23rd Saturday in Ordinary Time (I)
Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows
Blessings At the Foot of the Cross
Readings: 1 Timothy 1:15-17; Psalms 113:1b-2, 3-4, 5 and 6-7; John 19:25-27 or Luke 2:33-35
Yesterday the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross presented us with the opportunity to reflect upon our use of sacramentals. We considered the manner in which holy objects can help us to experience God’s saving and healing love for us if only we approach them with the right disposition, if we only we gaze upon them in faith. But, as useful as they are, we do not access the mystery of the Cross solely, or even primarily, by looking at holy objects. Isn’t it true that the gaze that we cast on a cross, for example, is only an expression of something at once more significant and profound? Isn’t it true that we access the saving power of the Cross of Christ primarily through the way in which we take up our own daily crosses: the little but no less real sufferings and persecutions, the difficulties and struggles that we encounter in our own lives?
And to do this is hard. Which is why, most of us are better able, I believe, to identify with those who are absent from today’s gospel passage than those who are present. Speaking for myself, I can easily place myself in the shoes of Jesus’ disciples, those who deserted him. I myself find it difficult to do what we find Mary and the beloved disciple doing in the gospel of today. When the going gets tough in my own life, my first impulse is to run away, to avoid a difficult person, for example, or to postpone a painful decision.
Yet, perhaps more than being simply another occasion to praise the virtues of Mary, today’s feast is also a reminder to us of the blessings that come from remaining at the foot of the Cross. Although this is a difficult and painful place to be, it is also the place where we truly receive the grace of God. Here, we receive the same grace that Paul speaks about in the first reading: the grace of knowing that we are sinners who have been mercifully treated. Here too, we receive the precious grace that the beloved disciple received. Here we become children of Mary. In the painful desolation of this place, we find we are not truly alone. For here we receive the care of a sorrowful but compassionate Mother.
And that is not all. There is something else that we receive here. Yesterday some of us were brought on a brief tour of a school of theology. At the entrance we found a mural depicting a local religious custom. Every year, on Easter morning, the locals practice what is called the Salubong. They divide themselves into two groups and engage in a procession. One group carries the statue of the sorrowful Mother and the other carries the Risen Christ. They begin at separate ends of the town and meet in front of the church. The procession expresses the traditional Catholic belief that the Risen Christ appeared first to Mary his mother, consoling her and rewarding her for her steadfast faith. In the mural at the entrance of the school, the two groups are only just meeting, Mary’s statue on the left and the Risen Christ on the right. The sky on left side is dark and cloudy. The people’s facial expressions are somber. In contrast, over on the right side, all is bright, the people are smiling broadly. And the one who gazes upon the painting is filled with anticipation of that moment when the two groups will finally meet, when all darkness and sorrow will finally give way to fullness of joy…
Isn’t this the ultimate grace we anticipate, even as we struggle to remain with Mary at the foot of the cross? How are we being invited to enter into this experience, how are we being called to share it with others today?