Monday, April 18, 2011

Reflection: "Woman, behold..."

"Woman, behold your son.  Behold your mother."

When Jesus told His mother to behold her son, He did not mean Himself.  Her devotion to her Son was constant, and she beheld every pain, every sorrow He endured without His calling attention to them.

No, what Christ does is ask His mother to turn aside from her complete devotion to Him, and to see that the man standing beside her, one of Christ's apostles, is now her son.  She is asked to give to him the same love she gives to her Child.  In one of my favorite movies this scene is depicted in a way that shows Mary too weakened by her grief to stand on her own feet.  She leans against the apostle to keep from falling.  I think of it differently.  I think it was the apostle who leaned against her for support as he beheld his Master's death.

That one apostle represents the whole Church.  Certainly, the Blessed Mother does not rely on the Church for support.  The opposite is true.  The entire edifice of the Church is propped up by Mary's love.  Her fiat made her the Mother of God and Mother of the Church.  God Himself incarnates in her womb; God gives Himself to her.  Likewise, the Church is given over to her.  She continues to be the shelter of the Body of Christ.

Christ commanded the apostle to behold his new mother.  That command is no less binding on Christians today.  Mary is the Mother of the Church because her Son has willed it so.  Mary is the example of faithfulness to God.  Mary draws people to herself not for her own glory, but so that she can lead them to her Son.  Where will she take us?  To Bethlehem, yes, and to Nazareth.  But also to Jerusalem, to Golgatha; to the foot of the cross.

And to the upper room.  We must not forget that Mary was with the apostles on the day of Pentecost.  When the Church was born in the Fire of the Holy Spirit, Mary was there.  When the mighty wind blew through that room, banishing fear and bolstering courage, Mary was there.  When Peter went out and told the people that Jesus had risen from the dead, Mary was there.  Mary was with the Church from the Church's very foundation, and she is with the Church now.

So why should we Christians not rely on her strength in our sorrow?  Just as she comforted the apostle at the foot of the cross, so too does she offer us comfort in our sadness.  She understands our pain as only a mother can.  She intercedes for us and teaches us to intercede for each other.  When we pray the Hail Mary, we both beg for her intercession and join in her prayer.  Consider the words of the prayer now, but speak them as if you stood with her before the cross.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee;
Blessed art thou amongst women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death, Amen.

The words take on a different feel when said in the shadow of the dying Christ.  They illuminate the face of His mother with a different light.

Christ offered His love to us on the cross.  Of course part of that offering is the gift of Mary's love.  The woman who loved Him so well as He grew will not fail to love us as we grow closer to Him.  The woman with the strength to comfort the apostle even as she witnessed her Son's Crucifixion will not fail to strengthen and comfort us in our trials.  The woman who said, "Yes," to God will not fail to help us say, "Yes," to the Son of God.

Mary beholds us, as her Son commanded her to do.  We must remember what He told us; we must remember to behold Our Mother.

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