Friday, September 15, 2006

23rd Friday in Ordinary Time (II)
Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows
Christian Submission

Readings: Hebrews 5:7-9; Psalm 31; John 19:25-27

It may sometimes seem that Christian teaching demands so much from the followers of Christ as to be almost inhuman. Are we not taught to imitate Christ, who was so cruelly tortured and executed? And does today’s memorial and gospel reading not remind us of Mary’s trials as she stood beneath the cross, witnessing all that her only son suffered? It may indeed seem from a preliminary consideration of these realities that Christians are called simply to accept -- stoically, impassively -- whatever suffering comes their way. Isn’t this, after all, what Jesus and Mary did? And yet, when we do suffer, every fiber of our being cries out for relief, for rescue, for salvation. Does being Christian really mean that we have to deny these impulses? And even if that is so, how do we do this?

Perhaps a deeper reflection on our readings can help us. In particular, we might contemplate the scene of Mary at the foot of the cross. What does she look like? What is she doing? The gospel passage does not tell us. And yet we might consider that Mary’s reactions are close to those of her Son as he endures his own sufferings. What does Jesus do?

The letter to the Hebrews highlights two things. Of course, ultimately Jesus submits to the will of His Father. He willingly endures his sufferings. This is no surprise to us. But it’s important to note that this is not a submission devoid of feeling – a robotic acceptance of whatever the Father commands. For we are also told that Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears (RSV). Jesus prays that the cup of suffering might pass him by. At some level, he does not wish to suffer. Might we not also say the same of Mary? Does she really wish her Son to suffer and die? Does she really wish to stand by the cross to witness his demise? As she stands beneath the cross is she not praying to God to rescue him? And yet, she does remain by the cross. Like her Son, she too submits. Why and how do Jesus and Mary do this?

We probably all know the answer to this question. Just as anyone might who has witnessed the suffering of a loved one. One submits because one wishes to be with the loved one who suffers. Mary submits for love of her Son. Jesus submits for love of his Father. They both submit for love of all humanity entrusted to Mary at the foot of the cross.

And we know the outcome of their submission. As is written in the letter to the Hebrews: Jesus was heard for his godly fear. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him (RSV).

Today, how are we being called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and Mary – to embrace the sorrows of the cross in order to share in its triumph?


  1. Submission is such a lofty ideal. Is there an alternative? What are the choices when the final denouement is death, with or without suffering.
    We reason out the meaning in our confrontation with the inevitable. Lighten our excess baggage, and take the road less traveled, in imitation of He who Is. It's a constant struggle!!!

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