The Entombment of Jesus

Gotland-Dalhem_Kyrka_Glasmalerei_12I contemplate the entombment of Jesus, and what this meant to Mary, His Mother. Whenever I think of her, I try to stay clear of approaching her via the question “how would I feel?”, adding on a reflection that “she must have felt like me, only more”. This approach won’t work, because she was perfect, and I can never understand her by starting from myself. Her perfect nature is ‘higher’ than any other created person, and to understand her I cannot add on excellence to an imperfect being, such as myself, but have to start by affirming her excellence separated from my own, and then understand what it is not.

Note that one’s gaze on truth must be raised to the incomprehensible. These are the mysteries of the Most High Trinity, to which we are lifted up by contemplation in a two-fold manner: either by affirmation, or by negation [the apophatic method]. Augustine develops the first, Dionysius [the Areopagite], the second approach. [1]

To understand Mary, I have to, in a certain sense, apply analogy, because of her mysterious union with God. One could say that this is because God put so much of Himself in His Mother when He fashioned her, perfect and lovely.

God has lavished upon this loving associate of our Redeemer, privileges which reach such an exalted plane that, except for her, nothing created by God other than the human nature of Jesus Christ has ever reached this level. […] the great Suarez was professing in the field of Mariology the norm that ‘keeping in mind the standards of propriety, and when there is no contradiction or repugnance on the part of Scripture, the mysteries of grace which God has wrought in the Virgin must be measured, not by the ordinary laws, but by the divine omnipotence.’ [Suarez, In Tertiam Partem D. Thomae, q. 27, a. 2, disp. 3, sec. 5, n. 31] [2]

Mary’s perfection does not make her distant. She wants me to get to know her, and I cannot do this ‘from a distance’. Instead I must crawl up on her lap as her little child, and let her tell me about herself. This openness in prayer also allows her to open my eyes to myself. So, contrary to what one might think, accepting the reality of Mary’s elevated nature does not take her away from me, or make her distant and unapproachable. Rather, I will only get to know her, who she truly is, by sitting on her lap, intimately and attentively listening to her.

Sitting on Mary’s lap, then, and listening to her, I meditated on when she stood beneath the Cross, suffering and sharing in Jesus’ redemptive suffering with perfect faith, an unwavering faith. She saw Him die. The Sacrifice was finished. His body was taken down from the Cross. She was finally allowed to hold Him in her arms. This was the first stop for me.

Any ordinary mother desires to hold her child, press it close, and protect it from danger. But Mary must have felt something far beyond this. She had given her Son, the Son of God, out of pure love. She gave up her motherly right to Him. Her choice was clear and perfect, not muddled and ‘chancy’. She had a clear mind and a pure heart. When she offered her Son to the Father on the Cross, for the Salvation of humankind, she did it without a muddled mind or a heart torn by desperation and desires.

Offer your Son, sacrosanct virgin, and present the fruit of your womb to the Lord. For our reconciliation with all, offer the heavenly victim pleasing to God [3]

She made a perfect act of love! When she held Jesus in her arms again, as she had done when He was small, she could not have gone back on this and ‘taken Him back’ again. To take something back of this pure act of love, even on a miniscule scale, would hardly have been an honest and loving thing to do! When she held Him in her arms, she felt all the tenderness of a mother, far beyond anything any other woman could feel. She had not become insensitive to pain. Far from it! She felt it with heightened sensitivity because of her perfect nature. There are so many paths I can imagine an ordinary woman might take, and yet, Mary took none of them. She was perfect.

Mary’s suffering continued when Jesus’ body was prepared for burial. His body was bruised and broken and must have spoken to her feminine compassion in strength beyond description! Now she was finally allowed to carefully and lovingly take care of Him. The ordinary picture of a person in sorrow, who is consoled by the possibility of showing tenderness to a loved one, cannot capture the sentiments of Mary’s heart as she prepared Jesus’ body. She would not have looked for consolation, but was also at this moment living her fiat, her total self-sacrifice to God, and this in perfect love. She prepared His body for burial without taking anything for herself in so doing.

Mary’s maternal heart, open to all human misfortune, also reminds women that the development of the feminine personality calls for a commitment to charity. More sensitive to the values of the heart, woman shows a high capacity for personal self-giving. To all in our age who offer selfish models for affirming the feminine personality, the luminous and holy figure of the Lord’s Mother shows that authentic fulfillment of the divine plan for one’s own life is possible only by self-giving and self-forgetfulness. [4]

Shroud of TurinOn the Shroud of Turin it is clearly shown that the Man of the shroud had had His jaw tied up, to keep the stiffness after death from making Him gape. Mary, if she was the one to tie up His jaw, could give His disfigured face another proof of her love and veneration. She did this, or watched it be done, with all the love of earth.

In the Holy Spirit’s union with [Mary] not only does love join these two beings, but the first of the two [the Holy Spirit] is the entire love of the Holy Trinity, while the second [Mary] is the entire love of creation […]. [5]

That was my second stop. I could not go any further. I am amazed at her love, her faith, her hope. Her pain remains greater than what can be searched, ‘mapped,’ and yet her one and only response is fiat.

Notes:

[1] St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio, The Triple Way, English translation, commentary and notes by Fr. Peter Damian M. Fehlner, FI, Academy of the Immaculate, New Bedford, MA, (2012), p. 186.

[2] Pope Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus, Defining the dogma of the Assumption, November 1, 1950.

[3] St. Bernard (Serm. 3 in Purif., 2: PL183,370), as quoted by John Paul II in Theotokos: Woman, Mother, Disciple, A Catechesis on Mary, Mother of God, Pauline Books and Media, Boston, MA, (2000), p.26.

[4] John Paul II, Theotokos: Woman, Mother, Disciple, A Catechesis on Mary, Mother of God, Pauline Books and Media, Boston, MA, (2000), p. 47.

[5] St. Maximilian Kolbe (SK 1318), as quoted in The Kolbe Reader, compiled and edited by Fr. Anselm W. Romb, OFM Conv., Marytown Press, Libertyville, IL (2007), p. 212.
Advertisements

At Jesus’ Feet

 Gaddi_MagdaleneWashingFeetOfJesus

For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord

The small, forgotten child of God is always happy, radiates happiness, and lives in simple enjoyment of His Presence. I studied the saints of North America with my son, who’s in second grade, and we came across St. Andre Bessette 

After his vows [in the order of the Holy Cross Brothers], Brother Andre was sent to Notre Dame College in Montreal (a school for boys age seven to twelve) as a porter. There his responsibilities were to answer the door, to welcome guests, find the people they were visiting, wake up those in the school, and deliver mail. Brother Andre joked later, “At the end of my novitiate, my superiors showed me the door, and I stayed there for forty years.”

With the help of St. Joseph’s intercession, he built a shrine practically without any funding.Saint_André_Bessette

He was too sick to work; he couldn’t write or read; he had failed in practically everything before he came to the monastery. He was a desperate case, yet holy because of his unlimited trust in God.

It’s so easy to forget how miserable we are. Perhaps we’re thinking about our miseries, and probably we figure we don’t deserve them, and we wish for something better, but how often do we remember that we deserve misery, even the small annoyances?

When I do remember how miserable I am, how seldom I fulfill anything of what I ought to be and do, I get frightened (at first). But St. Teresa of Avila, when she thought of her own miserable self and how she had disappointed God for so many years simply by living a ‘surface’ life, she thought of Mary Magdalene, and she trusted that Jesus would not reject another Mary Magdalene at His feet, pleading for mercy.

And, isn’t that where we find peace? It is of course a very intimate place to lie at Jesus’ feet, because there is no question of what we are there – it is a sort of zero point, to actually lie like a worm on the ground. Yet, that place is the key to happiness, to simple, uncomplicated and genuine happiness. And, we know that this happiness is shared by the Church Triumphant in Heaven – when they discover yet another miserable Mary Magdalene at the feet of Jesus.