.
A second group, strongly opposed to what is happening, has already tried every legitimate means to try to stop the execution and have failed. Now, rather than giving themselves over to the bitterness and anger, they stand in silence, praying, candles in hand, knowing that they cannot stop this execution, but they can help stop some of the bitterness, anger and darkness that surround it.
Sometimes darkness has its hour and there is nothing we can do to stop it. Sometimes the blind, wounded forces of jealousy, bitterness, violence and sin cannot, for that moment, be stopped. But, like Mary under the cross, we are asked to "stand" under them, not in passivity and weakness, but in strength, knowing that we can't stop the crucifixion but we can help stop some of the hatred, anger and bitterness that surrounds it.
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