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Seasonal Reflection

MARY AT THE FOOT OF THE CROSS
by Ted Keating, SM, adapted from an essay by Peter Allan, SM*

Marist founder Jean Claude Colin talked and wrote a great deal about the inspiration for the Society in Mary’s commitment to be with the Church in these times as she had been with the newborn Church. 

He spoke much of our seeking to be like Mary in the midst of the Apostles at Pentecost, so many assumed that Colin was likely speaking about those sunny moments of the new Church empowered by the Spirit and ready to go off and bring Christ to the world with enthusiasm and joy.

But an equally important moment for Colin was Mary at the Foot of the Cross with John, now becoming Mother and Son to one another.  Then in the Gospel of John, the centurion pierces the side of Jesus and "water and blood" flow from His side, symbolizing in the Gospel of John, the birth of the Church in Baptism (the water) and Eucharist (the blood).  This theme is taken up by a whole history of writers, especially in the ancient Church, who see that moment as the birth of the Church under the patronage of Mary, Mother of the Church and our Mother.  This was a central theme of the view of Mary by Vatican II in the document on the Church, Mary Mother of the Church. [Chapter 8 in Constitution on the Church.]

Here the Church is born as Jesus' side is pierced and as Mary's heart is pierced with agony as the prophet Simeon had predicted in Jesus’ infancy.  Mary is present at the Church at its birth and mothers it into being as she had mothered Jesus so many years before.  And she also mothers John and all of us into this communion we call Church.  Having been overshadowed by the Spirit in her conception and in the annunciation, she is now the very presence of the Spirit to us.

The Pietà at Marist College
The Pietà At Marist College
The truth is that Marists take seriously this original inspiration of the Society and seek to imitate Mary by being present wherever the Church is being born – where the Word of God is being proclaimed and heard even when it is inconceivable, where the Gospel is being witnessed to in the midst of tragedy, where the Church is trying to emerge in the midst of poverty and oppression, where human suffering would try to make the reality of the Church incomprehensible.  The Marist is also faithful to his calling when he stands at the foot of the cross with Mary contemplating the unthinkable occurring to the Innocence of God come among us in her Son, violently crucified by the civil and religious authorities with the crowds jeering; all for having come among us as the love of God.

In Jesus' final flow of water and blood, the Sacraments are being born; Church is coming into being; and we are with Mary seeking to do Mary's work, now as one of her own.

La Vierge de Miséricorde by Jean Miralhet Chapelle de la Miséricorde, Nice, France 
La Vierge de Miséricorde by Jean Miralhet Chapelle de la Miséricorde, Nice, France

This is a darker, but often more realistic, reflection on our Marist calling in so troubled a world as ours.  It is no wonder that our Founder asked us to spend time each Friday afternoon of our lives contemplating the crucifixion of Jesus.  And what it means about who we are, how we see the world, what we are called to be in its midst.  We have no trouble taking suffering seriously in those we encounter.  We know what creative suffering can do when brought to Christ in the power of His Resurrection rather than projected outwards in blind violence and retribution.  Mary will be there still in the Upper Room, but it will be no wonder why her presence is so powerful there.  No one knows the world’s suffering better.  No one takes it more seriously.  She never forgot it in the midst of Easter joy and we are called to make her the model for our own Easter faith as Marists, ready to be with her wherever the Church is being born – Calvary or the Pentecost explosion of joy and peace.  She is truly the Mother of Sorrows as she has been so much represented among the world’s poor and forgotten.

Mary continues to mother the Church into being "even in these faithless times" to use the language of the Founder.  But the world's faithlessness is no match for the power of God's hope, God's compassion, God's peace.  Mary seeks to bring the world's suffering into her "embrace of all."  We don't have to be Pollyannish to be Marists.  We can live at peace in the midst of the world – "just the way it is."

* Adapted from an essay by English Marist Peter Allen.  Peter, who died in 2005, suffered many years with an illness similar to Lou Gehrig's disease.  It is an extraordinarily creative use of Marist images and sources to understand the meaning of suffering as a Marist.  Perhaps only Peter could have written this profound essay.

 

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In Jesus' final flow
of water and blood,
the Sacraments
are being born;
Church is coming
into being;
and we are
with Mary
seeking to do
Mary's work,
now as one
of her own.

 

 

This 13th-century hymn, one of the most powerful and immediate of extant medieval poems, meditates on the suffering of Mary during Christ’s crucifixion.

The Seven Sorrows of Mary Stabat Mater Dolorosa, Liber Usualis p. 1634.  Latin lyrics sung by the Benedictine Monks of the Abbey of Saint Maurice et Saint Maur de Clervaux

The Seven Sorrows of Mary
Stabat Mater Dolorosa, Liber Usualis p. 1634.

Latin lyrics sung by the Benedictine Monks of the Abbey of Saint Maurice et Saint Maur de Clervaux

 

Marist Anniversary Cross

In 2013 the Society of Mary in the U.S. celebrated its 150th anniversary of arrival in the United States.  At their annual retreat each Marist received a special "anniversary cross" presented at the special Eucharist.  The pendant crucifix is an image of Mary at the foot of the Cross...

Mary's presence in the mystery of Christ and of the Church on earth.

 

 

 

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