In the wee hours of the morning, shivering from the cold, damp interior of the darkened Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, I lingered in prayer at the rock of Calvary. Resting my hand on the cold rock where the noble cross of Jesus Christ stood upright on the first Good Friday, I prayed. Oh, how I poured my heart out! I was in a spiritual place of desolation when I arrived on retreat in the Holy Land having just gone through a big upheaval in my life. Doors closed, paths turned, and the future seemed unclear to me. I was searching and completely open, available and docile to the next phase of God’s plan for my life.
In the exalted atmosphere of Calvary, now in the spiritual state of freedom, I set my heart on Christ’s passion and death. Placing my hand on Calvary’s surface, I contrasted the cold, hard rock with the warmth of the Sacred Heart aflame with love’s passion. In the pangs of death by crucifixion, his heart was entirely kindled with the fire that he longed to start on earth. He was ready to offer his heart to be pierced, desirous of opening his sacred side to be the portal for the saving water and blood that would gush over humanity to redeem it. In the words of Augustine, “What sacrifice can I offer to God worthy of his mercy?”
In the silent hours I remained in prayer, I could almost hear the cacophony of the murderous crowd at Calvary and the contrasting peaceful, steady rhythm of the heart of Jesus. How very perfect is his sacrifice! It became incredibly personal: I crucified him and it was for me that he suffered and died. I pondered if I would have remained near the cross with Mary, and John the beloved, Magdalene and the other holy women? Would I have run away in fear with the first Apostles?
The mystery remains, but of this I became certain. If I had remained at the foot of the cross at Calvary, it would have been because of Mary’s maternal solicitude. I would have looked into her eyes for a sign, a cue of sorts. I can’t imagine that I would run away in fear if I had looked into the eyes of the Mother of the Crucified One, ever faithful and courageous! One faith-filled look from Mary would have helped to plant my feet in a steadfast manner at the foot of the cross. Gazing into Mary’s eyes mirroring the Lord, I would have known that the abyss between heaven and earth was about to be bridged by the cross upon which hung Jesus.
Looking at Mary so full of love, and knowing that she is looking back at me, coaching me in virtue, protecting me from cowardice, I would have believed and hoped against all appearances of failure. I would have taken my mind off myself and focused on what was really happening here: the redemption of the world! Mary’s loving gaze would have reminded me of her Son’s words, “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy” (John 16:22). Mary, the perfect Mother of Grace, would urge me to join in her hymn of praise, the Magnificat. Though her holy face would be wet with tears and her heart seven times pierced with sorrow, Mary is the perfect icon of fidelity, courage and love in the midst of the unfathomable sacrifice of Jesus, bone of her bone, flesh of her flesh. Here hangs Mary’s Son, the God-Man so disfigured by the brutality of sin, urging the Father to forgive his executioners. Here stands Mary, in unspeakable pain, full of grace, without fear or shame, full of hope. Her feet firmly planted on the rock of Calvary, she knows the time of salvation has come. Was she relieved when Jesus said to Abba, “It is finished”? Perhaps. But in her maternal heart of wisdom, she must have known, that it was only beginning for her and the Church.
I’ve been praying about how to best live this Lenten season. It has become clear that the Lord is inviting me to keep company with Mary on the way of the cross. Mary can aid us to peer into the mystery of the passion and death of Jesus to discover a love we need to know. She will protect us from countless temptations in the desert of Lent when the devil would like to sift us like sand. He fears Mary and would rather flee than be near the Woman who is the New Eve: obedient and full of grace!
The Lenten desert can be a place of decrease where the false self and unrealistic expectations are put to death for good. Passages from death to new life are not always easy. Mary can accompany us and help us to discern what we need to let go of in order to receive the greater gift of God.
Mothers are adept at helping us to clean up, get ready, and put things in proper order again. Mothers are skillful at applying healing salves to the wounds of children. Mary excels at holding us close to her heart in an embrace that brings peace and strength. Mary never tires of repeating the truth that we are beloved of God. She can help break the chains that bind us from true freedom such as the pesky addictions (alcohol, food, TV, Internet), the compromises (missing times of prayer and the sacraments, illicit relationships, numbing laziness, or frenzied busyness). If we invite Mary into our brokenness, her holiness will take over and help to sever whatever binds us from authentic freedom, love and joy. She doesn’t invade our lives; we need to invite her.
Mary enriches our spiritual journey always. Perhaps we can consider living the Lenten season with Mary as fulfilling our Marian consecration also.
How do we walk with Mary during Lent? Here are 10 little steps.
- Take up Mary’s spiritual practices, which likely included, praying the Psalms, meditating on the Scriptures, offering hymns of praise and gratitude to God such as her Magnificat.
- Imitate Mary’s courageous “yes” more intentionally as you walk the Stations of the Cross with her.
- Imitate Mary’s forgiveness and mercy at the foot of the cross where she also forgave her Son’s executioners.
- Imitate Mary’s complete focus on her Son Jesus during all the phases of his suffering; and her intercessory prayer for everyone involved.
- Strive to live Mary’s faith, hope and love, simplicity, sacrifice, service and obedience—even in the face of such terrorizing agony.
- With Mary, sit at the feet of Jesus, choosing the better part—perhaps attend Eucharistic Adoration more frequently and read John’s Gospel, Chapter 19.
- Take up Mary’s “beads”. Intentionally, live Mary’s memories! Linger in contemplation of the Sorrowful Mysteries, asking Mary to help you encounter Jesus in His Passion that you may love him more.
- Consider when Jesus breathed his last and Mary did as he said, “Behold your son”—John the Beloved. She took him into her heart and brought forth the best of his Priesthood. Consider the vocation of spiritual motherhood or fatherhood of priests.
- With Mary, receive Holy Communion more often, mindful that Mary helps you to encounter Jesus more intimately.
- Console the Sorrowful Mother along the Via Dolorosa, perhaps offering to share in her pierced heart for love of God and neighbor.
Julian of Norwich wrote about Mary, “Our Lord showed me our Lady, Saint Mary, to teach us this: that it was the wisdom and truth in her, when she beheld her Maker, that enabled her to know him as so great, so holy, so mighty, and so good. His greatness and his nobleness overwhelmed her. She saw herself so little and low, so simple and poor compared to God that she was filled with humility. And so from this humble state she was lifted up to grace and all manner of virtues, and stands above all. This above all causes the soul to seem small in its own sight, to see and love its Maker. And this is what fills it with reverence and humility, and with generous love to our fellow-Christians. The seeking, with faith, hope and love, pleases our Lord, and the finding pleases the soul and fills it with joy.” (Enfolded in Love).
For more information and prayers on Marian spiritual motherhood, visit www.foundationforpriests.org