Bishop Sylvester David reflects on Our Lady in the most recent edition of the ARCHDIOCESAN NEWS. You can ready other articles HERE.
August was the month when we celebrated the gift of womanhood, so I thought it would be appropriate to reflect on the most blessed of all women (cf. Lk 1:42). I will appeal to Scripture and will also present an extensive quote from my confrere Fr Ron Rolheiser OMI.
Why do we nurture devotion to Our Lady? Why do we consecrate ourselves and our missionary endeavours to her at least once every year? There are many reasons. The first is that the mother of the high priest is also the mother of every priest whether by virtue of ordination of by virtue of baptism. All of us engage in the priestly prayer of the Church. Our association with Mary is thus inescapable.
Scripturally, she has been given to us as our mother. “Seeing his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing near her, Jesus said to his mother, ‘Woman this is your son.’ Then to the disciple he said ‘this is your mother’. And from that hour the disciple took her into his home” (Jn 19:26-27). In this passage she is presented to the “disciple whom he loved”. Who is this disciple? In the text he is unnamed. He could stand for any disciple – he could stand for you and I. We too are disciples whom Jesus loves. The question then is: Have I taken her home? Do I converse with her, confide in her, and learn from her? The last time she speaks in the Gospel of John is at the wedding in Cana where she says: “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5). That is simply the best advice anyone could give to us.
We read in John’s Gospel that Mary stands beneath the cross. She did not collapse, she did not protest – she merely stood her ground. In spite of the interruption of death she did not give up. In spite of personal hurt – she stood by her commitment. If Mary had to go through the difficulties we have to undergo in the home, at work, in our relationships, what would her response be? Ron Rolheiser OMI describes Mary’s stance at the cross as follows:
“In essence, what Mary was doing under the cross was this: She couldn’t stop the crucifixion (there are times when darkness has its hour) but she could stop some of the hatred, bitterness, jealousy, heartlessness, and anger that caused it and surrounded it. And she helped stop bitterness by refusing to give it back in kind, by transforming rather than transmitting it, by swallowing hard and (literally) eating bitterness rather than giving it back, as everyone else was doing.
Had Mary, in moral outrage, begun to scream hysterically, shout angrily at those crucifying Jesus, or physically tried to attack someone as he was driving the nails into Jesus’ hands, she would have been caught up in the same kind of energy as everyone else, replicating the very anger and bitterness that caused the crucifixion to begin with. 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. 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 participate in its energy. In those situations, like Mary, we have to say: “I can’t stop this crucifixion, but I can stop some of the hatred, bitterness, jealousy, brute-heartlessness, and darkness that surround it. I can’t stop this, but I will not conduct its hatred.”
And that’s not the same thing as despair. Our muted helplessness is not a passive resignation but the opposite. It’s a movement towards the only rays of light, love, and faith that still exist in that darkness and hatred. And, at that moment, it’s the only thing that faith and love can do.
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 Maria Rilke says, the only helpful thing 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; it’s genuine, rare strength. It’s “standing under the cross” so as to help take away some of its hatred, chaos, bitterness, and violence.
So this is the image: 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.”
To conclude then: What would Mary have felt when she attended the Eucharist in the community in which she lived (tradition tells us that it was a Johannine Community)? What would she have felt when she heard the words: “Do this in memory of me” – or, “whenever you do this remember me”? What would her maternal heart have pondered? I think she would have thought: “Remember him? How could I ever forget him?” And that is what it is all about – Mary’s unforgettable son.
What is the state of my Marian devotion?
What does Mary teach us about standing by our commitment? Remember she stood under the cross.
In the Gospel of Luke, in the first two chapters four times prayer words are applied to Mary and each time the word means a profound silence before the Divine. Can I make that practice my own so as to deepen my intimacy with God?
A good way to know Jesus is to look at him through the eyes of Mary. Can I find time to meditate in this fashion? For example, when coming across someone in her community who was sick, surely she would have recalled what her son did. When seeing a pregnant woman surely she would have recalled the time she carried him in her womb. In similar fashion when I see the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned, the wounded and the beaten can I see what Jesus would have done? Mary can teach us a lot.