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Mary’s shadow on the Way of the Cross

MARY MEETS JESUS AT THE CROSS
Zvonimir Atletic | Shutterstock
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The moment that a mother's kiss bestowed but a fleeting instant of peace.

Every Friday evening of Lent Catholics gather at churches the world over for fish fries, soup suppers, and, above all, the Stations of the Cross. The Stations of the Cross began as a medieval Franciscan devotion, 14 scenes (Biblical or traditional) from the Passion of Jesus, that are prayed today in a thousand different ways.

The fourth station, in which Jesus meets his Mother while carrying his Cross, is one that comes to us from sacred tradition. We know that Mary stood at the foot of Jesus’ Cross as he was crucified (John 19:26-27), so it’s certain that she was there that day. The faithful have long meditated on a moment of quiet, after the Lord had already fallen once, when he looked on the face of his Mother and found strength to go on.

Beaten and bloody, hearing only the jeers of the crowd, his soul weighed down by the weight of all the world’s sins, Jesus suffered a fatigue none of us can imagine. And when he fell, he must have felt discouraged, just as any of us would. But he got up, “for the sake of the joy that lay before him” (Heb 12:2), for the sake of those souls he was saving, for your sake. He staggered on, over uneven streets, the thorns pressing into his brow, his shoulder raw from the weight of the Cross and the weight of our sins.

And then, suddenly, a moment of peace. His Mother had pushed through the crowd, had gotten around the soldiers, and was there. She held his face in her hands and kissed his bloody cheek. The jeering continued, and the agony as well. But for that moment, as his Mother looked into his eyes, there was silence in the heart of the Savior, and peace.

Betrayed, rejected, abandoned, ridiculed, condemned, and bearing our sin, the only-begotten Son of God felt far from the Father, abandoned even (Mark 15:34). But his Mother was right there with him. And even after she was ordered or pushed away by the guards, he felt her with him. He caught glimpses of her through the crowd. Each time he fell, her love gave him strength to get up one more time, to keep going to his death.

There are times when our lives feel like the Way of the Cross, times when everything seems to be too much to bear. Sometimes the struggle is so miserable and hope so dim that even God himself feels distant. We try to unite our sufferings to Christ’s, but it all feels empty. In those times, we may even be tempted to despair.

But there, pushing through the crowd, is our Mother. She lifts our chin and stares into our eyes. She whispers words of comfort and strength. “I’m here, dearest. I’m here.” And even when she fades back into the crowd, we know she’s there. She’s walking beside us, her eyes always on us. She’ll walk right with us to Calvary, leading us to her Son.

Mary appears only once in the Stations of the Cross, but she casts her shadow over the whole Via Dolorosa. Her love gave her Son strength in a moment when his frail humanity was near to breaking.

She wants to do the same for us. She wants to walk with us, to give us strength. There are some among us who feel far from God. Some of us can’t see a Father as anything but an abuser. Others have been deeply hurt by the Church. Some have been convinced that their sins are unforgivable. And some have sought and prayed and longed for God but still find themselves in darkness.

When we feel distant from the Father, the Way of the Cross teaches us this: God is never far from you. He knows your deepest self and loves you with a love more powerful than any you can understand. But even Jesus, though he knew nothing could separate him from the Father, felt that the Father was far away. In that moment, God sent his Mother.

In our lives, God sends his Mother. To those who have been wounded by men, to those who have heard God preached as vengeful, to those who are tormented by a temptation to despair, to every one of us, God sends his Mother.

If you’re feeling far from God today, try spending some time with his Mother. Gently and patiently, she’ll lead you to him.

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