Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, is the Patroness of the Congregation of Holy Cross. As we prepare for the memorial on September 15, I will offer a new image and a short reflection based on each of the Seven Sorrows of Mary.
Mark: 15:42- 47 When it was already evening, since it was the day of preparation, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a distinguished member of the council, who was himself awaiting the kingdom of God, came and courageously went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus, Pilate was amazed that he was already dead. He summoned the centurion and asked him if Jesus had already died. And when he learned of it from the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph. Having bought a linen cloth, he took him down, wrapped him in the linen cloth and laid him in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance to the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses watched where he was laid.
Into your hands
An image of Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows hangs above my office desk. This stark drawing in charcoal and ink depicts a mother caring for her son dying of AIDS. The artist is a priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross, Rev. James Flanigan, CSC, a retired professor of art from the University of Notre Dame. The drawing dates back to the early 1990’s, from the chaos of AIDS in family relationships in our country.
One of the most striking aspects of the drawing is the left hand of Mary. Her hand reaches out to touch her dying son who is cuddled up in the covers of his deathbed. Her large, dominant hand seems out of proportion in the scale of the two figures. After years of looking at this piece of art, I realize that Mary’s hand wants to reach out even beyond the body of her dying son. The artist wants us to focus on her holy hand, the loving reach to the body of Jesus. These are the hands that received Jesus after he hung upon the cross. Mary wants to reach out to the rest of us who have now become the Body of Christ on the earth.
I look again at Mary in black and white when I am on the phone with a grieving spouse. She tells me that she can no longer afford to live in her house and I realize that the situations of death are only gray in real life. I stare at her gesture when I am unsure of what to say next when I am on the phone in conversation with a mother who wants to make an appointment with me to talk about her emotionally and spiritually lost son. I pray that if she does come into my office, she could see Mary’s hand in person and she might receive the grace to comfort her offspring.
I glance up at Mary’s image when I am sitting in one of the chairs in my office listening to the confession of a mother who cannot change her child’s behavior and wants so desperately to change her own attitude about her only child. I capture another glance when another mother tells me of her addicted son who lives in another state and that she cannot touch or comfort him given all the miles of separation. I listen to a grandmother as she sobs into a lace handkerchief because her son’s wife will not let her be near or even touch the grandchildren.
In these moments I realize that the hand of Mary is not just a sketch on my office wall, but a spiritual reality of hope in real life that is promised to us from the Mother of Christ Jesus. The hand of a caring mother is not just two-dimensional, not just an image in the imagination of an artist, but an extension of hope for all who are lost, forgotten or on the margins of life.
Mary, the Mother of Jesus received the body of her son after his death on the cross. Into her arms his body found a moment of comfort and yet she could not retrieve him from his suffering and death. This horrific scene is portrayed so often in paintings, clay or marble and in movies. Mary in the tears, blood and filth of that moment caresses the dead Jesus. This real and human moment speaks well beyond any artistic expression, to all people who suffer with their children. What I view in ink and charcoal becomes real life for all parents who have lost their child in the suffering that connects all of our generations, cultures and nations.
The hands and embrace of Mary were the same hands that received Jesus as a fresh newborn in a cave near the outskirts of a village. Jesus was born on the margins of society and also marginalized as an adult and in death. Mary’s hands offered her son to God as an infant in the temple. Her hands also reached out to him after finding him when he was lost and then found in the temple again at age twelve. Mary’s embrace kept the infant Jesus safe in the flight into Egypt and now her hands could not keep him safe from death.
As I reflect on the strong, loving hand of Mary in the scene above my desk, I ponder as well the hands of parents who have let go of their children or who were forced to let them go. In every state in our country, so many teenagers are being forced to make choices to run from their parents. These choices are often made out of sheer safety and survival. So often the arms of birth parents or foster parents are disfigured from needle marks from injecting drugs. In many cases the mother’s arms are so bruised and bloodied from being abused by husbands, boyfriends or tricks. These arms are too weak to hold the bodies of their children or the concerns for their children’s futures.
The issues of alcohol, drugs and urban violence separate the lives of children and parents. These situations are complicated and real. This is life for so many of our young mothers and their children in our cities as well as our rural communities. Poverty, drug and alcohol addiction, homelessness and domestic violence all pull apart many of the basic human relationships of parents and children.
Every morning as I enter my office, I ponder again how I might help the strong hand of Mary’s comfort in the new day. This hand of a strong woman with her dying son from AIDS needs not to be reproduced in artistic expression, but needs to be lived out in the grit of daily life and the complicated issues that surround suffering and death. I pray that the Church might be consoled by Mary’s outreach to people in poverty and in need. I also pray that we may learn once and for all that a person in desperate need is the exact place in which God’s love is being offered. Mary’s hand is showing us all how to stand among the ill, the outcast and the suffering that is the Body of Christ here on earth.