"Everyone who belongs to the Truth hears my voice…" (John 18:37)

Mary at the Foot of the Cross: Seeing the Passion through a Mother’s Eyes

One of the hardest things to wrap our heads around as Christians is the nature of Jesus – fully human, yet fully divine. Like the Virgin Mary we often ponder: How can this be? Not that we doubt it’s possible, because God is God and we know that nothing is impossible for Him.1But our explanations somehow fall short, as if we lack the capacity, or the language, to fully describe this mystery of our faith.2

Mary, did you know?

Yet we also wonder about the Blessed Virgin Mary… At what point did she come to know that her Son was God and realize the implications of the angel’s words? How could this young woman – a mere girl, really – comprehend what was happening, the wondrous plan that God had in mind for her life? Scripture only tells us that she “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.”3

AnnunciationMuch of what is left unsaid can be gleaned from the events surrounding the young family, beginning in the earliest days. For instance, just after Jesus’ birth, when Mary and Joseph were forced to flee to Egypt for their safety, Mary must have understood something of her Son’s life – the magnitude of it. He was so dangerous, so threatening, that the king himself sought to have Him killed.

And then, at the prescribed time, when she and her husband Joseph took the child to the temple to present Him to the Lord, they encountered the prophet Simeon who spoke those mysterious and bone-chilling words: “This child is set for the fall and rising of many… and a sword will pierce through your own soul…”4 If nothing else, the prophet’s words revealed to Mary how she would “live her obedience of faith in suffering, at the side of the suffering Saviour, and that her motherhood [would] be mysterious and sorrowful.”5

Every Bit a Mother

gentle-womanBut we mustn’t assume it was all bad; being Jesus’ mother must have also been a source of unimaginable joy for Mary! During the years of His childhood, the Gospels say very little, but we can imagine the scene: Jesus playing on the kitchen floor, learning his alphabet, and bouncing on His mother’s knee. We can hear their conversations as the boy grew – His questions and curiosity, His devotion to prayer and the Torah, His sensitivity and insights. It was a time of peace and growth. Mary cared for her Son, answering His questions and doing all the things that every mother does for her child.

In many ways, Jesus must have seemed like any other Jewish boy of His day: a devout young man growing in wisdom and strength in the ordinary circumstances of family life. When the time came for Him to leave home and begin His ministry, Mary wasn’t far off. No doubt she saw Him teaching in the temple, heard of His miracles and signs, and witnessed His tender compassion for the sick and suffering. She was there at the wedding feast in Cana, in the Upper Room at the Last Supper, and by His side when Jesus began His journey to the Cross.

Mary was present and had an important place throughout Jesus’ life; we know she was there at the beginning – and at the end. Yet how did Mary see Jesus’ suffering and death? And what was her response?

Gentle Mother

As we well know, mothers are fiercely protective of their babies; it’s almost an instinct written into our nature – into our human nature. For instance, if a baby bird falls out of the nest and is found and handled, the mother will often give him up – abandon him for her own safety and self-preservation.

But we are built differently: God has made us higher than the angels, not mere animals. When a human mother senses that her baby is in trouble, self-preservation goes out the window! She will knowingly put herself in harm’s way to try to save her child. Why? Because we have a spark of the divine within us.

Had any of us been witnesses to the Passion, our reaction would have likely been horror, outage and disgust. Out of love for Jesus, we might have wanted to rush in and try to stop it, to yell and protest. But Mary did none of these things. She didn’t speak up when her Son was sentenced to death, or try to stop the guards when they arrested Him and had Him scourged. As Mary stood at the foot of the Cross, remembering the angel’s words, she must have wondered once again, How can this be?

Extraordinary Mother

Mary-beside-JesusBut this is where faith kicks in – that “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”6 “The same faith that Mary had at the birth of Her Son was the one She had at the Cross. It required much faith to have in Her arms that defenseless baby, and to put him in the manger and believe that He was the God-man. It also required much faith to see Her Son totally disfigured and defenseless on the Cross, waiting for him to be placed in Her arms, to then be put in the sepulcher. Her faith allowed Her to continue to believe that, regardless of what appeared to be, He was the God-man.”7

We walk by faith, but nonetheless we are still subject to all the emotions – all the joys and sorrows – that are a part of this life. Mary’s perfection might lead us to believe that she was less human, somehow immune to the same emotions we might feel. The reality was certainly quite the opposite: she was more human, more fully alive than we could ever imagine. No doubt it pained her immensely to see her Son suffer so much – unjustly accused, wrongly condemned, humiliated, scorned, disfigured beyond recognition, then put to death on the Cross. The heartache, anguish and pain she must have felt were no doubt very real. But Mary was never despaired – she never lost sight of God’s supernatural plan.

The most perfect of mothers, Mary would have undoubtedly taken His place, had it been asked of her. We see this in her ready “yes,” in her willing submission to God’s plan for her life. No, Mary didn’t know what would happen that day… She wasn’t somehow privy to God’s plan. But she trusted in it implicitly and was docile to it. Satan rules by fear, but true love “casts out all fear.”8

Accompanying Jesus and being accompanied

MaryAtFootOfCrossMary’s role in God’s plan of salvation was unique. Yet though free from sin, she still needed Jesus. For it was by this very same Sacrifice that she was saved – preserved from sin. Her extraordinary faith allowed her to walk beside her Son, accompanying Him to the Cross. “She trusted in the Word of God, independently from what she perceived with her eyes. She trusted that God is faithful and repeated her ‘be it done unto me according to thy word.’”9

Anytime we hold up Mary’s exceptional virtue we must never lose sight of the fact that this, too, is God’s grace at work. “In order for Mary to be able10 to give the free assent of her faith … it was necessary that she be wholly borne by God’s grace.”11 It was precisely because Mary united her will to God’s – because she allowed Him to accompany her on her journey – that she was able to accompany Jesus on His.

Consoling Mother

marycomfortseve

“Virgin Mary Consoles Eve” – used with permission of the artist, Sr. Grace Remington, OCSO

United with God in perfect love, Mary is the perfect model and guide. Standing close to our Blessed Mother, we learn what it is to love and begin to see Jesus’ Cross, our own cross, and indeed, all human suffering in the right light.

When we see images of the crucifixion, with Mary and John clinging together at the foot of the Cross, we might believe at first that it was John who consoled Mary; yet more likely, it was the other way around. Mary is the new Eve – and because she is human, she understands what led Eve into sin. But because Mary allowed God to answer the question, “How can this be?” – instead of trying to answer that question herself – Mary became not only the consoler of John, but of Eve and the whole human race. She is our Blessed Mother, our Consoling Mother. Just as Jesus entrusted her to John, He entrusts her to each one of us.

Standing with Mary at the foot of the Cross, our lives aren’t cast in shadow; they bask in sunlight and glory! With eyes of faith, we begin to see and discover the ways of God and understand what it means to follow Him. With Mary, we can truly celebrate the Passion, not because it was a day of rejoicing, but because we can see beyond it – to a life of hope and promise.

– Kelley Holy

1 Cf. Luke 1:37

2 The mystery of the Incarnation has puzzled believers from the outset and was even a source of great misunderstanding in the early Church. The Catechism explains the many heresies that arose and the Church’s response, usually by means of convening a council to refute the false beliefs. See CCC 464-483 for more information.

3 Luke 2:19

4 Luke 2:34

5 Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater, 16.

6 Hebrews 11:1

7 Mother Adela Galindo, Foundress of SCTJM, the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary; Internet; accessed 8 March 2016; available from

http://www.piercedhearts.org/mother_adela/talks_adobe/mary_beloved_disciple_foot_cross.pdf.

8 1 John 4:18

9 Fr. Eduardo Robles-Gil LC, “Contemplating Mary at the Foot of the Cross;” Internet; accessed 10 March 2016; available from

http://www.regnumchristi.org/english/articulos/articulo.phtml?id=42392&se=359&ca=84&te=782.

10 emphasis mine

11 CCC, 490

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