July 4, 2008

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Care for others and pray for Mary’s intercession

(Fourth in a series)

Were you there when he looked into her eyes?”

The Fourth Station on the Way of the Cross commemorates the meeting of the tortured Jesus and his afflicted mother. Their eyes must have met in deep sorrow and also with profound love.

The timing of Mary’s encounter seems to indicate that she knew her son needed her to appear to him just after his fall to the ground. Even in the hour of his disgrace, Mary stood by her son. Jesus gave us his mother to stand by us as well.

From Jesus’ infancy, Mary was informed by Simeon in the temple that a sword of sorrow would someday pierce her heart alongside her suffering son.

Jesus and Mary share a mutual sorrow. She grieves for his suffering. He suffers for her grieving. Both son and mother are powerless in the face of their grief.

This sorrowful meeting of mother and son in the midst of the suffering of Jesus is a witness of the power of “being with” another who suffers. Isn’t it a common experience to sense the helplessness of wanting to relieve a suffering person of his or her pain?

How many mothers have been with a daughter or son or husband in their hour of need? How many have done what they could to help another who is helpless?

I have recounted before my own experience of my Mom being with me after surgery; she was giving me ice chips when I wanted something more to eat and drink. Her being there meant so much, yet I suspect she wanted to do more.

Many years later, my brother and Dad and I were standing by her as she was in grave condition fighting a critical illness. And all we could do was to be there with her. Being with another person in pain of any kind is a reminder of something like what the mother of Jesus experienced.

If we reverse our thoughts for a moment, we can only imagine the sentiments of Jesus at that encounter on the way to Calvary, just after he fell to the ground.

We know that he was worried about his mother. Who would take care of her after his Passion and death? We know that because one of his last acts from the Cross was to ask his beloved disciple, John, to take care of her, and she him.

I remember an experience I had at the deathbed of a young cousin. He suddenly sat up, looked at me with great anguish, and asked who would take care of his wife and young daughter.

In his last moments, his thoughts were not about himself, but about his loved ones. I was deeply moved, and tried to reassure him that we would take care of them and tried to help him put them in God’s hands.

Our reflection and prayer about the encounter of Mary and Jesus on his way to execution can take so many directions.

Mary shared the Passion of her son. In this “being with,” she also acted as a witness to our redemption. Her suffering was real and surely her presence with Jesus in his Passion has a deep meaning for us.

When we encounter suffering of any kind, we can call out to the mother of Jesus to help us, to be with us and to intercede for us with her now victorious son. We can do so with confidence because, from the Cross, Jesus gave us his mother as our mother. Devotion to Mary in the time of our need has a strong foundation and is recorded in the Gospel for all eternity.

Needless to say, the role of Mary as helper and consoler is an example held up for our emulation. After all, it is also recorded in the Gospel that we, like the disciple John, are to receive her in our care.

We need to take seriously our vocation to be sensitive to and recognize the needs of other people. This is no small challenge because we live in a particularly self-centered culture where the overwhelming message is “take care of me first.”

As we pray at this Fourth Station of the Cross, it is fruitful to think about and pray for the habit of vigilance, of watching out for the needs of those around us. Like other habits, keeping an eye out for those who suffer, especially those who suffer silently, requires intentional practice.

Looking out for the needs of others requires sacrifice. My friend, retired Archbishop James P. Keleher of Kansas City, often says, “Friendship costs.”

We go the extra mile for friends even when it is inconvenient. The story of Jesus and Mary tells us that our friends are not only those we choose. †

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