Mary and Our Experience of the Cross

We can speak of redemption in two ways: objectively and subjectively. Objectively, our redemption is the work of Christ alone. Only Jesus, the God-Man, could offer a spotless sacrifice of obedient love to the Father and atone for the sins of our fallen race. Subjective redemption – or how Christ’s redemptive work is applied to individual souls – is the work of both Christ and the Church.  It sounds difficult to believe, but that is literally the gospel truth. Jesus entrusted the proclamation of the Gospel to us, His Church: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel . . . He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mk 16:15-16); “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Mt 9:37-38). This truth caused Paul to exclaim, “How are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to believe without a preacher?” (Rom 10:14). Jesus brings about the subjective work of redemption through the apostolic labor of His Church. In His hand, we are instruments of salvation for others (1 Cor 7:13-16; 1 Pt 3:1–2; 2 Cor 5:20; 1 Tm 4:16; Jude 22–23 ).[1] Perhaps even harder to believe is the truth that Jesus uses our sufferings to bring this about. It is a supernatural reality known as redemptive suffering, and by seeing Christ’s passion in connection with His taking flesh in the Blessed Virgin Mary, we come to a deeper understanding of its truth.

From the beginning of her motherhood, Mary understood that Christ’s sufferings would be hers as well. When Jesus was only forty days old, she heard Simeon prophesy that Jesus would be a sign of contradiction – and her own soul pierced with a sword – so that the thoughts out of many hearts would be revealed (Luke 2:34-35). The suffering came upon her and Jesus quickly enough when they fled for their lives to Egypt (Mt 2:13-15). It waxed and waned throughout the next three decades until it reached its apex at the Cross. Scripture says that Jesus “learned obedience through what he suffered” (Heb 5:8); and the same must be said of Mary.[2] She gazed up at Him as He hung on the Cross as offered Himself to the Father in the flesh and blood He received from her. Once again, her heart had to offer its fiat to the divine will (Lk 1:28). The piercing of Christ’s heart was the piercing of Mary’s; His death, her death.

Mary offered herself to the Father through, with, and in her Son; and one does not make a sincere offering to God that He does not respond to with an abundant outpouring of His grace. Like Simon of Cyrene, we may feel pressed into service. But recall that the Lord used Simon’s carrying of the Cross to convert him – and in turn, Simon’s children (Mk 15:21 ; Rom 16:13). Saint Paul

Look at Paul’s account of his “thorn in the flesh.” Although Paul does not spell out the difficulty, a number of commentators suggest a chronic physical ailment. Paul characterized it as “a messenger of satan meant to buffet me and keep me from becoming puffed up” (2 Cor. 12: ). Paul petitioned the Lord to remove the thorn – not once, but three separate times. And like Jesus’ three petitions, Paul’s were not by relieving his pain but infusing him with strength. The Lord spoke to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” After this revelation Paul was able to say, “I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:9-10). Suffering has various causes – God’s fatherly discipline, persecution for Christ’s sake, life in a fallen world. Saint Paul experienced the full gambit: being beaten with rods, imprisoned, shipwrecked, exposed to the elements, extended hunger, stoned, scourged, and finally beheaded (2 Cor 11:23–27; Gal 4:13; 2 Tm 4:10–16). As he wrote the Corinthians, “Christ’s sufferings overflow to us” (2 Cor 1:5); and as he told the disciples of Asia, it is “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). He likened his sufferings and impending martyrdom to a drink offering poured out upon the temple’s altar (Ex 29:40–41; Nm 28:7; Phil 2:17; 2 Tm 4:6).

Through all of this the Holy Spirit taught Paul the role that his suffering played, not in the objective redemption achieved by Christ, but in the subjective redemption of Christ’s grace being applied to individual souls. Paul wrote to the Colossians, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lackingin Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church” (Col 1:24). To suffer for the sake of Christ is also to suffer for the sake of His Body. Christ and His Cross sanctify and impart supernatural value to our offerings (Mt 23:19; Heb 13:10, 15–16). “If Christ’s obedience while suffering His passion merited the redemption of our race, then his suffering in us— the trustful surrender to the Father that he produces in our souls – can merit the application of redemptive graces to our brothers and sisters. The Redeemer makes the sufferings of his members redemptive.”[3] As Jesus clothed Himself in Mary’s flesh and blood and offered Himself for the world’s redemption, so He now clothes Himself in our flesh and blood and offers our sufferings to the Father. And When we unite our sufferings to Christ’s, our trials and afflictions become redemptive; because God responds to our resignation to His will with an abundant outpouring of grace—so abundant that it “spills over” from our souls to those of our brothers and sisters. As with Mary, the Lord wants to make use our faithfulness in the midst of suffering, so “that the thoughts out of many heart”—our families’ and friends’ – “may be revealed” (Lk 2:35), and they be drawn to the One crucified for them.

Editor’s note: This article is adapted from Shane Kapler’s The Biblical Roots of Marian Consecration: Devotion to the Immaculate Heart in Light of Scripture (TAN Books, 2022).

[1] Tim Staples, Behold Your Mother (El Cajon, CA: Catholic Answers Press, 2014), 247-8.

[2] Raniero Cantalamessa, Mary: Mirror of the Church (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1992), 82.

[3] Shane Kapler, James: Jewish Roots, Catholic Fruits (Kettering, OH: Angelico Press), 64.

Image: Christ on the Cross with Mary and St. John, Rogier van der Weyden, public domain.

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Shane Kapler lives in the Archdiocese of St. Louis and is the author of works such as The Biblical Roots of Marian Consecration, The Epistle to the Hebrews and the Seven Core Beliefs of Catholics, and Marrying the Rosary to the Divine Mercy Chaplet. He is online at

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