Fr. Roger J. Landry
Retreat given at Sacred Heart Retreat House
“Renewal at the School of Mary”
November 7-9, 2003
John 19:23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. … Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
•Right after we have received Jesus’ benediction in the Most Blessed Sacrament, it would be beneficial for us to talk about Mary’s participation in that sacrifice that constitutes Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
•This is the one of the most important events in living her mystery of Christ, one of the most important lessons we’ll learn in her School.
•So we’re going to go the place from which most of the apostles fled. We are going to mount Calvary and stand by her, as she teaches us about the tremendous extent of her Son’s love and of her most intimate participation in the sufferings that her Son’s love found bearable for our sake.
•I’m going to break down this meditation into three parts:
◦First we are going to go with Mary to the foot of the Cross of her Son, where Christ finished what he started during the Last Supper, when he said, “this is my body … given for you” “this is … my blood… to be shed for you.
◦Next we’ll discuss Christ’s words to her and to us, “Woman, Behold your son!” “Behold your mother,” and the meaning of Mary’s maternity.
◦Finally we will show how Mary continues to participate in the Eucharistic life of her Son.
•We’re entering into this scene with Mary slightly out of chronological order. I do this for two reasons:
◦First, because I think it fits better right after our adoration of the Lord in the Eucharist.
◦Secondly, because in order to understand the wedding feast of Cana, which we will tackle tomorrow morning, we need to have a grasp of the link between Cana and the Cross.
II. Behold your sorrowful mother
•When Jesus mounted his pulpit for the last time, to preach his greatest homily ever — comprised of seven “words” and the most powerful body language ever witnessed — when the arms that were accustomed to wave as he spoke were spiked to wood, when the parched throat of the Word of God needed to be lubricated by gall, after he had given his body over to the Cross, his blood to the ground and was about to give his soul to his Eternal Father, Jesus’s love for us still wasn’t finished.
•He looked down from the Cross and he saw his Mother and his Beloved Disciple. We know that this was St. John, but St. John himself, the author of the Gospel, used to refer to himself as the Beloved Disciple, because he wanted us to see ourselves in him, so beloved by the Lord that he would give everything to us. From the Cross, Jesus saw us, his beloved disciples, and gave us all he had left. He gave us what was most precious to him. He looked at his mother and said, “Woman, behold your Son!” And then he turned to his beloved disciple and said, “Behold your Mother!”
•This was his last will and testament, in which he made us heirs of so great a treasure.
•Tonight, after we have had several hours of adoring the Lord Jesus, he says to us again from the Cross, from the tabernacle, “Behold Your Mother!” And Jesus looks lovingly to her in heaven and says, “Behold your son and daughters.”
•This is perhaps the most poignant scene not just in the Bible but in human history.
•Simeon had prophesied more that thirty years prior that Jesus would be a sign of contradiction and that Mary’s own soul would be pierced. As Jesus hung upon that sign of contradiction, with nails through his nerves, Mary’s heart was being drilled by a jackhammer.
•Simeon’s words had cast new light on Gabriel’s announcement. They are like a second annunciation. Jesus, her Son, her Messiah-King, her Lord, would be a light of revelation to the nations, but his mission would be undertaken in misunderstanding and sorrow. It’s also an announcement that she will have to live her maternity and obedience of faith in suffering. From here, after the visit of the Magi, they had to flee into Egypt.
•She faithfully persevered in union with her Son unto the Cross. She endured with Him the intensity of his suffering and lovingly consented to the immolation of this victim which was born of her.
•Mary’s union was one of faith, that the Lord’s words to her would be fulfilled, against what she was seeing occur in front of her eyes. The Cross seemed like the negation of Gabriel’s words that he will be “great” and will receive the “throne of his father David.” This is where Mary’s faith in God’s unsearchable ways becomes great and heroic. (RM 18 )
•She who had had a union of blood with Jesus in the womb, now was united in his blood again at the Cross. Through faith she was perfectly united with Christ in his self-emptying unto death on the cross. (RM 18 ). Mary’s “kenosis” — her self-emptying — of faith is perhaps the deepest in human history.
•As she beheld the Son to whom she had given her flesh now pinned to the Cross and dripping the blood she had bequeathed to him, it is a miracle that she did not faint. There was no sorrow like her sorrow. Her tears could have formed the river flowing from the side of the temple that Ezekiel prophesied. It’s a miracle that she was able to stay awake. When Jesus said those words, “Behold your Son!” it was like a third annunciation. But in her immaculate heart, she was saying “fiat” to the second annunication given by Simeon and to the third given by Christ himself with the same obedient faith that she demonstrated in her first.
•Jesus had come from heaven to earth to found a new family, and he was going to do it through the salvific power of his passion, death and resurrection. He described what constituted that family when someone said that his mother and relatives were standing outside where Jesus was. Jesus responded, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” In every family, there is a Father and a mother. God the Eternal Father of the only begotten Son was that Father. For those who become members of the body of the Son, they become God’s own children. Moved by the Holy Spirit, they call out “Abba, Father!,” and “Our Father, who art in heaven!”But that family also needs a mother. And so he turns to his own, who had been faithful to him to the end. He turns to her who “heard the word of God and kept it,” and was hearing and keeping it right then before his eyes. Just as she by her yes in Nazareth three and a half decades earlier had become the mother of God by giving the Lord his human body, so she she would at the foot of the Cross would now become the mother of that Son’s mystical body.
•As we contemplate her and look at her heart, we see that she is a Mother with two sons, face to face, Jesus and us.
•Jesus turns to his mother and beckons her to love us as she loved him, with the same maternal, immaculate faithful love. She is given as mother to every single individual and all mankind. That mother who was faithful to her son until death will be faithful to us until death.
•Jesus called her “woman,” because, as we read in the book of Genesis, she was to be the “mother of all the living.” God had already put enmity between her, the woman, and the serpent, and in the formation of the new family of God as the new Eve was about to be born from pierced side of a sleeping New Adam, she, who had given that new Adam his human body, would become the model and exemplar of the Bride who will be one united in one flesh with him.
•Mary had laid her first born in the manger. Now she would gather all her subsequent children “according to the Spirit” under the Cross. She would teach them how to be faithful, she would teach them how to pray, she would teach them how to be receptive to the Holy Spirit, she would teach them to say “fiat!” She does this still.
•Standing beside Mary at the foot of the Cross was St. John, the day after his priestly ordination. Together they beheld the enormous sufferings Christ bore on that Cross. Not only did he receive for all of us the treasure of so great a mother, but he was showing each of us the secret of how to bear sufferings. When we witness extraordinary sufferings and grief from families who have just lost a newborn, who have suffered great violence, who live in unbelievable poverty, famine, war, hatred, malice, like so many of our contemporaries, we may too have our faith shaken, asking ourselves how a God who is Love can allow such suffering to happen. On those occasions, when we witness such difficult hardships, we’re called to stand aside the Blessed Mother at the foot of the Cross and behold Christ’s sufferings, and then understand the sufferings we witness within the context of the suffering and death of the Lord, which destroyed death and gave suffering meaning. We’re called to contemplate those sufferings in our heart, as Mary still contemplates them in her pierced one. Like St. John, we’re called to take her into our home and learn from her how to handle these sufferings with courage.
•St. Josemaria wrote, “When the apostles fled, and the enraged mob made themselves hoarse shouting angrily at Jesus, the Holy Virgin Mary followed close behind her Son through the streets of Jerusalem. She did not draw back when the crowd cried out, nor did she leave Our Redeemer alone when each person, anonymous in that crowd, was in his cowardice emboldened to ill-treat Christ. Call upon her with all your strength: Virgo fidelis!, Virgin most faithful!, and ask her that those of us who call ourselves God’s friends may truly be so at all times.”
•Commenting on St. John and what he learned from the Blessed Mother, the Holy Father said, “Behold your mother!” Accepting this testament of love, John opened his house to Mary, he welcomed her into his life, sharing with her a completely new spiritual closeness. The intimate bond with the Mother of the Lord will bring the “beloved disciple” to become the apostle of that love that he had come into contact with through the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”
•St. John, who wrote that Jesus, “having loved those who were his own in the world, loved them to the end,” who wrote “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins,” who wrote “God is love and he who abides in love abides in God,” learned this, as the Holy Father says, from the Blessed Mother. He became an apostle of that love by being the student at her school.
III. Mary’s Motherhood
•This discussion leads naturally to a reflection on the Motherhood of Mary, who is acclaimed by St. Elizabeth as “the mother of my Lord,” by the Gospels as the “mother of Jesus,” and by the Church as the “theotokos” or “Mother of God.”
•Her maternal role in Jesus’ life cannot be overstated.
•Because Jesus was 100% God and 100% man, though, as a man, he needed to go through basically everything we go through as human beings. He needed to learn the most human activities. He learned those from Mary and Joseph. She taught Jesus how to talk, how to pronounce the Aramaic he’d eventually speak, how to read and pronounce the Hebrew in prayers. Jesus learned how to speak to God according to his humanity through Mary. She taught him how to pray according to his humanity. She was the one who would get him ready for the Synagogue on Saturday as a young boy. She was the one who with Joseph would make the 60 mile walk up with him to the temple three times a year. She taught him how to put God first above things. Just as she was ready to say yes to God in all things from the tender age of 14 when Gabriel appeared to her, so Jesus, at the age of 12, was ready to be about his Father’s business, so prepared in the knowledge of the Scriptures according to his humanity that he was able to amaze the greatest experts of the law over a three day period with his questions. Jesus learned so many of his parables through her as well. It was from her and her cooking that he learned about the effects of salt, which he would then use to call us the salt of the world. It was from her that he learned you don’t sew old patches on new clothing. God the Father had chosen her not just to be the “bearer” or “incubator” of his eternal Son according to his human nature, but Mother. She was also chosen to raise him. Tonight we praise her for what a great job she did.
•But tonight we also reflect on the fact that Jesus gave her to us to raise us in the faith. Jesus is Mary’s only son, but her spiritual motherhood extends to all men whom indeed he came to save: “The Son whom she brought forth is he whom God placed as the first-born among many brethren, that is, the faithful in whose generation and formation she co-operates with a mother’s love.”(501)
•God “sent forth his Son, born of woman… so that we might receive adoption as sons.” First, adopted sons of the Father; but also “adopted sons” of the Mother. (cf. RM 7).
•Motherhood always establishes a unique and unrepeatable relationship between mother and child, even when there are many children. Each child is generated in a unique and unrepeatable way. The child’s development and coming to maturity as a human being is based upon this maternal love. (RM 45).
•The redeemer entrusts his mother to the disciple, and at the same time he gives her to him as his mother. Mary’s motherhood, which becomes man’s inheritance, is a gift, a gift which Christ himself makes personally to every individual. (RM 45). The disciple took her to his home. Entrusting himself to Mary in a filial way, the Christian welcomes Mary into everything that makes up his inner life, into his human and Christian “I.”
•This filial relationship, self-entrusting of a child to his mother, not only has its beginning in Christ but is definitively directed toward him. Mary continues to say, “Do whatever he tells you.” She continues to say, “fiat” herself and teaches us that language. Mary is the one who first “believed” and then acted on the word of God. She tries to raise her children to do the same. She leads them to the “unsearchable riches of Christ” and they recognize more and more their dignity and the meaning of their vocation. Christ fully reveals man to himself (RM 46).
•This relationship with Mary obviously didn’t cease when she was assumed into heaven, but was intensified. Taken up to heaven, Mary did not lay aside this saving role, but by her manifold acts of intercession continues to win for us gifts of eternal salvation.” With this character of “intercession,” first manifested at Cana in Galilee, Mary’s mediation continues in the history of the Church and the world. (RM 40).
•She cares for the brethren of her Son, who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties until they are led to their happy homeland.
•The same Mary who had given herself without reserve to the person and work of her Son, now gives herself to the Church he founded, with maternal self-giving and mediation. She intercedes for all her children and thereby cooperates in the saving work of her son. Her universal mediation shares, subordinately, in Christ’s universal mediation. (RM 40).
IIIb. Mary’s Motherhood and the Church
•And the Church learns from Mary how to be a mother.
•The Church learns her motherhood “contemplating Mary’s mysterious sanctity, imitating her charity, and faithfully fulfilling the Father’s will.” The Church, in receiving life of the Spirit, “generates”in sons and daughters the new life in Christ. (RM 43).
•The Church becomes a mother by accepting God’s word with fidelity, by remaining faithful to it even to the Cross. The Church remains faithful to preaching and baptism in which she bears children who are conceived of the HS and born of God (RM 43). St. Paul showed this “maternal” characteristic of the Church by saying” My little Children, I am in travail until Christ be formed in you!” (Gal 4:19).
•The Church, therefore, in her apostolic work too, rightly looks to her who gave birth to Christ, who was thus conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin, in order that through the Church he could be born and increase in the hearts of the faithful (LG 65).
•In her life the Virgin has been a model of that motherly love with which all who join in the Church’s apostolic mission for the regeneration of mankind should be animated (LG 65).
IIIc. Mary’s motherhood and human mothers
•The human mothers in the Church should also base their maternity on Mary’s.
•We see in the life of Mary that her chief role was to nourish Jesus, to teach him how to love in a human way, and to be receptive to God’s grace so that he, too, would say yes to God in all things. She was also always there for her child, accompanying him all the way to his death, even though it brought her great pain and her own heart was pierced seven times.
•The role of the mother is to nourish the child and teach the child how to love by her unconditional and constant love of the child, come what may. Most mothers do that pretty well. Very few kids grow up doubting whether their mothers really loved them, and most kids first learned about love from the love of their mothers. … But while most wives and mothers do so much well, many fail, again, in what is most important. The role of a mother is to spiritually breast-feed her children, who will learn the faith from them first before they are ever capable of learning it on their own.
•Some mothers I have met, though, sometimes seem more concerned on making their children look cute on the outside rather than beautiful and glorious on the inside, especially with their daughters. When a mother isn’t on fire for the faith, for passing on Jesus, for making her love for God contagious, it would almost take a miracle for the family to become holy. The family can become holy when the husband and father is unfaithful if the mother strives to become holy, but if the mother doesn’t put God first, the family almost never will. The mother is the conscience of the family. If there are any mothers here who haven’t been putting God first in their family, and haven’t been doing everything necessary to bring the members of the family to him, then this retreat is the time to make that the principal and most important resolution.
IV. Mary’s Motherhood and the Eucharist
•Mary’s motherhood is particularly noted and celebrated at the Sacred Banquet, the celebration of the mystery of Redemption, at which Christ becomes present. The piety of Christian people have always recognized a profound link. Mary guides the faithful to the Eucharist. (RM 44).
•This is the continuation of Mary’s being present at the foot of the Cross as she shared in her son’s passion and death, into which we enter through the Eucharist, as well as her becoming mother of all of us, who comprise her Son’s mystical body.
•JP II goes so far as to call Mary, the “woman of the Eucharist” (EE 53).
•He says that she can guide us toward this most holy sacrament, because she herself has a profound relationship with it. The Gospel, at first glance, is silent about this, because the Holy Thursday accounts do not mention Mary. But Mary surely was among the Eucharistic celebrations of the first Christians, who were devoted to “the breaking of bread” (Acts 2:42). (EE 53).
•But we can begin with Mary’s interior disposition. She’s a woman of the Eucharist in her whole life. The Church is called to imitate her relationship with this most holy mystery (EE 53). Mary’s habit of sheer abandonment to the Lord is a guide and support to us in understanding this mystery. We do whatever Jesus tells us, and he tells us “do this in memory of me!”. Mary’s example basically tells us, ““Do not waver; trust in the words of my Son. If he was able to change water into wine, he can also turn bread and wine into his body and blood, and through this mystery bestow on believers the living memorial of his passover, thus becoming the ‘bread of life’”. (EE 54).
•Mary lived her Eucharistic faith before the institution of the Eucharist, by offering her virginal womb for the Incarnation of God’s word. The Eucharist is a continuation of the incarnation. Mary’s fiat anticipates what happens in every believer who receives the Lord’s body and blood. (EE 55).
•The Pope says that there’s a profound analogy between Mary’s fiat and the Believer’s “amen” in receiving the body of the Lord. Both are acts of faith that God is present through the action of the HS. (EE 55)
•Mary became the first “tabernacle” in history in which the Son of God, still invisible to the human gaze, allowed himself to be adored by Elizabeth and John the Baptist, radiating his light through the eyes and voice of mary. (EE 55).
•Mary’s joy at contemplating the face of the newborn Christ and cradling him in her arms should become the love which inspires us when we receive Holy Communion. (EE 55).
•Through her life at Christ’s side and not just on Calvary, Mary made her own the sacrificial dimension of the Eucharist. We see this when she brought Jesus to the Temple to “present him to the Lord” and learned from Simeon that a sword would also pierce her heart. Her stabat mater was foreshadowed. In her daily preparation for Calvary, Mary experienced a kind of “anticipated Eucharist,” a “spiritual communion” of desire and oblation, which would culminate in her union with her Son in his passion, and then find expression after Easter by her partaking in the Eucharist which the Apostles celebrated as the memorial of that passion (EE 56).
•The Pope asks, “What must Mary have felt as she heard from the mouth of Peter, John, James and the other Apostles the words spoken at the Last Supper: “This is my body which is given for you” (Lk 22:19)?” That body given up and made present in the Eucharist was the body she concieved in her womb. In receiving the Eucharist, Mary was welcoming once more within her that heart which had beat in unison with hers and reliving the experience at the foot of the Cross. (EE 56).
•Mary is present at each celebration of the Eucharist with the Church as Mother of the Church. The Eucharist and Mary are inseparably united, which is why we always invoke her memory. (EE 57).
•We can re-read the Magnificat in a Eucharistic key. Both are foremost praise and thanksgiving. Mary praises God “through” Jesus but also “with” and “in” him. This is the true Eucharistic attitude. Mary recalls the wonders worked by God in slavation history in fidelity to his promise, which is what is done in the Mass. The Magnificat also reflects the eschatological tension of the Eucharist. Christ humbles himself to exalt the humble and feed the hungry with “good things.” The Magnificat expresses Mary’s spirituality, and there is nothing greater than this spirituality for helping us to experience the mystery of the Eucharist. The Eucharist has been given to us so that our life, like that of Mary, may become completely a Magnificat! (EE 58 ).
•Pope John Paul II says, “ From the Cross in the Mass, Christ says again, “Behold your mother!” and to each of us “Behold your Son!” Experiencing the memorial of Christ’s death in the Eucharist is to receive this gift of his mother. It also means enrolling in her school and allowing her to accompany us. (EE 57)
•To receive the gift of Christ’s mother, enroll in her school, and allow her to accompany us. Christ gives each of us this as our homework, starting now.