We began Holy Week with Palm Sunday, a day in which Jesus triumphantly entered into Jerusalem to throngs of people crying ‘Hosanna.’ They greeted Him as a king: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38) However, it did not take long after the hosannas were mere echoes for people to change their cries to “Crucify Him!” If we want to resist giving up in the face of this change of climate so as to remain steadfast on the journey through this harrowing week with Jesus, we need to find a way to do so. We are reminded of the need to participate fully, which is why we have vocal parts during the reading of the gospel on Palm Sunday and again on Good Friday. Truly, we must participate because if we were to only observe then we would be no more than spectators at a gruesome event, outside of the opportunity to truly be with Jesus. If we are to be compassionate, as true disciples, we need to go where many of the apostles seemingly could not. This is not easy, so my suggestion is that we go with the best companion we can find: let us enter into Holy Week with Mary, the mother of Jesus, who walked every step of the way of suffering with Him. She was always a merciful mother, but through this experience it became ingrained in every fiber of her being. Only a mother of mercy can guide us through this difficult journey if we are to enter in rather than to merely observe. We need her now, especially after the hosannas fade.
With the intimate connection of a mother to her Son, Mary endured suffering many times throughout the life of Jesus. One of these occasions was at the wedding in Cana when she helped Him know the time for beginning His ministry was at hand. She knew that the minute He worked a miracle there would be no turning back to the quiet, private existence they once shared; she now had to let Him go. Though Mary was among His followers, as many gospel passages attest, she stayed out of the public eye and continued to learn from Jesus. Her heart was fully engaged, but she let the will of God be done. She must have rejoiced with everyone who Jesus healed and set free, and she also must have felt His pain with every rejection and attack by His enemies. All mothers are sensitive to that which happens in the lives of their children and in Mary’s case it was no different, except that she would have her heart so broken open that she would enter into a passion that only one who has lost a child would know. Being there for the entirety of the events of Jesus’ Passion, death, and burial, she must have felt every agonizing step He took and every horrific blow He endured, right down to the moment the breath went out of Him as He died. Mary wept, but she kept saying ‘Yes’ to the plan of the Father, never interfering, but having mercy in tandem with her Son who said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” None of this would have been soothed by that fact that Mary had heard Jesus talk about rising on the third day, just as the apostles had heard; whether her faith allowed her to understand it completely is doubtful given that she was no more privy to what His talk of dying and rising meant than anyone else. But even if she had 100% understanding of what it meant that there would be a glorious rising on Easter morning it would have been no easier to watch what happened to Him along the Via Dolorosa. Her heart still broke, as any mother’s (or father’s) heart would have.
In reflection upon all that, then, we need to acknowledge that if we really want to walk the Via Dolorosa this Holy Week it would be most beneficial, albeit quite difficult, to walk it with Mary. If we are prepared to have our hearts broken so that they become more merciful and compassionate, we can choose to see what she saw and hear what she heard. However, as we begin this week with her it is important to remember that it is not Mary who we accompany, but rather it is Mary who accompanies us. She travels with us not because she needs our presence, but because we need her. Mary has a mother’s heart; as she accompanies her Son so will she walk with us as our mother, too. In walking the journey of the Passion of Jesus she will offer the support we need to enter into the enormity of Jesus’ agony as He wrestles with His humanity, fearful of the suffering and death He will endure because of our sins. She will be with us as we witness the suffering of her Son in the garden, and she will remain at our side as we watch Jesus’ friend Judas betray Him with a kiss. She will hold us up as our knees grow weak when we see Him scourged, crowned with thorns and spat upon. And she will trudge with us up the hill to the place of Golgotha, weeping with us at the foot of the cross as we watch our beloved Savior die. She will be with us when His body comes down from the cross and she will be there when they lay Him in the tomb. The pain of the mother cannot be fully known to us, because as horrible as all of it is to watch, her pain will always be deeper than ours. But Mary never gave in to the forcefulness of that pain, as much as it was trying to crush her heart. She wept, but she trusted God. She believed everything Jesus said; therefore she knew that somehow Jesus would be victorious in the end.
Mary‘s presence is important for us on this part of the journey because her ‘yes’ to God was complete from the very beginning. Her heart was already filled with mercy and trust. She participated in the greatest act of mercy and love ever given us by God whose gift was enabled by her ‘yes.’ She was ‘all in’ from the moment she uttered that ‘fiat’ and so at the moment the Passion began, her love and mercy only made the burden of motherly pain more acute. Yet Mary offers us the key to enduring the walk with the suffering Jesus: she knows how to be with Him in His agony without being swallowed up by it. She could do this because she knew that like Jesus, the only way to endure the pain is to enter into it. He had to go through death to bring us new life; there was no way around it, only through it. Therefore, had she been merely an observer, she could not have borne all that she experienced. But because she immersed herself rather than to shy from it, she was able to let the grace of God sustain her in what had to be the worst experience that anyone could ever have. Because she was always completely on the journey with Him, she knew that she would not be losing her Son. That was impossible.
Even though Jesus had the weight of our sin on His shoulders during the Passion, and even though His thoughts were on every one of us, the connection with His mother remained deeper than any other human connection. He knew she was there even when He could not see her. He never left her any more than she ever left Him. It is in this love, as demonstrated in the sharing between mother and Son, that the Passion became so intense for Jesus. He brought us all completely into His heart, not just our sins, and so we remain attached to the One who is saving us. Through love we are united to Him and to one another, and it is in this community of love that we are able to bear the pain. This is what families and friends do. We uphold one another through faith, hope, and love. And we learn with Mary that only by entering fully into His Passion are we able to enter fully into His resurrection. Mary, therefore, will help us as we proceed together through this week. Through her love for Jesus, and for us as her children, we can let her accompany us on this most intense part of the journey after the hosannas fade and the agony begins. Let us cling to Mary this Holy Week to see as with her eyes and love along with her breaking heart, relying on our own gifts of faith, hope, and love that we will be with her through to the end, and then to the beginning.
May we pray for the courage to complete the journey of Lent! May we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear so that every moment of Holy Week is a testament to love! May we cling to Mary in order to persevere on this most harrowing part of the journey! May we learn from the hearts of Jesus and Mary to love and forgive all those who try to do harm to our faith or who attempt to thwart our journey to the cross and to resurrection! May our love and care bolster one another if the journey becomes too difficult, especially for those who have lost so much and who suffer terribly! And may we continue to build community through keeping our eyes on Jesus, whose journey does not end on the Cross! Let us meet at the tomb, keeping vigil together in order to be awake to glory on Easter morning! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The first image is The Entry into Jerusalem by one of my favorite painters, Bl. Fra Angelico. The original is found in St. Mark’s in Florence, Italy.
Second is the newest icon by Fr. William Hart McNichols. It is called Mother of Mercy – Dedicated to Pope Francis in This Year of Mercy. This icon actually contains the joy shared between Mary and Jesus. I find it an appropriate reminder since on Ash Wednesday Lent was referred to as a joyous season. We should keep in mind that Lent only makes sense in the light of Easter. If you are interested in obtaining a copy you can find this icon by clicking here: http://fineartamerica.com/featured/mary-mother-of-mercy-dedicated-to-pope-francis-in-this-year-of-mercy-289-william-hart-mcnichols.html. It would make a lovely Easter card or gift. (Remember I do not receive any remuneration for endorsing the work of Fr. Bill. I simply enjoy sharing the wealth.) If you are interested in Fr. Bill’s comments on this icon click here: http://fineartamerica.com/blogs/mary-mother-of-mercy-dedicated-to-pope-francis-in-this-year-of-mercy.html Also, there is a symbolic similarity with the 4th image, so read on.
The third image is a painting called The Way to Calvary by Duccio di Buoninsegno.
Fourth is an image which is an unusual choice for me since I normally use photos, iconography, and Renaissance artists. This is a Madonna and Child by Henri Matisse which is on the wall of a chapel he built called Chapelle Du Rosaire in Provence, France. (1950) This painting came to me, literally: after I had finished the text for this post, I turned on the TV so I could view as I stretched my legs on the treadmill. A show was on the PBS channel about art in France. Just as I tuned in, the Chapelle was featured, along with this image. The narrator said, “If you look closely you will see that the Madonna is not holding onto the Child. He is free!” It was at that moment I knew I needed to include this image. The connection symbolically with the icon by Fr. Bill above, is that Mary is not holding onto Jesus in it, either. She has let go there, as well. I only realized that after I saw the Matisse and saw the similarity; though the position of the hands of Mary are in the praying position in the icon, she is not holding on to Jesus. ~ Ironically, Matisse was a non-believer. However, after he finished the chapel he replied to a friend who had teased him about it suggesting that he may have had a change of heart. It is hard to know, but nonetheless he did create a beautiful chapel. For more on Henri Matisse, click here: http://www.henri-matisse.net/biography.html
For more on the Chapelle Du Rosaire, click here: http://theculturetrip.com/europe/france/articles/matisse-s-masterpiece-vence-s-chapelle-du-rosaire/
Finally, is an image also created by Fr. William Hart McNichols called Variation on Our Lady of Sorrows. You can find it by clicking here: http://fineartamerica.com/featured/1-variation-on-our-lady-of-sorrows-236-william-hart-mcnichols.html. I chose this because of the lily, which is not quite ready for Easter yet, but is a reminder that we are getting closer through the Passion of Christ. If you are interested in Fr. Bill’s explanation of this image, click here: http://fineartamerica.com/blogs/variation-on-our-lady-of-sorrows.html
Heart Speaks to Heart