Meeting Jesus with the Cross
At all the horrors of the morning Mary is present. She hears the sound of the scourging, and sees Him at the pillar, and the people around Him sprinkled with His Blood. She hears the gentle murmurs, the almost inaudible bleatings, of her spotless Lamb; she hears them, and Omnipotence commands her still to live. In spirit — if not in bodily presence — she has seen the guards of Herod mock the Everlasting. She has beheld the ruffians in the guard-room celebrate the cruel coronation of the Almighty King. She has seen the eyes of the All-Seeing bandaged, and the off-scouring of the people daring to bend the knee in derision before Him who is one day to pronounce their endless doom. She has looked up to the steps of Pilate's hall, and has beheld — beautiful in His disfigurement — Him who was a worm and no man, so had they trodden Him under foot, and mangled Him, and turned Him almost out of human shape by their atrocities. She heard Pilate say, "Behold the Man;" and verily there was need that some one should testify that He was man, Who, if He had been only Man could never have survived the crushing of the winepress which the threefold pressure — of His Father, of demons, and of men — had inflicted upon Him. Then rose over the crowded piazza that wild yell of blasphemous rejection by His own people, which still rings in our ears, still echoes in history, still dwells even in that calm heaven above, in the Mother's ear who heard it in all the savage frightfulness of its reality. Now the Magdalen leads her home, whither John is to come with news of the sentence when it is passed.
St. John, at length, returns to the house with the news of the sentence, and other information. Our dearest Mother, broken-hearted, yet beaming as with Divine light in her tranquility, pre- pares to leave the house with Magdalen and the Apostle. The latter, by his knowledge of the city, will lead her to the end of a street, where she can meet Jesus on His road to Calvary. But has she strength for such a meeting? Not of her own; but she has as much strength to meet Him as He has to travel by that road. For she has Himself within her, the unconsumed species of the Blessed Sacrament. It is only with Jesus that we can any of us meet Jesus. It was so with her. Everywhere the streets are thronged with multitudes setting in one tide to Calvary. Mary draws her veil around her. John and the Magdalen lean their broken hearts on hers, for they are faint and sick. What a journey for a Mother! Some tears flow as if spontaneously from her eyes. But her cheeks are red? Yes, — her tears were blood. The procession comes in sight; the tall horse of the centurion shows first, and leads the way. The trumpet sounds with a wailing clangor. The women look from the lattices above. She sees the thieves, the crosses, everything, — and yet only one thing, Himself. As He draws nigh, the peace of her heart grows deeper. It could not help it; God was approaching, and peace went before Him. Never had maternal love sat on such a throne as that one in Mary's heart. The anguish was unutterable. God, who knows the number of the sands of the sea, knows it. Now Jesus has come up to her. He halts for a moment. He lifts the one hand that is free, and clears the blood from His eyes. Is it to see her? Rather, that she may see Him, His look of sadness, His look of love. She approaches to embrace Him. The soldiers thrust her rudely back. Oh, misery! And she is His Mother too! For a moment she reeled with the push, and then again was still, her eyes fixed on His, His eyes fixed on hers; such a link, such an embrace, such an outpouring of love, such an overflow of sorrow! Has he less strength than she? See! He staggers, is overweighed by the burden of the ponderous Cross, and falls with a dull dead sound upon the street, like the clank of falling wood. She sees it. The God of Heaven and earth is down. Men surround Him, like butchers round a fallen beast; they kick Him, beat Him, swear horrible oaths at Him, drag Him up again with cruel ferocity. It is His third fall. She sees it. He is her Babe of Bethlehem. She is helpless. She cannot get near. Omnipotence held her heart fast. In a peace far beyond man's understanding, she followed slowly on to Calvary, Magdalen and John beside themselves with grief, but feeling as if grace went out from her blue mantle enabling them also to live with broken hearts. But alas, we only see the outside of things.
Mary's woe is simply unimaginable. She would have died a thousand deaths to have made reparation. Ah, but, dearest Mother! thou must live, which to thee is worse far than death, and thy life must be thy reparation! All the evils which others find in death thou findest in life, and many more beside. To thee it would be as great a joy, as all thy seven dolors all together were a sorrow, if thou mightst not outlive three o'clock that Friday afternoon. But there is a bar between thee and death, — a whole omnipotence. So thou must be contented, as thou ever art, and envy the accepted thief, and for our sakes consent to live!
Surely the suffering of fear was never more intensely felt by any creature than it was by her on that Friday; and the many bitter chalices she had drunk during the preceding night and all that morning rendered her, in the ordinary course of things, less able to bear up against this violent assault of terror. Her fear was not so much for herself; it was for Him. Her fear, as well as her love, was in His Heart rather than in her own. The knowledge that He was God only deepened her terror. It was just that very thing which made the horror of the scene unsurpassed by any other the world had ever known, or ever could know again. The day of doom will be less terrible than Good Friday was. Nay, it is the fearfulness of Good Friday which will make the pomp of the last judgment so endurable, so calm, so full of reverent sweetness. O Mother! that day will pay thee back the terror of today; for thou wilt see thy Son in all the placid grandeur of His human glory, with those beaming Wounds illuminating the whole circle of the astonished earth, and thou wilt return from the valley of Josaphat with a family of other sons, that can be counted only by millions of millions, to be thine eternal possession in heaven, won for thee only by the dread mysteries of this great Friday!
The absence of the apostles was a keen aggravation of Mary's sorrow. It was a triple wound to her. It wounded her in her love of Jesus. She knew how deep the wound was which it made in His Sacred Heart. She saw how, far beyond the cruel scourging and the barbarous coronation, Her beloved was tormented by this cruel abandonment of Him by those whom He had loved beyond the rest of men. She could go near to fathoming the anguish which this was causing Him. Moreover, her own love of Him underwent a cruel martyrdom in seeing Him thus deserted, and by those whose very office should have taken them to Calvary, who should have been witnesses of His Crucifixion as well as of His Resurrection. There was something unexpected in it, although it was foreknown. So it always is with ingratitude.
It was a dreadful thing for a mother to walk the streets over her own Son's blood. It was fearful to have her own feet reddened by the Precious Blood, and the loss of Judas fresh in her afflicted soul. She saw the crimson track which Jesus had left behind. The multitude were mixing it up with the mud, which it tinged with a dull hue. It was on their shoes, and upon their garments. It went up the steps of their doorways. It splashed up the legs of the centurion's horse. No one cared for it: No heart was touched. Mary was adoring it at every step. There was not a spot tinged with that dull red, not a garment laid by that night in a clothes-press with those spots upon it, over which crowds of Angels were not stooping, and would remain to guard it till the moment of the Resurrection. Surely this is unutterable woe, over which the heart should spread itself in silence only.
The union in Mary of horror of sin with intense anguish because of the misfortune of sinners. She saw some who were handling our Lord or shouting after Him, in completest ignorance, without so much as a suspicion of the dreadful work in which they were engaged.
She is Mary. She is the Mother of God. She is herself. As the Hypostatic Union links Creator and creature literally together, so Mary, the divinely perfect, pure creature, is the neck which joins on the whole body of creatures to their Divine Incarnate Head. She has her own place in the system of creation, and her own meaning. She is like no one. No one is like her. What she is most like is the Incomprehensible Creator. Thus, of the three elements into which the idea of Mary resolves itself in our minds, the feminine element, the element of the Hypostatic Union, and the Divine element, it is this last which seems to control the rest, while all three are so inextricably commingled that we can detach none of them without injury to truth. There was yet another disposition of our Blessed Mother: so much sweetness, so much gentleness, so much patience, so much conformity, so much tender love of sinners, so much inexplicable outpouring of love upon Jesus, came from a grace which had its root so deep down and so high up in the mountain of God Himself!
We must also be prepared to find that one cross leads to another, and little crosses to great ones. For the most part crosses do not come single. They meet each other in our souls, as if it were at a given moment and on some previous understanding. Sometimes, especially after seasons of long tranquility and the apparent inaction of grace, we suddenly pass into a region of crosses, just as the earth traverses a region of shooting stars at certain periods of the year. Then crosses follow each other in rapid succession, now one at a time, now two together, now two or three at once, so that we can hardly stand upright. Some- times there is a storm of crosses driving right in our faces like vehement slanting hail, pelting so pitilessly that we can hardly make any way at all, or at least we have all the miserable feeling of making none. Sometimes they come upon us from behind, and if we are walking carelessly we stumble and fall; and, alas! who does not know that a fall with a cross on our shoulders, though it seems so much more pardonable, always hurts us far more grievously than a fall without one? It is the cruelest law of the spiritual life.
Some men have one lifelong cross to carry, and other crosses do not appear to be added to it. But even then it is much the same as if there were new crosses; for the burden is not equable. Sometimes the road is rougher; sometimes the day is hotter; sometimes we are ourselves unwell, and timorous, and weak; sometimes also the cross, by a sort of miracle, causelessly so far as we can judge, grows far heavier, and galls us as it never did before, and, the reason being hidden, the remedy is hidden also. This lifelong cross, even when most equable, and unaccompanied by other crosses, is the hardest of all trials to bear. There is so much mutability in our nature, that even a change of punishment from sharp to sharper is in effect a relaxation. The satisfaction of the change is a greater good to our humanity than the increased severity of the pain is an evil. The dreadful thing to nature is to be tied down to a persevering uniformity. It is in this that the secret heroism of vows resides. Who has not felt relief in illness, when the pain has changed from one limb to another? So is it, and still more, with the sufferings of the soul. He who carries one cross for years, and carries it to his grave, must either be one of God's hidden Saints, or must lie in low attainments as near to lukewarmness as is compatible with the salvation of his soul.
But sometimes the one lifelong cross remains always upon our shoulders, only as the abiding foundation of a very edifice of crosses, which God is forever building up, and pulling down, and building up again, upon the old enduring cross, without ever shifting that. There are some souls God seems always to be experimenting upon, and only experimenting, and experimenting to the last; but it is real work. This unites the two sufferings of monotony and change together. All the epochs of life are variously represented by the transitory heaps of crosses, while the abiding cross is the deep undertone of the whole of life. Such men walk the world, not merely as memorials to be wondered at, but as living fountains of devotion to all who see them. They are men of power; for it is to the secret intercessions of such souls that all spiritual renewals on the earth are owing. Not infrequently they carry for a while the whole Church upon the top of their cross. They are monuments of God's love; for in them we see in fullest revelation the grand truth, which is true also in its measure of the very lowest of ourselves, that the cross is never only a chastisement, but always a reward as well, and the plentifulness of God's love to each created soul is measured by the abundance of its crosses.
Jesus and Mary are both going one way: could it be any other way than the road to heaven? Yet the road they were traveling led over Calvary. Hence we infer that no one's face is toward heaven when it is not toward Calvary. In life, whether we know it or not, we are always traveling to a sorrow. The whole science and mystery of cross-bearing is the wisdom we learn from the picture while we gaze on Mary in the streets of the cruel Jerusalem. And shall we, who gave Him that heavy Cross to bear, and kept weighting it after we had given it, as if our cruelty were not satisfied, refuse to bear the sweet grace-giving crosses which He binds on us, so little too as, when we have borne them for a while, we are forced to confess they are? Oh, no! Let us do now as Mary did then, — look at Him Who is on the road before us, and see how the beauty of the Sacred Heart sits with meek majesty and attractive love on the woe-worn disfigured Countenance.
Taken from book by Father Frederick William Faber “At the foot of the Cross”