Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
April 9, 2001
Mary at the foot of the Cross
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
For those without faith, the approach of death must be a dread-ful thing. They have nothing to look forward to but eternal extinction.
On one hand, they must grasp and cling to life at all costs - because there is nothing else. On the other hand, if the suffering becomes too great, it is time to quickly put an end to life, even if this means assisted suicide.
We can see this faith-less outlook beginning to permeate medical thinking in our society. There are fanatical efforts to preserve life for as long as possible, a determined refusal to let death have its day. And, at the same time, there is the growing demand for legalization of assisted suicide to bring a "merciful" end to life. Those without faith would like to extinguish life when great pain makes "life not worth living."
Both of these attitudes bear witness to the notion that there is nothing beyond the grave; there is only that which we can see, touch and hear.
One great change brought about by the Second Vatican Council was the shift in emphasizing Mary's "privileges" to emphasizing that she is a member of the Church. She was a peasant woman who experienced joy, anguish and temptation. She was like us. She even had to bear the great burden of being present at the execution of her Son.
Our Catholic theology places great emphasis on Mary's presence at the foot of the cross with the "beloved disciple." Jesus, on the cross, said to his mother, "Here is your son" and to the disciple he said, "Here is your mother." From that hour, the disciple took Mary into his home (John 19:26-27).
In this brief passage, we find the roots of Mary's motherhood of the Church. Jesus establishes Mary as the mother of the beloved disciple. This is spiritual maternity, but it is nevertheless real maternity, even though she is not the disciple's physical mother.
The Church traditionally has believed the beloved disciple to be the Apostle John. But the evangelist never identifies the beloved disciple, likely because he intends him to symbolize all of Christ's disciples. Thus, at Calvary, the whole Church is given Mary as its spiritual mother.
Likewise, by calling his mother "woman," just as he did at Cana, Jesus links her with Genesis 3:15 when God put enmity between the serpent and the woman. But here "the woman's" involvement is not as a participant in disobedience, but rather as a participant in redemption. Mary is the New Eve who helps the New Adam, Jesus, usher in the new life of the Spirit.
Mary no doubt suffered greatly at the foot of the cross. But Mary is not our mother because she suffered; she is our spiritual mother because, even here, even when things could not get bleaker, she had faith. She believed that what is most real is that which lies beyond our perception. The holy God who transcends our world - he is the most real. Everything else is shadows. It is Mary who claims, "Nothing is impossible with God."
Father Raniero Cantamalessa writes, "The greatest thing about Mary beneath the cross was her faith, which was even greater than her suffering. . . . What counts is not one's own cross, but Christ's cross. It is not suffering that counts, but believing, thereby making Christ's sufferings our own" (Mary: Mirror of the Church, p. 102).
It is through faith that we are drawn to hope and through this faith we can offer hope to others. Through her Immaculate Conception, her union with the Holy Spirit at the Annunciation and her lifetime of pondering Christ's life in her heart, Mary had been prepared to stand at the foot of the cross.
Mary was silent at the cross. We don't know for sure what she was thinking. But we suspect that again she must have been "pondering." The crucifixion must have been vastly beyond Mary's comprehension as was the testimony of the shepherds and the 12-year-old Jesus teaching the elders in the Temple. God's ways are beyond human understanding, even if the human in question is the Mother of God.
We can only conclude that Mary was believing, yet not judging. What an example for us! At this central moment in the history of humanity, even the Apostles had abandoned Jesus. But Mary was there, not knowing, but definitely believing.
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