Several days after the birth of her Son, Mary went with Saint Joseph to Jerusalem to present her Newborn to God. Scarcely anyone in the milling crowd within the porticos of the Temple paid any heed to this poor couple. The Incarnate Word had come among His own people, but they knew Him not.
Only Simeon and Anna, moved by heavenly inspiration, had come to adore the Savior. The old man took the Child God into his arms and in the ecstasy of his gratitude he sang his nunc dimittis: “Now, Thou dost dismiss Thy servant, O Lord, according to Thy word in peace, because my eyes have seen Thy salvation.” Filled with prophetic light, he foresaw moments of great sorrow for Our Lady. Sadly shaking his head, he said to her, “And thy own soul a sword shall pierce.”
In Nazareth Our Lady lived in delightful intimacy with her Son for a long time. At last, however, it was necessary for Them to part. Mary often listened attentively to the teachings of her Son during His public ministry. The cries of admiration His supernatural wisdom evoked from the crowds stirred in her motherly heart sweet echoes of the loving exchanges and indescribable daily bliss during Their thirty years together.
Then came the tragic hour the aged Simeon had foreseen in his terrible prophecy. The cross stands out against a cloud-filled sky that appears to portend eternal punishments. A dreadful silence resounds throughout that city liable for the murder of its God. Jesus is expiring.
At the foot of the gibbet whereon the great Victim is nailed stands Mary, motionless, silent, engulfed in untold grief, and gazing upon the dying God.
What created mind could fully understand her suffering? Such mysteries are unfathomable to our feeble minds. Nevertheless, we will attempt to study the martyrdom of her who is both Mother of the Savior and our Mother.
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Trials afflict us in thousands of ways during our lives. Perhaps they affect us in our material goods. These, surely, can be painful, but they do not touch our persons. “Want of money is not fatal.”
We may suffer bodily ills. These are far greater sufferings—our flesh trembles, our sensitivity is overwhelmed. Yet our minds can remain at peace. “A great soul remains master of the body it occupies.”
Again, trials may be psychological: doubts, discouragement, jealousy, and despondency cast shadows on life and sometimes render it unbearable. These cause the feeble to languish, to become obsessed, or to lose their minds. But this is not yet the worst sting one may experience in a lifetime.
Trials can strike us in the very depths of our being. Great suffering springs from the heart, caused by wounded love. If no powerful reaction rescues us, the love that had made our dreams come true can take us to our very death.
Mary suffered only through the love she bore her Son, so her martyrdom surpasses in agony the martyrdom of blood.
What was the intensity of her pain? To comprehend it one would have to comprehend the depth of her love. That intensity cannot be compared to our pale sentiments. Our hearts are constricted, while her soul is vast, the masterpiece of God’s creation. The selfishness dwelling in our hearts taints even the purest movements of our love. Mary gave herself unreservedly to her Son, for Original Sin had not tarnished her immaculate heart.
She loved Jesus because He was her son. She bore Him in her womb. She nourished Him and heard His murmured first words. Her soul melted with tenderness when He called her “Mother” for the first time. She witnessed His development through the years. As she watched in awe, the child became a youth with a profound gaze, then a man of riveting divine beauty.
This Son, clothed with every perfection, had given her nothing but the utmost joy. He had revealed to her the treasures of His soul. At her request, He had worked His first miracle. He had given her both His filial love and His obedience.
Mary loved Jesus even more because He was her God. Attaining a certain perfection, love of God is stronger than maternal love. When Saint Jane de Chantal left home to become a religious, her son lay across the threshold to prevent her departure. The poor woman, overcome with grief at this sight, stopped momentarily. Then, with extraordinary courage, she gathered her faltering strength and heroically stepped over the body of her child.
Mary did nothing like this. Her love of God multiplied her motherly love, and this mysterious reckoning produced an almost infinite love.
Now, her so-beloved Son endures before her very eyes the most cruel, the most unjust, the most ignominious of tortures.
She sees Him suffer in His very flesh. Step by step, she follows the somber procession wending its way up to Calvary. She witnesses the horrible scene of the crucifixion, hearing the heavy hammer driving sharp nails into the adorable hands and feet of her Child and seeing the tearing of His flesh and the shedding of His precious blood. When the infamous gibbet is raised between Heaven and Earth, she compassionately follows the course of the agony on the Holy Face.
Mary sees Jesus offended in His honor. He goes to His death in the company of thieves. The henchmen of the high priests mock His goodness, His holiness, His very divinity, while the soldiers jeer: “Let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him.”
She sees Him, Whose beatific joys she had known, suffer in the depths of His soul. Immense distress overwhelms her as she hears His cry of agony: “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”
Sacred Scripture says that when Agar, in the desert without resources, saw her son’s life ebbing away, she left him under a tree. She then fled and cried out in her despair, “I will not see the boy die.” Not for a moment does Mary abandon her agonizing Son, nor does she miss a single moment of His suffering. When Jesus dies, she is at His feet.
Love produces a phenomenon that the medieval philosophers called “ecstasy.” They said that love takes the heart, so to speak, of the one who loves and exchanges it with the heart of the beloved. This is how Mary felt. All her Son’s sufferings resonated in her. When the soldier’s lance pierced the Savior’s heart, it simultaneously pierced the Virgin Mother’s soul. Simeon’s prophecy had come to pass, and she could say with the author of Lamentations: “O all ye that pass by the way, attend and see if there be any sorrow like to my sorrow.”
When temptation strikes us, we tremble in our innermost being. We murmur a complaint. We are tempted to accuse God of unfairness while asking ourselves bitterly: “Why am I suffering like this?” When the problem of evil perturbs us so intensely, let us reflect upon the great drama of Calvary.
Did the Father not love His only Son, begotten from all eternity as a luminous hearth generates light? Twice the Father’s voice had resounded, at Our Lord’s baptism and on Mount Tabor: “This is My beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased.”
Did God not love the purest Virgin whom He had made the mother of her Messias, preserving her from Original Sin and adorning her with the highest virtues?
Yet, God found no more precious gift for both His Son and His mother than that of suffering.
Through suffering the great work of redemption is accomplished. Through suffering the Master redeemed the world. Through suffering Mary became the sovereign bestower of the grace merited by the blood of Jesus Christ. God sends us suffering to purify and save us. In His merciful goodness, He allows us to use this precious gift not only for our personal good but, even more, for those who are dear to us.
You poor souls who suffer, do not dry your tears. Rather, remember that these tears have great value and can be transformed into a dew of blessing. Do you not have sins to expiate? Do you not have beloved family or friends whose eternal destinies concern you? Do you not perhaps have deceased ones suffering in Purgatory? Accept your sufferings with resignation, gratitude, and love. Present your tears to the agonizing Heart of Jesus. He, from afar, will efficaciously unite you to His work of salvation.
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Our Heavenly Father has compassion for our weakness. He desires that our pain find consolation in its very exacerbation: When suffering reaches a certain intensity, tears flow from our eyes. A crisis ensues, and the awareness of our unhappiness diminishes.
God did not grant this relief to the Queen of Martyrs on Calvary. Without crying, without fainting, without any weakening in body or mind, Mary remained standing at the foot of the cross for the duration of her Son’s agony. What power sustained her?
She believed with all her soul in the infinite price of the sacrifice that Divine Justice had awaited for centuries and of which she was also in some way a victim. The Church depicts her looking at the Crucified with sorrowful eyes: “When thou didst gaze on Him with eyes filled with love,” sings the Church in the Divine Office, “thou didst contemplate less the horror of His wounds than the triumphant work of Redemption.” She saw the future fulfillment of the Savior’s words: “When I will be lifted up on the altar of My cross, I will attract the world by the power of My love.” To obtain this divine love to enrich and strengthen our lives, she accepted her sorrow with the fullness of her heroic will.
Indeed, closely examine the scene on Golgotha. Agonizing on the cross, Jesus leans towards you, His head crowned with thorns. With blood-filled eyes, from which life is already ebbing, He points to the Virgin shedding the blood of her immaculate heart for you, and with dying voice He says, “Ecce Mater tua”—Behold thy mother.
Another thought sustains Mary on Calvary. She was aware of the great plan of Providence: After His humiliation would come His triumph; after His death, the resurrection. Jesus, expiring before her eyes, would once again hold her in His arms in the exultation of victory. Following Good Friday, she would await Easter, knowing that the Cross would one day be raised as a sign of glorious victory in the sight of men.
At times we curse suffering. Indeed, its hideous face terrifies us. We flee it in horror as one of the mysterious companions of death. Such is the great law that governs the earth: Life is given here below through suffering alone. It is in suffering that we come into the world. It is in suffering that great artists find creative inspiration. It is in suffering that great works are born and come to fruition. Suffering traverses our poor existence as the messenger of joy.
When suffering comes, trust! Gaze toward Heaven filled with hope. Despite the sorrow that besets us, let us know how to patiently await the abundant life it promises us. Suffering perfects our natural qualities. It tempers our character and matures our intelligence. It increases our ability to love and gives our hearts a generosity that can lead to sacrifice.
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May the great lessons the sorrowful Virgin gives us engrave themselves in our minds and transform our lives. When trials befall us, let us no longer doubt, surrender to discouragement, or complain. At the foot of the Cross we have learned the value of suffering. Let us then lovingly receive this gift of God. Let it bear fruit in our lives by our resignation. From its seed will sprout a stem whereon the flower of life will serenely unfold.
At the hour of suffering, let us take courage! We must firmly climb the steep hill of Calvary if we are to one day savor the joys of eternal Easter.