CHAPTER 21 Mary and the Sword
One of the penalties of original sin was that a woman should bring forth her children in sorrow:
Nothing begins and nothing ends That is not paid with moan -For we are born in others' pain And perish in our own.
But the heart, too, has its agony, for although the new life is lived apart from the mother, the heart always keeps that new life as its own. What is disowned in the independence of a child is owned in the love of a mother-heart. Her body for a time follows her heart, as to each child at her breast she speaks the language of a natural eucharist: "Take and eat. This is my body; this is my blood." The time finally comes for the soul of the child to be nourished in the Divine Eucharist by the Lord Who said: "Take and eat. This is My Body. This is My Blood." Even then the mother heart pursues, never ceasing to love the life that changed her from a woman to a mother.
The other side of the picture is: as every woman begets a child, so every child begets a mother. The helplessness of the infant, in language stronger than words, solicits the mother, saying: "Be sweet, be self-sacrificing, be merciful." A thousand temptations of a mother are crushed in that one radiating thought: "What of my child?" The child summons to duty before he can speak duty. He bids the mother think twice before leaving a father to start a new pseudo-home. The child makes the fatigue and weariness of the mother, as he makes her joy in his success and her agonies in his falls from grace. The child brings the impact of another life, and no mother escapes his vital rays.
Applying this to Our Blessed Mother, not only did she beget a Son, but the Son also begot her. This is the connection between Bethlehem and Calvary. She gave Him Sonship, but He also gave her Motherhood. At the crib she became His Mother; at the Cross she was called the "Woman." No Son in the world but Christ could ever make His Mother the mother of all men, because the flesh is possessive and exclusive. Making her the Woman or the Universal Mother was like a new creative word. He made her twice: once for Himself, and once for us in His Mystical Body. She made Him as the new Adam; He now installs her as the new Eve, the Mother of mankind.
This transfer of His Mother to men was, appropriately, at the moment He redeemed them. That word "Woman" from the Cross was the second Annunciation, and John was the second Nativity. What joy went with her mothering Him! What anguish went with His Mothering her! Mary's mind was filled with the thought of Divinity in the stable; but at Golgotha it is sinners that are uppermost in her mind, and she now begins their mothering. The curse of Eve hangs heavily on Mary: "Thou shalt bring forth children in sorrow." When we contrast the great difference between Her Divine Son and us, her sorrow, from our point of view, must have been not only: "How can I live without Him?" but also, "How can I live with them?" This was the miracle of substitution, for how can one be satisfied with straggling rays when one has been with the sun? The humility of which she sang at the Magnificat was not only a confession of unworthiness to be the Mother of God, but also the admission now of her readiness to be the Mother of man. It was a grief not to die with Him; it was a greater grief to live on with us.
Tradition indicates that Mary was pierced seven times with swords of sorrow and that these constitute her Seven Sorrows. The position we will take is not that there were Seven Swords, but Seven Thrusts of the one Sword, and the Sword that pierced her soul was Christ Himself. This Sword has a double edge: one edge ran into His Own Sacred Heart, the other into her Immaculate Heart. How is Christ a sword? First of all, the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us the word of God is a two-edged sword. "God's word to us is something alive, full of energy; it can penetrate deeper than any two-edged sword, reaching the very division between soul and spirit, between joints and marrow, quick to distinguish every thought and design in our hearts. From him, no creature can be hidden; everything lies bare, everything is brought face to face with him, this God to whom we must give our account" (Heb. 4:12, 13) The word here is undoubtedly Scripture and the living voice of the Church. But the root and source is the Divine Word Who is Christ Himself. St Thomas in his Commentary on this passage makes that identification. Furthermore, St. Thomas quotes St. Ambrose as giving the same interpretation: "For the Word of God is living and effectual and more piercing than any two-edged sword."
One edge of this sword, to speak metaphorically, Christ ran into His Own Sacred Heart, in the sense that He willed all the sufferings from Bethlehem to Calvary. He was the cause of His own death, St. Thomas tells us, and in two ways: directly, by being in such antagonism to the world that the world could not endure His Presence. Simeon foretold this by saying He was "a sign to be contradicted." The essence of evil is not robbing, stealing, murdering; it is the crucifixion of Goodness, the elimination of the Moral Principle of life, so that one may sin without remorse and with impunity. Indirectly, Christ was the cause of His own death, as St. Thomas tells us, "by not preventing it when He could do so; just as one person is said to drench another by not closing the window through which it is raining; and in this way Christ was the cause of His own Passion and Death." He could have used His Power and hurled thunderbolts against Pilate and Herod; He could have appealed to the masses with the magnetism of His Word; He could have changed nails into rosebuds and a crown of thorns into a golden diadem; He could have come down from the Cross when He was challenged to do so. But "since Christ's soul did not repel the injury inflicted on His Body, but willed His corporeal nature to succumb to such an injury, He is said to have laid down His life or died voluntarily," St. Thomas tells us.
The Sword, therefore, was His Own Will to die, that we might be saved from the double death. But He also willed that
His Mother should be as closely associated with Him as any human person could be associated with a Divine Person. Pius X declared that the bond between them was so intimate that the words of the Prophet could be applied to both: Defecit in dolore vita mea, et anni mei in gemitibus. (Ps. 30:11) If it be granted with Leo XIII that, "God willed that the grace and truth which Christ won for us should be bestowed on us in no other way than through Mary," then she, too, had to will cooperation in Redemption, as Christ willed it as the Redeemer Himself. Christ willed that she should suffer with Him, some theologians say, per modum unius. If He willed His death, He willed her Sorrows. And if He willed to be a "Man of Sorrows," He willed that she be the "Mother of Sorrows." But it was no imposed will; she accepted it all in her original Fiat in the Annunciation. The Sword He plunged into His Heart, He, with her cooperation, plunged into her own. He could hardly have done this if she were not His Mother, and if they were not in a spiritual sense "two in one flesh," "two in one mind." The sorrows of His Passion were His, but His Mother considered them as her own, too, for this is the meaning of Compassion.
There were not Seven Swords, but only one, and it plunged into two Hearts. The Seven Sorrows are as seven thrusts of the Sword Christ, one edge for Him as Redeemer, the other edge for Her as the Mother of the Redeemer. Christ is the Sword of His own Passion; He is the Sword of her compassion. Pius XII says that she, as the true Queen of Martyrs, more than any of the faithful, filled up for His Body the Church the sufferings that were wanting to the Passion of Christ!
This was the first reason why God permitted her Sorrows: that she might be the first after the Redeemer Himself to continue His Passion and Death in His Mystical Body. "Our Lord warned: "As they hated me, so will they hate you." If the law that Good Friday is the condition of an Easter Sunday binds all the faithful, then it must with greater rigor bind her who is the Mother of the Savior. An unsuffering Christ who ignored sin would be reduced to the level of an ethical reformer, like Buddha or Confucius. An unsuffering Madonna to the suffering Christ would be a loveless Madonna. Who is there who loves, who does not want to share the sorrows of the beloved? Since Christ loved mankind so much as to want to die to expiate their guilt, then He should also will that His Mother, who lived only to do His Will, should also be wrapped in the swaddling bands of His griefs.
But she also had to suffer for our sakes as well as His. As Our Lord learned obedience by which He suffered, so Mary had to learn motherhood, not by appointment, but by experience with the burdens of the human heart. The rich cannot console the poor unless they become less rich for the sake of the poor; Mary cannot wipe away human tears unless she herself has been their fountain. The title "Mother of the Afflicted" had to be earned in the school of affliction. She does not expiate for sins; she does not redeem; she is not a saviour, but by His Will and by her own, she is so much bound up with Him that His Passion would have been entirely different had there not been her Compassion.
He also plunged the sword into her own soul, in the sense that He called her to be a cooperator with Him, as the new Eve in the regeneration of humanity. When the mother of James and John asked political preferment for her sons, they were asked if they could drink of His chalice. That was the condition of being in His Kingdom. What draining of the chalice, then, shall be the condition of being the Mother of the Crucified! St. Paul tells us that we cannot be partakers of His Glory unless we partake also of His Crucifixion. If, then, the sons of Mary are not exempt from the law of sacrifice, certainly Mary herself, who is the Mother of God, shall be less exempt. Hence Stabat Mater pleads that Mary's compassion with Christ be shared with us:
These five wounds of Jesus smitten, Mother in my heart be written Deeply as in thine they be;
Thou my Saviour's Cross who bearest
Thou thy Son's rebuke who sharest, Let me share them both with thee.
The Seven Thrusts of the Sword are Simeon's Prophecy, the Flight into Egypt, the Three Days' Loss, meeting Jesus with His Cross, the Crucifixion, the taking down from the Cross, the burial of Jesus.
FIRST THRUST OF THE SWORD
The initial thrust was the prophecy of Simeon. The Divine Child, only forty days old, is brought to the Temple; no sooner is the Light of the World laid in Simeon's arms than he breaks out into his Swan Song: he is ready to die because he has seen the Saviour. After foretelling that the Child is a sign to be contradicted, he tells Mary: "Thy own soul a sword shall pierce." Note that Simeon did not say that the sword would pierce her body. The lance of the centurion might do that to the Heart of Christ, and His Body might be so bruised that "even the bones of His Body could be numbered," but the Virginal Body would be spared an outer assault. As in the Annunciation when she conceived, unlike human love the ecstasy was first in her soul and then in her body; so now in her compassion, the pains of martyrdom are first in her soul, and then only in her sympathetic flesh, which echoed to every scourge that fell on her Son's back or pierced His Hands and Feet.
The Sword is only forty days old, and yet He knows how to unsheath it. From that moment on, every time she would lift infant hands, she would see fall across them the shadow of nails. If her Heart was to be one with His, then like Him, she must see every sunset as a blood-red image of the Passion. In one sense, her dead would not be buried, as the Sword in her own soul would not be plucked out. Simeon threw away the sheath as her own Child flashed the blade. Every pulse in His tiny wrist would sound like the echo of an oncoming hammer. But her sorrow was not what she suffered, but what He had to suffer. That was the tragedy. Love never thinks of itself. If He belonged to sinners, so would she.
The Saviour's edge of the sword was telling His Mother, through Simeon, that He was to be a victim for sin; her edge was knowing that she would be a Trustee of His Life until the hour of sacrifice. With one word Simeon foretells His Crucifixion and her sorrow. No sooner is this young Life launched, than an old man foretells the shipwreck. A Mother has only forty days of embracing her Infant Child when she sees the shadow of a contradiction thrown across His life. She had no chalice of sin to drink, no cup of the Father's bitterness such as her Son would drink in the Garden, and yet He holds the cup to her lips.
The enmity of the world is the lot of everyone closely associated with Jesus. How few are the converts to the faith who have not felt the scorn and bigotry of the world that protests their leaving the mediocrity of humanism for the high level of the supernatural. Our Lord speaking of the opposition they would evoke said: "I came to bring the sword, to set father against son, and mother against daughter." If a convert feels that contradiction, then how much worse shall Mary, who mothered the Cross-bearer! Truly, He came to bring the Sword, and His Mother is the first to feel it, not in the sense of an unwilling victim, but rather one whose free Fiat made her united with Him in the act of Redemption. If you were the only person who had eyes in a world full of the blind, would you not be their staff? If kindness before the wounded binds up the sores, then shall virtue in the face of sin seek to be dispensed from cooperation with Him who wipes out the guilt? If Mary, who was sinless, would with joy accept a Sword from Divine sinlessness, then who of us, who are guilty of sin, shall ever complain if the same Jesus permits us a sorrow for the remission of our sins?
O Mary pierced with sorrow Remember,
reach and save The soul that goes tomorrow
Before the God that gave;
As each was born of woman
For each, in utter need,
True comrade and brave foreman
(Rudyard Kipling, "Song before Action," from I Sing of a Maiden)
SECOND THRUST OF THE SWORD
The second piercing by the Sword was the summoning of His Mother to share sorrow with all the exiles and the displaced persons of the world of whom He Himself was the first born. The Dictator Herod, fearful lest He Who came to bring a golden crown would steal a tinsel one, sought to kill the Infant Jesus not yet two years old. Two swords are now swinging: one wielded by Herod who would kill the Prince of Peace to have the false peace of the reign of Power; the other by the Sword Himself, Who would have His Own Mother see the Exodus reversed, as He now goes back to the land from whence He once led His own people out. And Joseph is still charged with guarding the Living Bread! Hearts could bear sorrows more readily if they could be assured that they came directly from God. That her Divine Son should have used Simeon as the instrument of the first thrust was understandable for "the Holy Spirit was in him." But this second thrust used the instrumentality of wicked men. How often we feel that God has abandoned us when He allows the perversity of men to grieve us, and yet Divine Omnipotence is in Mary's arms and still allows it! The Cross seems to be double-crossed when it does not come from Him, but in such cases it is not our patience that is tried, but our humility and our faith. And yet if the Son of God in His human nature and His Blessed Mother did not both feel the tragedy of millions in our civilization pursued by other Herods; if they did not share the experience of violent uprootings from homeland and that forced grafting into the wild olives of Siberia; if both the new Adam and the new Eve were not the first displaced persons of Christian history, then refugees would raise their fists to heaven and say, "God does not know what I suffer," or "No woman ever bore such grief."
It was for the sake of womanhood that Mary had to suffer, with Jesus, the heart-rendings of an inhospitable earth. That primal gift of the Immaculate Conception and her Virginity were walls of partition between herself and the evil world. But now the Sword was cleaving the wall, breaking it down, allowing her to feel what He Himself would feel in the prime of His Life. She, too, must have her Pilates and her Herods! As a priest carrying the Blessed Sacrament to the sick would defend it unto the shedding of his blood, so Mary carrying Emmanuel was learning that to be His Mother meant to suffer with Him, that she may reign with Him. Simeon's word touched her only internally; Herod's wrath, the Egyptian flight shifted the battle against evil to the outside, as Her Son would later move from the Agony of a Garden to the Crucifixion on a Hill. One word from that Babe at her breast could have silenced all Herods from that day until Stalin or Mao Tse-tung, but that word He would not speak. The Word was now a Sword. And yet, how inexpressibly more poignant must have been the grief of her Infant Son, Who, with His Infinite Mind, knew and willed all that was transpiring! A mother watching surgery on her infant suffers for the child and yet endures it for a greater future good; here the Son is the surgeon who, with a two-edged sword, pierces first His Own Heart before He pierces that of His Mother, as if to blunt the piercing when it touches her. The Word is a two-edged sword! Were it but single-edged, then He would hold the handle and only she would feel the blade, which would be cruel. But here nothing enters into her soul that has not first entered into His. He willed the tragedy He would suffer from the hands of evil men. She willed it, too, but first because it was His Will that, as He would undo Adam, so should she undo Eve.
Mary knew that the Infant in her arms had not yet raised His Voice against evil, but she nevertheless sees all the bigots and tyrants, dictators and communists, the intolerant and libertines, rage and storm against Him. He was as light as a feather in her arms, but He was heavier than a planet on their hearts "set for the fall and the resurrection of many." A Babe was hated! That was the point of the second thrust of the Sword. "As they have hated Me, so will they hate you."
The hatred of men against Him she would feel as her very own! But, as He bore love to those who hated, so did she. She would go down to Egypt a thousand times and amidst a thousand fears, could she but save one single man from committing a single sin for His sake as well as God's.
Now that Mary is crowned in Heaven, as she looks down on the earth, she sees millions of men still banishing the Creator out of their lands, and driving Him out of their hearts. Many men do not spend most of their time making a living; they spend most of it flying from God! He, on His side, will not destroy their freedom., and they on their side, will not choose Him. But as Mary in this second sorrow was not angry with the wicked, but unhappy for their sakes, so now in Heaven her compassion and love of sinners almost seems to rise with the measure of their sin. The more closely a soul is united with Jesus, the more it loves sinners. A patient can be so sick with fever that in his delirium he believes himself to be well; a sinner can be so engrossed in sin as to believe himself to be good. Only the healthy really know the sickness of the patient, and only those without sin know the gravity of sin and seek to cure it. Both Jesus and Mary in the Flight to Egypt experienced in their goodness Infinite in the one, finite in the other the two psychic effects of sins: fear and flight. Unless fear is overcome in forgiveness, it ends in the persecution of others; unless escapism is conquered by a return to God, it drowns itself in alcoholism, opiates, the boredom of excitement! Would that all the psychiatrists of the world knew that both these effects of sin are conquered not by self-indulgence in the flesh, but by love, which masters fear, and by penance, which arrests flight Our Lord and His Blessed Mother willingly suffered both these psychological effects that sinning souls might be freed from them. The real "shock treatment" the guilty have not yet experienced is the shock of invoking a Woman with a Babe who will take them down to Egypt to eat the corn of tribulation and the wheat of penance! When the heart of man is not at home in Nazareth, but in escape from Reality, it may still have hope; for the Madonna and the Child will meet it, even in its wild flight to the desert Egypts of this world.
THIRD THRUST OF THE SWORD
The Three Days' Loss of the Divine Child was the third thrust of the Sword. One edge went into His Own Soul as He hid from His Mother and His foster father to remind them, as He said, that He must be about "His Father's business." But since Heaven, too, plays hide and seek, the other edge of the Sword was the grief of Mary's loss and seeking. He was Hers, that is why she sought Him; He was on the business of Redemption, that was why He left her and went to the Temple. Not only was there a physical loss, but there was also a spiritual trial. "But the boy Jesus, unknown to his parents, continued His stay in Jerusalem" (Luke 2:43) Our Lord said: "What reason had you to search for me? Could you not tell that I must be in the place which belongs to my Father?" (Luke 2:49) "These words which he spoke to them were beyond their understanding." (Luke 2:50) Later on there would be another Three Days' Loss when the Body of Jesus would be laid in a tomb. This loss was a foretaste and prelude to that loss, as well as a shadow of the Three Years' Loss during His Public Ministry.
Something now was hidden from Mary, in the sense that she did not understand. This was not a mere negative ignorance but a privation, a deliberate hiding by her Son of the fullness of His purpose. She had her Dark Night of the Body in Egypt; she would now have her Dark Night of the Soul in Jerusalem. Spiritual darkness and desolation have always been one of the trials of God's mystics. First it is His Body and Blood that is hid from her; now it is the brilliance of His Truth. If the second thrust companioned her with the displaced persons of the world, this third thrust would lift her into fellowship with the saints. The Cross was now casting its shadow on her soul! Not only her virginal body must pay dearly for the privilege of her Immaculate Conception, but also her soul must pay the cost of being the Seat of Wisdom.
The two-edged sword affects both souls in the sweet beat of a rhythm. One day on Golgotha He will feel the pessimism of atheists, the despair of sinners, the loneliness of the selfish as He takes their own sins upon Him, and wraps up all their isolation in the one great cry: "My God, My God, why have You abandoned Me?" She, too, must experience that loneliness and abandonment, not only in the physical loss of Christ, but also in the beclouding of all consolations. As, on the Cross, He would deny His human nature all the joys of His Divinity, so He would deny now to His Mother all the joys of His Father's business. If His edge of the Sword was abandonment, her edge would be darkness. The Gospel says there was darkness over the earth when He uttered that cry from the Cross; so now night creeps into Mary's mind because the Son Himself willed the eclipse of the sun. He almost seemed to question her right to seek Him as He asks: "What reason had you to search for Me?" (Luke 2:49.) As He on the Cross, suspended between earth and Heaven, would feel abandoned by God and rejected by men, so now she with but one word from the Sword is as utterly "abandoned" by One Who is both God and man.
Darkness in the saints is not the same as darkness in the sinners. In the former, there is no light, but love; in the latter, there is night without love. It is very likely that this mystical darkness, which the Sword drove into Mary's soul, gave rise to such heroic acts of love as to raise her to new Tabors she never experienced before. Light can sometimes be so bright as to blind! Mary's failure to understand the word that was spoken to her was due less to the defect of light than to its excess. Human reason reaches a point where it cannot describe or explain what happens to the heart. Even human love in its most ecstatic moments is speechless. Reason can understand words, but it cannot understand the Word. The Gospel here tells us that what Mary did not understand was the Word that was spoken. How hard to understand the Word when it is broken into words! She did not understand, because the Word lifted her out of the one abyss of reason, to the other unimaginable abyss of the Divine Mind. At such points, Divine Wisdom in its human expressions compels a confession of ignorance. It cannot tell its secret, as St. Paul would not tell his vision of the third heaven. Words themselves were inadequate to express fully the meaning of the Word.
To prove that this darkness was unlike ignorance, the Gospel adds: "His Mother kept in her heart the memory of all this." (Luke 2:51.) Her soul would keep the Word, her heart the words. He Who by His words seemed to disown her, now owns her, not only by keeping the honey of the message in the hive of her heart, but also by going down to Nazareth to be subject to her.
The Divine Sword is no longer using human instruments like Simeon and Herod to brandish it. Twelve years of age, He is old enough to use it Himself. In this sorrow both His Natures were fastening upon her to make her a co-Redemptrix under His causality: His human nature in the physical loss, His Divine Nature in the Dark Night of her soul. In the Annunciation she asks a question of an angel: "How shall this be, seeing I know not man?" Now she addresses the God-man Himself calling Him "Son" and asking Him to explain and to justify Himself for what He has done. Here was a supreme consciousness that she was the Mother of God. There is always a great familiarity with God whenever there is great sanctity, and that familiarity is greater in sorrow than in joy. Saints favored by revelation from Our Lord picture Him as saying that this sorrow cost Him as much suffering as any other sorrow of His Life: in this, as in all other cases, He ran the Sword into His Sacred Heart before thrusting it into her Immaculate Heart, that He Himself might know the sorrow first. The grief that Our Lord would feel on leaving His Mother after the Three Hours on the Cross was here felt in anticipation during the Three Days' Loss. Those who sin without having the faith never feel the anxiety of those who sin with the faith. To have God, then lose Him, was Mary's edge of the sword; to be God, and hide from those who would never leave Him, was Our Lord's edge of the sword. Both felt the effects of sin in different ways: she felt the darkness of losing God; He felt the darkness of being lost. If her sorrow was a hell, His was the agony of making it. The bitterness of death is in her soul; the sadness of inflicting it is in His!
As she became the Refuge of Sinners by knowing what it is to lose God and then find Him, so He became the Redeemer of sinners by knowing the deliberateness, the willfulness, the resoluteness of those who wound the ones they love! She felt the creature losing the Creator; He felt the Creator losing the creature. Mary lost Jesus only in mystical darkness of the soul, not in the moral blackness of an evil heart. Her loss was a veiling of His Face, not a flight. But she does teach us that, when we lose God, we must not wait for Him to come back. We must go out in search of Him; and, to the joy of every sinner, She knows where He can be found!
FOURTH THRUST OF THE SWORD
Eighteen years with God in human form had now been enjoyed by the Blessed Mother. If He could make such a transformation in three years in a publican named Matthew, what must have been the wisdom garnered in thirty years by her who was already the Immaculate Conception? The three years of teaching have passed, during which time we hear of her only once. Now the Sword is drawing closer to the hilt, as we pass from the four trials to Mary, seeing Jesus carrying the Cross. He drove the Sword into His own soul, and it appeared as a Cross on His Shoulders; He drove the Sword into her soul, and it became a Cross on her heart.
As the fourth station of the Cross has it: "Jesus carrying the Cross, meets His Blessed Mother." Simeon had foretold that He would be a sign to be contradicted; now she sees that the sign of contradiction is the Cross. It was the advent of a long-dreaded evil. Every tree with its branches at right angles to the trunk had reminded her of the day when a tree would turn against its Creator and become His deathbed. Nails on the floor of a carpenter shop, crossbeams against a wall, arms of a youth stretched out against the background of the setting sun after a day's labor, throwing the shadow of a cross on the opposite wall - all these were tokens, in advance, of this dread hour. But no matter how much one prepares for the misfortune of the innocent suffering for the guilty, the reality is always sadder than one had imagined. Mary had practiced for this blow, but it seemed to strike in an undefended spot. No two sorrows are alike; each has a character of its own. Although it is the same sword, the difference is in the depth of its plunging; some new area of the soul is touched that before was virginal to grief.
In each sorrow it is the Son Who is the executioner, but He always makes His edge the sharper. His edge was not only to bear the sins of man on that Cross, but also to permit her, who was innocent of it all, to share it as her own. But the Cross must have seemed heavier, not lighter, after His Mother saw it on His shoulders. How often Our Lord had said: "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. " (Matt. 16:24) If carrying one's own Cross is the condition of being Christ's follower, then the condition of being the Saviour's Mother is to carry the Saviour's Cross. The curious on the roadway to Calvary could see what He was carrying, but only He knew the load she bore.
This world of ours has not only the dread of impending evil, as in Simeon's prophecy; the forced flight from a tyrant's wrath, as in the Flight into Egypt; the loneliness and anxiety of the sinners, as in the Three Days' Loss; but it has also the modern nightmare of terror. The just Abels slain by the Soviet Cains in Eastern Europe, the Chinese faithful living in mortal dread of execution, the countless multitudes panic-stricken by the injustices of Communists, all these could have raised their eyes to Heaven as so much brass, did not one Man and one Woman feel the bitterness of that terror? And if only a Man Who is Innocent had felt the brunt of that Terror, then what would the woman say? Must there not be among their sex, too, one whose soul was so flooded with it that she also could bring consolation and hope? If God in the flesh had not been patient at mock trials, the Chinese priests would not now have the courage to walk in His footsteps. If a creature, in the face of a maddened mob, yelling for blood, had not shared that terror as her own, mankind would have said that a God-man could bear it because He is God, but a human could not. That is why our Divine Lord had to be her sword, with its fourth and agonizing thrust.
With this fourth sorrow no word is spoken; one sees only the shimmering steel of the Sword, for terror is speechless. The Sword He drove into His Own Heart made Him shed drops of blood, like beads in the Rosary of Redemption over every inch of that Jerusalem roadway; but the Sword He drove into her soul made her identify herself with His Redemptive sufferings, forced her to tread the streets over her own Son's Blood. His wounds bled, hers did not. Mothers, seeing their sons suffer, wish it could be their own blood instead of their sons' that is shed. In her case, it was her blood that He shed. Every crimson drop of that blood, every cell of that flesh she had given to Him. Jesus had no human father. It was always her blood that He was shedding; it was only her blood that she was treading.
Through such a sorrow as this, Mary won compassion for the terrified. The saints are most indulgent to others, who have been the least indulgent to themselves. Those who lead easy, unmortified lives cannot speak the language of the affrighted. So elevated above terror, they cannot bend to console; if they do, it is with condescension and not compassion. But here Mary is already in the dust of human lives; she lives amidst terror, brain-washings, false accusations, libels, and all the other instruments of terror. The Immaculate is with the maculate, the sinless with the sinner, and she bears no rancor or bitterness toward them - only pity that they do not see or know how Loving that Love is that they are sending to His death. In her purity, Mary is on the mountaintop; in her compassion she is amidst curses, death cells, hangmen, executioners, and blood. A man may despair in his consciousness of sin from crying to God for forgiveness, but he cannot shrink from invoking the intercession of God's Mother who saw sinners do these things, and yet prayed for their forgiveness. If the good Holy Mother like Mary, who deserved to be spared evil, could nevertheless, in the special Providence of her Son, have a Cross, then how shall we, who deserve not to be ranked with her, expect to escape our meeting with a Cross? "What have I done to deserve this?" is a cry of pride. What did Jesus do? What did Mary do? Let there be no complaint against God for sending a Cross; let there only be wisdom enough to see that Mary is there making it lighter, making it sweeter, making it hers!
FIFTH THRUST OF THE SWORD
The Cross unites not only the friends of Our Lord, but also His enemies. Only the mediocre survive. Our Lord was too good; He disturbed consciences; therefore, He must die. The thieves were too wicked; they disturbed false security of possessions; therefore, they must die. Our Lord Himself had said that as Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in the desert, so He would be lifted up. The meaning was this: when the Israelites were bitten by serpents, God ordered that they make a bronze serpent and hang it on a cross. All who looked at it were cured of the serpent's poison. The bronze serpent had the appearance of the serpent that stung, and yet was without venom. Christ is the bronze serpent inasmuch as He is in the likeness and the form of man, and yet without the venom of sin. All who look upon Him will be healed of sin that came from the serpent, who is the Devil.
No one looked more closely at the Cross than the Blessed Mother. Our Lord drove one edge of the sword into His Own Heart, for no one took away His Life - "I lay it down of Myself." He was upright as a Priest, prostrate as a Victim, He delivered Himself up to the iniquitous will of man that man might do his worst. The worst thing man can do is kill God. By permitting man to summon forth his strongest armaments, and then defeating him by resurrection from the dead, Our Lord showed that evil would never be victorious again.
The other edge of the sword went into Mary's soul, inasmuch as she had been preparing the Priest to be a Victim. Her cooperation was so real and active that she stood at the foot of the Cross. In every representation of the Crucifixion Magdalene is prostrate; she is almost always at the feet of Our Lord. But Mary is standing; John was there, and it amazed him so much, that she was erect during these three hours, that he wrote the fact down in his Gospel.
Eden was now being reversed. Three things cooperated in our fall: a disobedient man, Adam; a proud woman, Eve; and a tree. God takes the three elements that led to the defeat of man, and uses them as the instruments of victory: the obedient new Adam, Christ; the humble new Eve, Mary; and the tree of the Cross.
The peculiarity of this sorrow is that the seven words that Our Lord spoke from the Cross were like seven notes in the funeral dirge. Our Blessed Mother is recorded as speaking only seven times in Sacred Scriptures. This does not mean that she spoke only that number of times, but that only seven of her utterances are recorded. Our Lord also spoke seven times from the Cross. As He spoke each word, her heart goes back to each of the words she herself had spoken, making the sorrow more intense as she saw the mystery of the "sign being contradicted."
The first word of Our Lord from the Cross was "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." It is not worldly wisdom that saves; it is ignorance. If the executioners had known the terrible thing they were doing when they rejected the Son of man; if they had known that He was the Son of God and still gone on, deliberately putting Him to death, then there would have been no hope of salvation. It was only their ignorance of the blasphemy they were doing which brought them within the hearing of the word of forgiveness and the pale of pardon.
The first word reminded Mary of her first word. It, too, was about ignorance. When the angel announced to her that she was to be the Mother of the Son of God, she asked; "How can this be, seeing I know not man?" Ignorance here meant innocence, virtue, virginity. The ignorance extolled is not ignorance of truth, but ignorance of evil. Our Lord would forgive sinners because they were ignorant, and not like the angels who in rebellion knew what they were doing, and therefore went beyond redemption. Our Blessed Mother was blessed, because she was ignorant of man through the consecration of her virginity.
Here the two words fuse into one grief: a sorrow on the part of Jesus, and a sorrow on the part of Mary, that men were not wise with that wisdom which is given only to children and the little ones, namely, knowing that Christ alone saves us from our sins.
The second word of Our Lord was to the good thief. At first he blasphemed Our Lord, but then, hearing the word of forgiveness, and seeing the loveliness of His Mother, he responded to grace and envisaged his punishment as the "just reward of our crimes." The sight of the Man on the central Cross obeying the Father's Will inspired him to accept his cross as God's Will, and with it came a cry for pardon. Our Lord answered: "This day you shall be with Me in paradise."
That beautiful acceptance of his sufferings in expiation for sin reminded Mary of her word to the angel. When she was told that she was to become the Mother of Him, Whom the fifty-third chapter of Isaias described as the "one struck by God and afflicted," she pronounced her second word: Fiat. "Be it done unto me according to thy word." Nothing matters in all the universe, except the doing of God's will, even though it brings a cross to a thief, and a sorrow to her at the foot of that Cross. Mary's Fiat was one of the great Fiats of the universe; one made light, another accepted the Father's Will in the Garden, and hers accepted a life of selfless fellowship with the Cross.
The Heart of Jesus and the Heart of Mary were made one on Calvary in this obedience to the Father's Will. Everyone in the world has a cross, but no two crosses are identical. Our Lord's was the Cross of Redemption for the sins of the world; Our Lady's was lifelong union with that Cross; and the thief's was the patience on a cross as the prelude to the crown. Our will is the only thing that is absolutely our own; hence it is the perfect offering we can make to God.
Our Lord's first word was to executioners, His second to sinners, and His third to His Mother and St. John. It is a word of salutation, and yet one which completely altered all human relations. He calls His Own Mother "Woman," and John her "son". "Woman, behold thy son." "Son, behold thy Mother." It was the command to all humanity who would follow Him to see His Mother as their own Mother. He had given up everything else; now He would give her up, as well; but of course He would find her again, Mothering His Mystical Body.
Mary's third word, too, was a salutation. We do not know exactly what she said except that she saluted and greeted her cousin Elizabeth. In this scene, too, there was another John John the Baptist and even he proclaimed Mary as his mother. With John leaping with joy within her body, Elizabeth spoke for him and addressed Mary as the "Mother of God." Two unborn children established a relationship before either was born. As Jesus on the Cross pronounced His Word, Mary was thinking of hers. In the Visitation she was bringing Christ's influence before He was born, because she was destined at the Cross to be the mother of all who would be born. His birth cost her no sorrow, but this birth of John and the millions of us at the foot of the Cross brought her such agony as to merit her the title "Queen of Martyrs." It cost Jesus His Mother to make her our mother; it cost Mary her Divine Son to make us her sons. It was a poor exchange, but she believes it worth it.
The fourth word of Mary was her Magnificat, and the fourth word of Our Lord was taken from Psalm Twenty-one, which begins with sadness "My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken Me?" but ends with somewhat the same note as the Song of Mary "The poor shall eat and be filled; all the ends of the earth shall remember and adore in His sight." Both songs were spoken before there was assurance of victory. How hopeless from a human point of view, for a woman to look down the corridors of time and prophesy that "all generations would call me blessed." How hopeless, from a human point of view, was the prospect of Our Lord, now crying out to His Father in darkness, of ever exercising dominion over the earth that now rejected Him. To both Jesus and Mary, there are treasures in darkness - one in the darkness of a woman, the other in the darkness of a hill. Only those who walk in darkness ever see the stars.
The fifth word of Mary was pronounced at the end of a quest: "My Son! Why have you treated us so? Think what anguish of mind your father and I have endured searching for you." Mary's fifth word was that of creatures in the quest of God. Our Lord's fifth word was that of the Creator, in the quest of man: "I thirst." This was not a thirst for earthly waters, but a thirst for souls. Mary's word sums up the aspiration of every soul toward Christ, and His Words sum up her Divine Son's affection toward every soul. There is only one thing in the world that can prevent each finding the other, and that is the human will. We must will to find God; otherwise He will always seem to be the Hidden God.
Mary's sixth word was a simple prayer: "They have no wine"; words which prompted Our Lord to work His first miracle, and begin His royal road to the Cross. After Our Lord on the Cross had tasted the wine given to Him by the soldier, He said: "It is finished." That "Hour" which Mary began at Cana when He changed water into wine, is now finished as the wine of His Life is changed into the blood of sacrifice. At Cana, Mary sent Her Son to the Cross; on Calvary, Her Son now declares He has finished His work of Redemption. Mary's Immaculate Heart was the living Altar Stone on which the Sacred Heart is offered; Mary knew that the sons of men could never be saved without offering the Son of God!
Mary's last recorded word in Scripture is abandonment to the Will of God: "Do whatever He tells you." (John 2:5) At the Transfiguration the Heavenly Father spoke, saying: "This is My beloved Son. Listen to Him" Now Mary speaks His valedictory, "Do His Will" The last word of Jesus on the Cross was the free surrender of His Life to His Father's Will: "Father, into thy Hands I commend My Spirit." Mary surrenders to Jesus, and Jesus to His Father. To do God's Will until death, that is the inner heart of all holiness. And here Jesus teaches us how to die, for if He would have His Mother with Him in the hour of His great surrender, then how shall we dare to miss saying daily: "Pray for us sinners, now, and at the hour of our death. Amen"?
SIXTH THRUST OF THE SWORD
Our Blessed Lord bows His Head and dies, Certain planets only after a long time complete their orbit and then go back again to their starting point, as if to salute Him, Who sent them on their way. He, Who came from the Father, returns again to the Father with the last words: "Father, into Thy hands I commend My Spirit." A double investigation is ordered to prove that He is dead. A sergeant in the Roman army then takes a spear and runs it into the side of Our Lord. He, Who had stored up a few testimonies of His Love, now pours them out from His side as blood and water - blood, the price of our redemption, water, which is the symbol of our regeneration.
Christ, Who is the Sword of His own death, continues the thrusts even after His death, by making Longinus the instrument for opening the treasures of His Sacred Heart, which becomes the new Ark into which souls to be saved from the flood and deluge of sin might enter. But, as the one edge opened the treasures of His Heart, the other edge went through Mary's soul. Simeon had foretold that a sword her own soul would pierce; this time it came through the riven side of Her Son. Literally in His case, metaphorically in hers, it was a piercing of two hearts with one sword. It is this simultaneity of thrusts, this transfixion of His Heart and her own soul, which unites us in adoration of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and in veneration of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Persons are never so much united in joy as they are in sorrow. Pleasures of the flesh unite, but always with a tinge of egotism, because the ego is put in the "you" of the other person, to find there delight in its ravishments. But in tears and sorrow, the ego is killed before it goes into the "you," and one wills nothing but the good of the other. In these successions of thrusts, Jesus grieves for His Mother, who must suffer so much because of Him; Mary grieves for her Son, caring not what happens to herself. The more consolation one has from creatures, the less one has from God. Few there are who can console. In fact, no one can console except the departed. No human can relieve the loneliness of Mary. Only her Divine Son can do that. In order that mothers who lose sons in battlefields and spouses who lose spouses amidst the joys of love might not be without consolation, Our Lord here becomes the bereaved, as He makes Mary their consolation and their model. No one again can ever say: "God does not know the agony of a deathbed; God does not know the bitterness of my tears." This sixth sorrow teaches the lesson that, in such sadness, God alone can give consolation.
After the rebellion against God in Paradise through the abuse of human freedom, Adam one day stumbled across the body of his son, Abel. Carrying it back to Eve, he laid it on her lap. She spoke, but Abel answered not. He had never been that way before. They lifted his arms, but they fell limp at his side. Then they remembered: "The day that you shall eat the fruit of that tree, on that day you shall die the death." It was the first death in the world.
The cycle of time whirls, and the new Abel, slain by the jealous race of Cain, is taken down from the Cross and laid in the lap of the new Eve, Mary. To a mother, a son never grows up. For the moment, Mary must have thought that Bethlehem had come back again, for here was her Boy once more on her lap. There, too, was another Joseph - but this time the Joseph of Arimathea. There were also the spices and myrrh for burial, now so redolent of the gift that the Magi brought at His Birth. What a portent of death was that third gift of the Wise Men! A child is no sooner born than the world suggests His death, and yet with justice, for He was the only one who ever came into this world to die. Everyone else came into it to live. Death was the goal of His Life, the goal that He was always seeking.
But Mary, this is not Bethlehem; this is Calvary. He is not white as He came from the Father, but red as He came from us. In the crib He was as a chalice of the offertory, full of the red wine of life. Now, at the foot of the Cross, His Body is as a chalice drained of the drops of blood for the redemption of mankind. There was no room in the inn at His Birth; there is no room in the inn for His death. "The Son of Man has nowhere to lay His Head" except in the arms of His Mother.
When Our Lord told His parables of Mercy, and in particular the parable about the Prodigal Son, we hear only about the kind father of the prodigal son. Why is the Gospel so silent about the mother of the prodigal son? I believe the answer is in this sorrow of Our Mother. He is the true prodigal son; She is the mother of the Divine Prodigal Who left His Father's heavenly house to go into a foreign land - this earth of ours. He "wasted His substance," spent His body and blood, that we might recover our heirship with Heaven. And now He has fallen among citizens of a country foreign to His Father's Will and been herded with the swine of sinners. He prepares to return to the Father's house. On the roadway of Calvary, the Mother of the prodigal son meets Him. In that hour she became the mother of all the prodigal sons of the world, anointing them with the spices of intercession and preparing them for that day, not too far off, when life and resurrection will flow through their veins as they walk on the wings of the morning.
SEVENTH THRUST OF THE SWORD
There can be no more sorrows after the Resurrection when death will be swallowed up in victory. But until the bursting of the bonds of dust, there was still one great sorrow that Jesus had to will and Mary accept, in order that those who bury their loved ones would never be without hope and consolation. Our Lord ran the sword of burial into His own Heart, inasmuch as He willed that man should never have a penalty for sin which He Himself did not bear. As Jonah was in the belly of the whale for three days, so would He be in the belly of the earth for three days. The Apostles' Creed puts so much store upon the bereavement that it mentions the fact that Our Lord was "buried."
But Our Lord did not pierce His own soul with the penalty of burial, without at the same time thrusting that grief into Mary's soul. When it happens, the earth is dark, for the sun was ashamed to shed its light on the crime of Deicide. The earth also shook and the graves gave up their dead. In that cataclysm of nature, Mary prepares the Body of her Divine Son for burial. Eden has come back again as Mary plants in the earth the Tree of Life which will bloom within three days.
All the fatherless, motherless, sonless, husbandless, and wifeless griefs, that ever tore at the hearts of human beings, were now bearing down on the soul of Mary. The most any human being ever lost in a bereavement was a creature, but Mary was burying the Son of God. It is hard to lose a son or a daughter, but it is harder to bury Christ. To be motherless is a tragedy, but to be Christless is hell. In real love, two hearts do not meet in sweet slavery to one another; rather there is the melting of two hearts into one. When death comes, there is not just a separation of two hearts, but rather the rending of the one heart. This was particularly true of Jesus and Mary. As Adam and Eve fell through the pleasure of eating one apple, so Jesus and Mary were united in the pleasure of eating the fruit of the Father's Will. At such moments, there is not loneliness, but desolation not the outward desolation such as came through the three days' loss, but an inner desolation which is probably so deep as to be beyond the expression of tears. Some joys are so intense that they provoke not even a smile; so there are some griefs which never create a tear. Mary's sorrow at the burial of Our Lord was probably of that kind. If she could have wept, it would have been a release from the tension; but here the only tears were red, in the hidden garden of her heart! One cannot think of any sorrow after this; it was the last of the sacraments of grief. The Divine Sword could will no other thrusts beyond this, either for Himself or for her. It had run into two hearts up to the very hilt, and when that happens, one is beyond all human consolations. In the former sorrow, at least there was the consolation of the Body; now even that is gone. Calvary was like the bleak silence of a church on Good Friday when the Blessed Sacrament has been removed. One can merely stand guard at a tomb.
In a short time the Sword will be pulled out, for the Resurrection is the healing of the wounds. On Easter Day the Saviour will bear the scars of His Passion to prove that love is stronger than death. But will not Mary bear also the hidden scar of the Seven Thrusts of the Sword in her own soul? The Resurrection will be the sheathing of the sword for both, as the debt of sin is paid and man is redeemed. No one can tell the griefs that either bore, and no one can tell the holiness that she achieved through sharing, as much as she could as a creature, in the act of His Redemption. From that day on God will permit sorrows, griefs, and sorrows to His Christians, but they will only be pinpricks of the Sword compared to what He suffered and Mary endured. The Sword that Christ ran into His Own Heart and Mary's soul has become so blunted by the pressings that it can never wound so fiercely again. When the Sword does come we must, as Mary, see "the shade of His Hand outstretched caressingly." (Francis Thompson, "The Hound of Heaven".)