March 2021 Allocutio

“What was going on in Mary as she stood at the foot of the Cross?”

By Fr. Paul Churchill

Just at a basic human natural level it had to be that of a mother whose son was being put to death. This was her baby whom she carried for 9 months, cradled in her arms, weaned, got to walk and talk, taught him all she could, saw him grow and mature. She knew he was a good lad. More than anyone else in the world she knew him. In the rawness of human nature she knew this was all wrong. In fact it was a horror. Only a mother or father who has accompanied a child through suffering and death can begin to have a sense of what that sword was like that pierced Mary’s heart.

But now we must add something else. The Jewish authorities who wanted Jesus dead saw him as someone who went against God. Mary knew this was wrong. Her son had been so dedicated to God that at 12 years of age he already had said, “Did you not know that I must be about my father’s business!” She knew he was deeply interested in the work of the Baptist at the Jordan, that despite his own goodness he went to be baptised so that all would be done right. She knew God listened to him and so she asked him to perform his first miracle and then she began to accompany him straight after. There are hints in the Gospels that she was never too far away from his public ministry. Part of her pain must have been to witness this false condemnation that he was against God.

And did she, with Jesus, also say from her heart, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Where are you? The angel told me he would be great. Then what is this?” Have I been living some illusion?

And part of her pain must have been the abandoning of him by his closest friends. Where were they? Maybe she said something along lines Jesus had said in another place, “Where are the other eleven who saw his healing? Has only one come along to support him and be with me?”

A good pietà scene might help us sense what she felt but unless we try to feel what she felt as she held his limp body in her arms we will hardly understand what she was going through at that moment. Shock, grief, loss, emptiness, non-comprehension.

But something tells us that her faith never broke. Already her heart is forming those words “I know that my Redeemer liveth!” Or maybe “Even though I walk in a valley of darkness, this evil does not overcome me. You Lord are here with your crook and your staff to lead me to green pastures!”

St. Ignatius holds that Jesus appeared to her first on Easter Sunday. But the Gospels say nothing of this. And I just wonder if she needed that? Her faith was so strong. Her concern was those disciples who had succumbed to fear and self-protection, who had proven so weak. For there she is, in their presence, praying with them and encouraging them and asking the Holy Spirit to come on them.

In these days when we celebrate the death and resurrection of Our Lord, and when the focus of attention is rightly on his great act of redemption, let us not forget this great woman who shared his pain and went through the gauntlet of deepest suffering and yet whose faith assured her that what was promised by the Lord would be fulfilled, as Elizabeth foretold of her, even in the face of seeming contradiction, as Simeon had said.

All of us have to share this journey with her. The sign of contradiction can come upon us anywhere. It can be children abandoning the faith or perhaps suffering before their time. Like the disciples abandoning Jesus we may have to suffer close disciples of Jesus letting him down. It may be scandal after scandal leading to others saying, “This cannot be the true faith!” It can be mockery in the media.

But I hear her saying, “Keep clam. Stay at peace. These are just passing storms. Be like solid houses which stay firm in the middle of a storm and still stand when it has passed by. Trust God and stay with your faith. And keep listening to my Son about how to love even those who commit the worst atrocities against the faith. That is the sign in your world that the Resurrection is taking place!”

A Happy Easter to you all!