On Good Friday afternoon, Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, preached the Tre Ore Ceremony of the Seven Last Words of Christ in St. James Cathedral in Seattle, Washington. Below is the third reflection based on John 19:25?27 : “Woman, behold your son... behold your mother.”
Third Word:“Woman, behold your son... behold your mother.”Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold your Son.”Then he said to the disciple, “Behold your mother.”And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.John 19:25-27
According to the evangelist John, there are five people at the foot of the cross, of whom the most prominent are the mother of Jesus and the beloved disciple, two figures whose names are never given. These two people are historical figures but it is clear that John is interested in them for symbolic and theological reasons. This beloved disciple who is venerated by John's community more than any disciple of Jesus, even Peter, leader of the twelve, is left nameless, because he is to serve as a model for all those whom Jesus loves.
John is particularly interested in Jesus' words to his Mother and to the beloved disciple. Is Jesus' filial concern the main theme of this profound moment in the Fourth Gospel? Are we dealing with a historical and logistical question pertaining to the immediate departure of both the beloved disciple and the Mother from Calvary even before Jesus died? Should we understand, “and from that hour” to mean that Jesus died on the cross with not one of his own with Him at the last moment? Or should we understand the expression, "and from that hour" as an indication of the perpetuity of the disciple's care for the Mother of Jesus? Why is the Mother only referred to as “woman”? Can we assume that she was well known among Christians and would not have to be named? Finally, why did Jesus wait until the last moment, when He could hardly speak, to provide for the future of his Mother and her care by his best friend?
The precise meaning of this incident is difficult to determine. At Calvary, the mother of the Lord experienced the full responsibility of her "yes" spoken to an angel in Nazareth years before. Before He dies, Jesus commits his beloved disciple to his Mother’s care and his Mother to that disciple’s care. “Behold your son!” “Behold your Mother!” In his last moments on earth, Jesus is concerned, not with his own condition, but with the accomplishment of his mission and with the welfare of those He leaves behind. Mary’s spiritual maternity begins at the foot of the cross. In the disciple who has been entrusted to her, Mary not only sees a dear friend of her son, but all disciples of Jesus who have now become her children in a radically new way. This new People of God is really the Church, and Mary is the Church in her maternal role of welcoming God's word and God's people as her own.
The Beloved Disciple welcomed the Mother of Jesus among his own, into his own community, into his most precious possessions, because He was able to recognize in this woman her great dignity in the community of believers and in the story of salvation. He not only welcomed her as Mother, but she welcomed him as son. This beloved disciple therefore became a true brother of the one hanging on the cross.
Throughout the Scriptures, there are four distinct images of the Communion of Saints, of Holy Men and Women. The first group is found at Bethany, in the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus [Luke 10:38-42; John 11:1-6; 12:1-8] and represents the smallest, most intimate form of communion: a group of friends who lived in a friendly and loving environment and didn't need to defend themselves from others. They mutually accepted and loved one another. Jesus cherished his time with them and the two sisters are deeply grateful to the Lord for raising their brother Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus, in his turn, brings many to admire Jesus.
The second group of ''Holy men and women'' is the larger group made up of many Jews who run to see Jesus and Lazarus [John 11:26,42; 11:45-48; 12:9-11]. Such a group is a very imperfect communion of saints. Perhaps they come together for cultural or religious interests. They sincerely desire to be together but they do so with such little faith. Many are part of such a group out of curiosity.
I cannot help but think here of the many Christians today who are deeply caught up in the sensational, in the signs and wonders, in apparitions and heavenly manifestations of Mary, of her Son, while at the same time forgetting that Christianity is best lived in the daily act of faith and service to the poor. They have not yet been able to recognize the presence of God within our history, and constantly seek him through the spectacular, through other world manifestations.
The third group of ''Communion of Saints'' is that of the great multitude of men and women who sing the praises of the Lord [John 12:9-15; 9:1-16; Revelation 7:4-12]. This is the group that welcomed Jesus triumphantly into Jerusalem and celebrated the presence of the Anointed One in their midst. The people hailed Jesus in a manner befitting a king. But he wasn't deceived by them. As he listened to their shouts, in many of them he heard the sounds of opportunism that later would be demanding his crucifixion. Palm Sunday's triumphal procession leads directly to Golgotha.
Did you ever stop to wonder how many members of such a group who sang “Hosanna'' one day, screamed ''Crucify him'' several days later? Though the Palm Sunday group is triumphal, its members may not all have the same clear agenda, the same goals and desires for the community of believers. Nevertheless they are able to celebrate and rejoice together. Even such unholy jubilation can foreshadow redemption later on!
John also presents us with a "corrected" image of the large group in the Book of Revelation. We hear about a multitude so large that ''no one was able to count their number'' and that they sang the hymn of the Lamb who was slain [Rev 7:9]. These three groups presented in chapter 12 of John's Gospel and the Book of Revelation are representative of the Church at different moments of her journey. They are all valid images, but not perfect.
This small seed group of the Communion of Saints is found in this scene at the foot of the cross in the Fourth Gospel: the crucified Jesus, Mary, John, standing near the cross. It is the first real communion of holy people gathered around holy things: the cross of Jesus and the Holy Spirit realize the Communion of Saints in its fullest sense. This small group gathered at the Cross must always be understood together with the immense Messianic people. And Mary is always with us, either at the beginning of the little seed or in the moment of celebration of the great people.
This is the story of Holy Week: a story of human communities welcoming the Lord and Savior into their midst; a story of humanity and warmth, comfort and consolation in the midst of death, watching and waiting, hoping and praying, dying and rising, mercy and tenderness. How often do we strip our churches and structures of humanity, warmth and kindness because we fear these gestures and are afraid of one another. We allow ourselves to get caught up with perfection and heartless professionalism, details and rubrics, rather than with real human beings with all their weaknesses and inconsistencies. We forget that the very origin of the Church was Calvary, a true conception and birth in interpersonal communion, mutual acceptance, compassion and consolation which hold the community together. Nailed to the cross, Jesus is the revolutionary of kindness, tenderness, compassion, consolation, forgiveness and care for others. He is our “pontifex” to the heart of God.
Three years ago in the Sistine Chapel, another revolutionary was elected to follow in Jesus’ and Peter’s footsteps. The Cardinals of the Church chose the Cardinal Archbishop of a South American country, often considered to be at the ends of the earth, to lead the universal Church. There are those who delight in describing the new Pope as a bold, brazen revolutionary sent to rock the boat. Others think he has caused a massive shipwreck. But the only revolution that Pope Francis has inaugurated for the world is a revolution of tenderness, the very words he used in his Apostolic Exhortation on "The Joy of the Gospel." [Evangelii Gaudium #88]
“…For just as some people want a purely spiritual Christ, without flesh and without the cross, they also want their interpersonal relationships provided by sophisticated equipment, by screens and systems which can be turned on and off on command. Meanwhile, the Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk of a face-to-face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us, with their pain and their pleas, with their joy which infects us in our close and continuous interaction. True faith in the incarnate Son of God is inseparable from self-giving, from membership in the community, from service, from reconciliation with others. The Son of God, by becoming flesh, summoned us to the revolution of tenderness.” (#88)
Let us never forget that the community we call Church was born on Calvary, at Golgotha, a place of execution outside the gates of the City on a violent Friday afternoon over 2000 years ago. The whole poignant scene is built around this mutual welcoming, especially in the face of tragedy, despair and death. It causes us as a Church to ask about our own welcoming, our own acceptance of peoples, of strangers, of refugees, about our own humanity, compassion and quality of friendship that we manifest to one another and to the world.
Stabat Mater dolorosa iuxta Crucem lacrimosa dum pendebat Filius.At the Cross her station keeping, stood the mournful Mother weeping close to Jesus to the last.
This scene at the foot of the Cross teaches us what it means to live in communion with others. It is exactly this spirit which Pope Francis spoke of last evening as he washed the feet of refugees in Rome during the Mass of the Lord’s supper. The Bishop of Rome spoke of the communicative power of concrete actions, saying that gestures of fraternity, tenderness, concord and peace among peoples of different religious and cultural traditions who truly desire peace and resolve to live as brothers and sisters is a powerful witness to a world that is desperately in need of such signs and gestures. From the cross, Jesus turns us outward toward people to whom we are not physically related, identifying these people as our spiritual mothers, fathers, sisters or brothers. From the Cross, Jesus breaks down the barriers between people and creates this new family by the power that flows from his death for humanity. May we learn from the example of Jesus, the Beloved Disciple and the Mother of the Lord on Calvary, imitate their mutual welcome and become true brothers and sisters of the one hanging on the Cross.
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