SCRIPTURE READINGS: [Heb 5:7-9; Ps 31: 2-6, 15-16, 20; Jn 19:25-27 or Lk 2:33-35 ]
Yesterday we celebrated the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Today, the Church as a corollary to the Passion of Christ celebrates the Feast of our Lady of Sorrows. What is the connection between these two celebrations? Obviously, both went through the passion and carried the cross in their own ways. This is why the Church felt the need to give the title, Co-redemptrix to our Blessed Mother because of her intimate association with the suffering and the passion of Christ. But it is more than the fact that they suffered together but that they suffered with the same passion, that is, with love and for love of humanity and the heavenly Father.
In the first reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, we read of how Christ suffered when He was on earth, particularly at the Garden of Gethsemane. “During his life on earth, Christ offered up prayer and entreaty, aloud and in silent tears, to the one who had the power to save him out of death.” His suffering was real. Jesus was truly a man and He went through all our sufferings, emotional, physical and spiritual. He was rejected, humiliated, mocked, slandered, wrongly accused and unjustly punished. Physically, He was spat at, scourged and nailed to the cross. He suffered tremendous loss of water and blood. Spiritually, He also experienced the absence of His Father like any atheist would. A life without God has no meaning and no purpose. Going through the dark night of the Spirit, like many saints did, including St Teresa of Calcutta, is perhaps the most difficult cross to bear. This is because to carry the cross without the love of God and His presence in our hearts is akin to carrying the cross all alone, and that is what makes it so unbearable.
Yet, we are told that because of His sufferings in His humanity, Jesus learnt obedience. “Although he was Son, he learnt to obey through suffering.” What does it mean when we say that He learnt obedience? Christ has always been obedient to the Father at every point of His life. So how could He learn obedience? In saying this, the author is saying that Christ who took upon Himself the sufferings of humanity, become so identified with us that He could be said to be a true man who suffered all that we could suffer. This is why the author concluded by saying that “having been made perfect, he became for all who obey him the source of eternal salvation.” To be made perfect is not so much a moral or metaphysical perfection, but rather it was His complete identification with our human pain and suffering. For this reason, all those who obey Him, that is, follow Him in carrying the cross, will also find salvation. In other words, Jesus is the perfect exemplar and leader of how any human being can and should carry his or her cross in daily life. If we have this same attitude, we too will learn obedience, that is, surrender to the Father.
As a consequence, we will share in His triumph over suffering and death. This is what the Lord promised us. The author said that “he submitted so humbly that his prayer was heard.” Our prayers will also be heard if only we submit ourselves to the will of God instead of fighting with Him. It is our resistance against His holy will that causes us to suffer more than is necessary. Just as the Father raised Jesus from the dead, He too will raise us up and vindicate us. This is what Simeon prophesied as well. “You see this child: he is destined for the fall and for the rising of many in Israel.” However those who fail to submit to God’s will in obedience will fall. In choosing to go their own way, they will ultimately cause themselves to fall further because self-will, pride and disobedience will bring about our downfall. So today, we are called to suffer with Jesus, not simply with Jesus alone but rather, we are called to suffer with Him and the Father and humanity with love and for love. This was the secret of Mary. She was perfected in her humanity because like Jesus, she suffered in union with her Son.
That Mary suffered for love is seen in the fact of her presence at the cross of Jesus. Although it was true that Mary had always suffered for the love of God, for humanity and her Son Jesus throughout His life, whether as an infant, a child or when He was misunderstood in ministry, for Mary to be with Jesus right to the end was certainly the ultimate expression of love. The truth is that it was very dangerous for Mary to stand underneath the cross of our Lord. To support a political opponent of the Emperor would have spelt trouble for anyone. Who would want to associate with an enemy of the Emperor? Again, who would want to be a friend of Jesus when the Orthodox religious leaders considered Him a heretic? This explains why the apostles fled from the scene because they were fearful that they would be arrested with Jesus and put to death.
But what gave Mary the strength to endure and the courage to be with Jesus underneath the cross? It was her motherly love for the Lord. She would do anything for the love of Jesus. When there is love, there is no fear, since St John says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love.” (1 Jn 4:18) The love of Mary was so deep that she feared no one. The only fear was that she did not love Jesus enough. She preferred to be humiliated together with Him, suffering in shame and rejection together. Mary was a woman capable of love, and therefore of passion and suffering. When there is love, every suffering could be endured patiently and courageously. Truly, no one knows the pain and sorrow of Mary except for those of us who are mothers. No mother would sacrifice her son for anything, even if that son was considered a criminal, stupid, useless or hopeless by the world. For a mother, her son is always the most lovable person in her life.
What is said of Mary can also be said of the other women and St John who stood by the cross. Particularly, we can single out Mary Magdalene. We remember her as the woman whom Jesus cast out the seven devils. Could she also be the woman who was caught in adultery? Regardless, the point is that Mary Magdalene loved the Lord so deeply because she was set free of her fears and sins by Him. St John wrote, “We love, because he first loved us.” (1 Jn 4:19) She could love the Lord and be ready to die and suffer with and for the Lord because she was loved. Then we have St John the Beloved disciple of the Lord. He too was there. He knew Jesus and His love. We can be sure that it was his personal intimacy with the Lord that gave him the courage to stay with Jesus when all the other apostles fled for fear of being arrested.
But even in our sorrows, let it be clear that Jesus would not abandon us to suffer alone. On the cross, in spite of His excruciating pain, the Lord was not thinking of His own suffering but that of His mother. So even on the cross, He demonstrated His filial piety by entrusting His mother to John who was aptly the person to care for her. This was because John was the son of Salome, the sister of Mary, and therefore her nephew. Furthermore, John was the beloved disciple of Jesus. So rightly so, the best person that the Lord could ask to care for His mother was John.
Theologically, this entrusting of Mary to St John was the evangelist’s interpretation of how the Hour had come now, not just for Jesus to be glorified as the Saviour and Lord of the world by His death and resurrection but also the role of Mary in the economy of salvation. Earlier at the Wedding at Cana, Jesus told Mary, “O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” (Jn 2:4) But now that the hour has come, (cf Jn 19:28 cf Jn 13:1) “Jesus said to his mother, ‘Woman, this is your son.’ Then to the disciple he said, ‘This is your mother.’” Mary now could assume the role of that woman, the mother of the Church. She continues to play her role in bringing us to the Lord. Even in His sorrows Jesus was thinking of us and His disciples. He wanted Mary His mother to be with us in our journey, leading and teaching us how to carry our sorrows and sufferings with love and for love of God and humanity. Thus, we must follow St John the disciple who “made a place for her in his home.” On this feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, let us imitate Mary in carrying the cross with Jesus.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
Note: You may share this reflection with someone.