May 19th 2018 – May 25th
The Most Holy Trinity (27.05.18)
Are we justified in asking if perfection exists on earth? The question follows, naturally enough, when we acknowledge that both humanity, and the planet we inhabit, is permanently evolving and perfection, as we define it, means that point where no further enhancement is possible. Perfection means different things to people in the constantly changing circumstances of life. We can imagine how a seriously dehydrated person will relish the first trickle of drinking water as the most perfect thirst quencher. Likewise, a composer hearing, for the first time, the fullness of his or her months of demanding composition may be elated by, to their ears, its perfection. Or how, for the utterly weary, spiritually, mentally and physically exhausted refugee, a warm smile and a sincerely welcoming word can be the perfect antidote to months if not years of persecution. But even these, and all similar so-called perfect ‘moments’, pass.
We, the inhabitants of this world in flux, are within ourselves constantly changing. We have no proof of how it was for our first parents before, what is called ‘the fall’ namely, when they disobeyed God. Is there a sense of timelessness, and therefore changelessness, in the pre-fall Biblical description of Eden? (Genesis 2.)
Sin, resulting from Satan’s temptation and our fore- parents’ capitulation, fundamentally changed the previously perfect relationship between God and our first parents:
“God saw all that he had made
and indeed it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31).
The resulting disrupted relationship has subsequently afflicted generation upon generation. It has gathered momentum and caused ever greater disunity both between humanity and its Creator God and between person and person. (Genesis 3:8-24)
Yet humanity has never ceased yearning for that perfection of relationship it enjoyed with its Creator God at the outset. The seal of that perfect relationship is indelibly inscribed on each eternal soul. Our drive for knowledge, our reaching out into the unknown, if we only could recognise it, has but one ultimate goal namely, to rediscover that unique relationship of a total fulfilment that does not pass.
Those who believe in Jesus Christ and strive, daily, to follow his teaching sense in their communion with him the pathway to that perfect fulfilment. Their hope is not based on their own efforts or determination but rather on the mercy of their heavenly Father. God welcomes all who are willing to try to walk in the footsteps of his beloved Son, Jesus, God-made-Man.
Truly selfless loving requires a heart and soul unimpaired by sin because one consequence of humanity’s original sin is the impairment or contagion of selfishness. No matter how selfless we imagine our love to be it is contaminated, inescapably, by self-love because we are, on this earth, never more than recovering sinners. In just the same way, the alcoholic who has never touched an alcoholic drink for decades continues to define him/herself as a recovering alcoholic.
To selflessly show love to another, following the example of Christ, requires a heart reclaimed from sin be it personal or corporate. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we are called to confess not only our personal sin but also our share in the sin of the world. Despite differences of language, culture and ethnicity we are one people, one human race. The fundamental ‘good’ of each person reverberates beyond that person just as a drop of water falling into the oceans increases the volume of the oceans. So, too, any evil that we allow to pass, without reparation, in our individual life, in our city, society or universe increases the volume of evil in this world. Remember the truism:
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for a good person to do nothing.” (Edmund Burke in a letter addressed to Thomas Mercer).
Among solely humans, Mary, the Immaculate Mother of God is unique for, by Divine intervention, she is without sin either personal or corporate. In her own words at Lourdes Mary identified herself to St. Bernadette and companions as ‘The Immaculate Conception’. Because Mary is without sin, the love she gives is truly selfless.
The bond uniting Jesus and Mary transcends the bond uniting a mother with her child. The mother/child bond is commonly regarded as the closest of all human bonds yet the bond between Jesus and Mary surpasses it uniquely and in a way that will never be repeated.
God became a child in the womb of Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit; pure uncontaminated love in communion with pure uncontaminated love. It is not a communion of equal with equal but of Creator with created. Mary, the Immaculate Conception, received within her womb the wholeness of God-made-Man thereby initiating, in human history, the process of humanity’s eternal salvation.
Mary, for believers, is the living proof that humanity’s ultimate fulfilment and perfection is only to be found in the indwelling of the Living God. All else will pass, including evil which will be expelled.
Mary proclaimed when she responded to Elizabeth’s greeting:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
Because He has looked upon
the lowliness of his handmaid …”
Where The Holy Spirit dwells, there also is The Father and the Son. When Jesus walked, taught and suffered on this earth, the Father and the Holy Spirit were present within him. When Jesus is affronted God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is affronted. When Jesus is acclaimed, God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is acclaimed.
In the life on earth of The Son of God-made-Man Christians glimpse, in an extremely limited way, the inner life of perfect love. St. Aelred, a revered English Cistercian monk and Abbot of Rievaulx, from 1147 to his death in 1167, expressed what he glimpsed in his book the ‘Mirror of Love’, from which the following is taken:
“If people wish to love themselves appropriately they must not allow themselves to be corrupted by indulging their sinful nature. If they wish to resist the promptings of their sinful nature they must enlarge the whole horizon of their love to contemplate the loving gentleness of the humanity of Christ. Further, if they wish to savour the joy of the love of the brethren with greater perfection and delight, they must extend even to their enemies the embrace of true love. If they wish to prevent this fire of divine love from growing cold because of injuries received, let them keep the eyes of their souls always fixed on the serene patience of their beloved Lord and Saviour.”
There are multiple and varied references to fire in Scripture. In particular, the element of fire has long been associated with today’s celebration of Pentecost. The Acts of the Apostles (2:3) tells us that on this Day in the Upper Room, that had become the Apostles’ refuge: “They (the Apostles) saw tongues like flames of a fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.”
Jesus had previously said: “If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” (John 14:15-20)
The coming of The Holy Spirit upon the Apostles lifted them out of their entrapment by fear. Fortified by God’s Spirit, they demonstrated a fearless commitment to speak and act in the name of Jesus, their Risen Lord, irrespective of the consequences. The Holy Spirit, when given our wholehearted collaboration, has the capacity to lift us from a world awash with the misuse of the sensual to a communion with our Risen Lord. The question is whether we, minute by minute, wish to continue in that mode? For no sooner have we been nourished by the Spirit than Satan retaliates by attacking us where we are most vulnerable namely, our weaknesses, of which we know there are many.
Many will be familiar with the prayer: ‘Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love’. The fire of The Holy Spirit never consumes in the way that paper or coal is consumed by fire. The Spirit will never override our will. Rather, the Spirit’s presence within us is aligned with our ever-changing determination and free will. This makes it all the more important for us to have the practice of daily prayer and Sacramental life.
The Spirit’s presence illuminates a person from within, dependent upon a person’s willed collaboration, with the intrinsic luminosity of God. Peter, James and John, recorded in the Synoptic Gospels (Matt. 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36 plus Peter in his 2nd Letter (1:16-18), recall for us their experience of The Transfiguration of Jesus. Like Peter, at the Transfiguration, when we are integrated with the Baptised community of faith we can say, “Lord, it is good for us to be here”.
Sadly, society has its pyromaniacs. Periodically we are tragically made aware of their hidden presence. Satan is the artificer in chief of the ‘fire’ that attempts to asphyxiate the soul by enticing people away from God’s grace of The Spirit. It is amazing how expressions like ‘The fires of Hell’ and ‘Hellfire’ are well used even by those who deny that both the Devil and Hell exist! Nowadays, the public is more fascinated by, than fearful of, the Devil. Satan successfully markets himself as a source of fun which, for Christians and maybe others, is deeply disturbing. For example, each year Halloween’s increased extravagances further obliterate the Christian feast of ‘All Saints’ on 1st November. The material extravagances of Christmas have overcome peoples’ awareness of the uniqueness of the Birth of Christ. Even some Christians hold back from sending true Christmas greetings that might be seen as religious. The Resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday has been lost in a vacation Bank Holiday bonanza weekend coated in chocolate eggs. Satan revels in his public rehabilitation.
When we intercede for the gift of The Holy Spirit we are opening ourselves to the unique enhancement of our created God-likeness. In a world, in a society, where religious belief is in decline the Baptised’s application to prayer and the Sacraments becomes vital. People ascending high mountains rightly acknowledge they cannot achieve the summit on the little natural oxygen that is available at that height. So, the Baptised in a world where authentic spirituality is diminishing and Satan’s dominance grows, need a deeper spiritual communion with The Holy Spirit. Maybe Pentecost is an appropriate time to read again the parable of ‘Dives and Lazarus’ (Luke 16:19-31)
Without a vibrant and valued commitment to believe in God we are horrendously at risk from all forms of Satanic conflagrations. Please God, the human race will again heed God’s call to welcome his Holy Spirit despite the skilfully misleading barrage broadcast by Satan. St. Bernard of Clairvaux is thought to be the originator of the proverb: ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions’. An alternative rendering of which is: ‘Hell is full of good meanings, but heaven is full of ghttp://aood works’.
One interpretation of the sayings is that wrongdoings or evil actions are often masked by good intentions. Some good intentions, when acted upon, may have unintended consequences. Another interpretation of the phrase is that while individuals may have the intention to undertake good actions they nevertheless fail to implement their intention or perhaps to see it through. There are many reasons why we do not complete the journey to which we have committed our self – fear, procrastination, laziness or the subversive temptation of Satan that ‘we’ve made enough of an effort’. Hence, the saying that a good intention is meaningless unless followed through.
As we become conscious of our own limitations, weaknesses, plights and age-related decrepitude we have a choice. Either we resign ourselves to what appears to be ‘our lot’ or we look for ways of moving beyond these stumbling blocks. Those who care for their physical health carefully watch what they eat and how they exercise. Those who care for their spiritual health need a similar application to prayer, fasting and almsgiving (which is not restricted to the donation of money) to prevent the encroachment of Satan. This in addition to fulfilling their vocational covenants as spouse, parent, teacher etc. The Holy Spirit’s ‘Tongue of Fire’ fortifies souls in harmony with their Creator whatever their physical condition.
Pope St. Leo the Great wrote this:
“Dear friends, at every moment the earth is full of the mercy of God, and nature itself is a lesson for all the faithful in the worship of God … initially, we are made new by the rebirth of Baptism. Yet there is still required a daily renewal to repair the shortcomings of our mortal nature, and whatever degree of progress has been made there is no one who should not be more advanced.”
St. John Chrysostom Archbishop of Constantinople and an early Church Father of the 5th century had this to say:
“When light enters our bodily eyes, our eyesight is sharpened. When a soul is intent on God, God’s inextinguishable light shines into it making it radiant and clear.
Prayer is the light of the soul – that is spontaneous prayer from the heart and not from routine. Such prayer lifts the soul into the heavens where it hugs God in an indescribable embrace.
Such prayer – the go-between linking us to God – brings joy to the soul and calm to the emotions.
When God gives the gift of such prayer it causes the soul to catch fire with an eternal desire for the Lord. Our collaboration with such a gift of prayer allows us to receive his image in our soul.”
Always in a Hurry http://ronrolheiser.com/
Haste is our enemy. It puts us under stress, raises our blood pressure, makes us impatient, renders us more vulnerable to accidents and, most seriously of all, blinds us to the needs of others. Haste is normally not a virtue, irrespective of the goodness of the thing towards which we are hurrying.
In 1970, Princeton University did some research with seminary students to determine whether being committed to helping others in fact made a real difference in a practical situation. They set up this scenario: They would interview a seminarian in an office and, as the interview was ending, ask that seminarian to immediately walk over to a designated classroom across the campus to give a talk. But they always put a tight timeline between when the interview ended and when the seminarian was supposed to appear in the classroom, forcing the seminarian to hurry. On the way to the talk, each seminarian encountered an actor playing a distressed person (akin to the Good Samaritan scene in the gospels). The test was to see whether or not the seminarian would stop and help. What was the result?
One would guess that, being seminarians committed to service, these individuals might be more likely to stop than most other people. But that wasn’t the case. Being seminarians seemed to have no effect on their behavior in this situation. Only one thing did: They were prone to stop and help or to not stop and help mostly on the basis of whether they were in a hurry or not. If they were pressured for time, they didn’t stop; if they were not pressured for time, they were more likely to stop.
From this experiment its authors drew several conclusions: First, that morality becomes a luxury as the speed of our daily lives increases; and, second, that because of time pressures we tend not to see a given situation as a moral one. In essence, the more in a hurry we are, the less likely we are to stop and help someone else in need. Haste and hurry, perhaps more than anything else, prevent us from being good Samaritans.
We know this from our own experience. Our struggle to give proper time to family, prayer, and helping others has mainly to do with time. We’re invariably too busy, too pressured, too hurried, too-driven, to stop and help. A writer that I know confesses that when she comes to die what she will regret most about her life is not the times she broke a commandment, but the many times she stepped over her own children on her way to her den to write. Along similar lines, we tend to blame secular ideology for so much of the breakdown of the family in our society today when, in fact, perhaps the biggest strain of all on the family is the pressure that comes from the workplace that has us under constant pressure, forever in a hurry, and daily stepping over our children because of the pressures of work.
I know this all too well, of course, from my own experience. I am forever pressured, forever in a hurry, forever over-extended, and forever stepping over all kinds of things that call for my attention on my way to work. As a priest, I can rationalize this by pointing to the importance of the ministry. Ministry is meant to conscript us beyond our own agenda, but deeper down, I know that much of this is a rationalization. Sometimes too I rationalize my busyness and hurry by taking consolation in the fact that I came to be this way legitimately. It’s in my genes. Both my father and my mother exhibited a similar struggle. They were wonderful, moral, and loving parents, but they were often over-extended. Responding to too many demands is a mixed virtue.
It’s no accident that virtually all of the classical spiritual writers, writing without the benefit of the Princeton study, warn about the dangers of overwork. Indeed, the dangers of haste and hurry are already written into the very first page of scripture where God invites us to make sure to keep proper Sabbath. When we are in a hurry we see little beyond our own agenda.
The positive side to haste and hurry is that they are, perhaps, the opposite of acedia. The driven-person who is always in a hurry at least isn’t constantly struggling to get through the morning to the lunch hour. She always has a purpose. As well, haste and hurry can help make for a productive individual who is affirmed and admired for what he does, even as he is stepping over his own children to get to his workplace. I know this too: I get a lot of affirmation for my work, even as I have to admit that pressure and hurry prevent me much of the time from being a Good Samaritan.
Haste makes waste, so goes the saying. It also makes for a spiritual and a human blindness that can severely limit our compassion.
Ruled By Numbers
Numbers have always had a prominent place in our lives. As very small children we may been talked to count our tiny fingers and toes. We would certainly have learned our numerical position among our siblings and probably our wider family.
Catholics, of a certain age, will likely remember their religious life being ruled by numbers. When, for example, you were expected to go to Confession at least every two weeks. When you had to fast from food and drink (except water) from the preceding midnight if you intended to receive Holy Communion the following morning. Fast days were regulated by numbers. Depending on your teacher, you may have been told to eat no more than 4 ounces of food at breakfast and 6 ounces at supper. One meatless meal was allowed in the day. 21stcentury Catholics may think such measures to be unbelievable, but then 20th century Catholics found it hard to believe that their forebears had been expected to fast every day throughout Lent.
Of course, there were (as there still are) the casuists. For example, some believed in measuring out 4 ounces of, say, dry porridge oats. By adding the water after weighing the oats, a more substantial breakfast was enjoyed! The same casuistic reasoning was applied to dried vegetables!
Whenever mathematics hold sway in the living out of our faith, it would be fair to say that we had, to a worrying extent, lost our way. St Peter, about whom we read in St Matthew’s Gospel for this 24th Sunday (18:21-35), quite likely felt that he was being magnanimous when he asked Jesus: “How often must I forgive my brother(sister)? As many as seven times?”
As a practising Jew, Peter would have been taught from his earliest years that he was required, under Jewish law, to forgive a person who sinned against him three times. (See the Book of Amos chapters 1 and 3) By asking Jesus if he should grant forgiveness seven times, Peter was doubling the required legal number for granting forgiveness to another and adding one! Once again, Jesus’s response would most likely have caught Peter by surprise: “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.”
More than a few scriptural scholars would contest the Jerusalem Bible translation. Instead of “seventy-seven”they believe that Jesus had said: “seventy times seven”. This would bring a total beyond comprehension – 70×7=490; 490×7=3430 and so on. In other words, Jesus was indicating that, for him, forgiveness was unlimited. And if it was for him, then it will be so for his heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit. In other words, God is a Trinity of compassion and forgiveness when we, made in his image and likeness, open your heart and genuinely seek his forgiveness.
The Catholic Church’s preoccupation with numbers was particularly evident in the Sacrament of Reconciliation – formerly called “Confession”. The penitent was expected to state the time lapse since their last reception of the sacrament. Individual sins where to be identified with a number corresponding to the number of commissions. In most cases the penance imposed by the priest was a set number of prayers such as the ‘Our Father’ and/or ‘Hail Mary’. Judaism’s preoccupation with numerical regulations found continuity in the structures of governance within the Roman Catholic Church!
The impulse to measure by numerical quantity is ingrained in our nature. It could be argued that without numeracy everyday life would become impossible. It could equally be argued that the Church, by incorporating the dominance of numeracy in its rules and regulations, strayed away from the example Jesus set. There is no evidence in the Gospels that Jesus used numeracy to determine how we should implement his teaching except by way of being generous. Jesus used multiplication to demonstrate that as God is generous so must we practice that virtue. In Matthew’s Gospel (5:40-42) we read: “…if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well; and if someone forces you to go one mile, go two with him. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.…” You may or may not be aware that in Jesus’ day a Roman soldier had the authority to make a Jew carry his burden for one mile.
Jesus emphasises his answer to Peter with a powerful parable exemplifying God’s generosity (18:23-35). It teaches a lesson – running through the entire New Testament – that we must forgive if we are to receive God’s forgiveness. “Blessed are the merciful,” said Jesus, “for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt.5:7) As soon as Jesus had taught his chosen band his own prayer – the ‘Our Father’ – he directed their focus to one petition in particular namely, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. Jesus explained: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:14-15).
Why this should be so is shown in the parable for this Sunday. Look at the contrast between the two debts. The first servant owed his master 10,000 talents. One talent in today’s money would approximately equal £240. Therefore, 10,000 talents would equate today to almost 2½ million pounds Sterling. The size of this servant’s debt becomes even more clear when you consider that the total annual budget for the province of Galilee, a wealthy province, was only 300 talents. By contrast, the debt of the fellow-servant was a mere trifle! 100 denarii would be less than £5.
Nothing that Jesus calls us to forgive can even remotely compare to all that our heavenly Father is willing to forgive us. His forgiveness of us is conditional upon our forgiveness of others. We have been promised forgiveness for a debt that is beyond all repayment. The human race has brought about the death of God’s only Son and unless we forgive others we have no hope of finding mercy.
The ease with which we pray the ‘Our Father’ is born of constant repetition. It is a good thing that we have ready access to that prayer. However, if the words pass our lips with inadequate consideration then we are in danger of foregoing God’s forgiveness through a lack of attention to the specifics of God’s words. Did the penances that we were given in confession – say the ‘Our Father’ 10 times, for example – really encourage our understanding of the prayer of Jesus?
The twin themes of mercy and forgiveness have found constant expression in both the spoken and written words of Pope Francis. He is God’s emissary to a generation that sadly reflects the words of the prophet Isaiah:
“You will listen and listen again, but not understand,
See and see again, but not perceive.
For the heart of this nation has grown coarse.” (Isaiah 6:9-10)
This coarseness of heart is not medical but spiritual. The health of the human heart is affected by both internal and external factors – for example: the clogging of the arteries or the lack of bodily exercise.
Spiritual coarseness of heart occurs when there is an absence of God’s grace. This occurs not because God refuses us his grace when we choose not to accept it. At first, this refusal of grace can be through procrastination – “Oh, I will get round to prayer etc later”. Meanwhile, Satan edges ever closer to cleverly withdrawing us from God’s grace.
The remedy is in our own hands. Jesus patiently and lovingly awaits us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Praying the Psalms
Our problem is that we too-seldom actually do this when we pray. Rather than lifting up to God what is actually on our minds and in our hearts, we treat God as someone from whom we need to hide the real truth of our thoughts and feelings. Instead of pouring out mind and heart, we tell God what we think God wants to hear – not murderous thoughts, desire for vengeance, or our disappointment with him.
What makes the psalms great for prayer is that they do not hide the truth from God and they run the whole gamut of our actual feelings. They give honest voice to what is actually going on in our minds and hearts.
Sometimes we feel good and our spontaneous impulse is to speak words of praise and gratitude and the psalms give us that voice. They speak of God’s goodness in all – love, friends, faith, health, food, wine, and enjoyment.
But our lives have too cold, lonely seasons when disappointment and bitterness spontaneously boil under the surface. Again the psalms give us honest voice and we can open up all those angry and vengeful feelings to God.
Other times, we fill with the sense of our own inadequacy, with the fact that we cannot measure up to the trust and love that is given us. The psalms again give us voice for this, asking God to have mercy, to soften our hearts, to wash us clean, and give us a new start.
And then there are times too when we feel bitterly disappointed with God himself and need some way to express this. The psalms give us this voice (“Why are you so silent? Why are you so far from me?”) even as they make us aware that God is not afraid of our anger and bitterness, but, like a loving parent, only wants for us to come and talk about it.
The psalms are a privileged vehicle for prayer because they lift the full-range of our thoughts and feelings to God. For a number of reasons, we struggle with that. First, because our age tends to eschew metaphor and, taken literally, some of the images within the psalms are offensive. Secondly, we tend to be in denial about our true feelings. It’s hard to admit that we feel many of the things we do feel, from our private grandiosity, to our sexual obsessions, to our jealousies, to our occasional murderous thoughts. Too often our prayer belies our actual thoughts and feelings. It tells God what we think God wants to hear.
The psalms have more honesty.
Mary Under the Cross (6 OF 6) http://www.ronrolheiser.com./
[Last in a six part Lenten series on Mystical Images]
One of the most popular images in all of scripture (an icon that’s been endlessly painted, sung, put into litanies, written up into poetry, and used to triggered every kind of pious feeling) is the image of Mary, the mother of Jesus, standing silently under the cross as her son dies.
As Jesus was dying, the Gospels tell us that Mary, his mother, stood under the cross. What’s in that image? What’s in this picture that invites us to more than simple admiration, piety, or sympathy?
This is a mystical image and it is anything but pious. In the Gospels, after Jesus, Mary is the most important person to watch. She’s the model of discipleship, the only one who gets it right. And she gets it very right under the cross. What’s she doing while standing there?
On the surface, it seems she isn’t doing anything at all: She doesn’t speak, doesn’t try to stop the crucifixion, and she doesn’t even protest its unfairness or plead Jesus’ innocence. She is mute, seemingly passive, overtly doing nothing. But at a deeper level, she is doing all that can be done when one is standing under the weight of the cross, she’s holding the tension, standing in strength, refusing to give back in kind, and resisting in a deeper way.
What’s meant by this?
Sometimes well-intentioned artists have painted Mary as lying prostrate under the cross, the wounded mother, helplessly distraught, paralysed in grief, an object for sympathy. But that doesn’t honour what happened there nor teach its lesson. Prostration, in this situation, is weakness, collapse, hysteria, resignation. In the Gospels, “standing” is the opposite, a position of strength. Mary “stood” under the cross.
Still, why the silence and why her seeming unwillingness to act or protest?
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 Marie 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.