On a recent two-day adventure with the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius leading the format, in a silent weekend of wooded bliss, on top of a hill dominated by the love of our Dominican Sisters and their magnificent retreat house, I had tea with the Mother of God.
Mama Mary, as our family refers to her, was grieving. Her precious son, who she knew from the moment of his conception to be the Son of the Most High, which only she—the first Christian—had understood, had died.
Father W. had excused us after the seventh meditation to accompany the Blessed Mother after Jesus had been taken down from the cross, and before he had resurrected and left the tomb. Mama and I were sitting before a fire, tear-stained faces, and wrapped in mantles, hers, a deep, sorrowful blue. She knew, in her heart, that God’s great plan had come to fruition, and she had played a pinnacle part in it, as prepared from the beginning of time (CCC 489). She had been formed without blemish in her own mother’s womb (The Immaculate Conception CCC 491-92, 411), and thus knew her divine, grace-filled heart would do what it was formed to do, obey the All Mighty Lord. She still maintained free-will, and with it a true human identity; woman, daughter, wife, and mother.
She pondered these things in her heart. Her humanness wanted her to despair. Her child was gone. He was killed in the cruelest form imaginable. Tortured beyond recognition, without cause, he endured what must have been the worst form of pain, loneliness…abandonment. And to the point of sweating blood in the grave weight of the world’s sins, he was rejected and left to suffer on a cross.
What mother wouldn’t despair in such a scene? But Mama Mary was steadfast in her hope. She knew her God was at work, even in this seemingly impossible situation. I curled my arm around hers and put my head on her shoulder, and snuggled close. I so wanted to console her and yet, at the same time, had an ongoing need for her as my mother to comfort me as well. In our grief, we share the loss of someone, but often our human journey of grief is a lonely one, as we mourn the moments and memories that only we shared with the person we loved. But this was God…it humanly seemed as if God had abandoned us. The person of His son, was physically gone from us, closed into a tomb of rock. After being so powerfully among us, teaching, loving, instructing and guiding crowds of hungry souls, it seemed he had left us behind.
“You know one of my favorite moments with him?” I asked her. “I thought it was funny when he scolded Peter ‘Get behind me, Satan’ for telling Jesus not to speak of dying. (Giggle). That was funny. Jesus knew what he had to accomplish. And Peter! (snicker), Peter always trying SO hard to please him, he was always by his side, not comprehending why Jesus was instructing him to fish where he had already fished; come to Jesus on rough water, let Jesus wash his feet…he didn’t understand, but he really wanted to please Jesus. I really feel close to Peter. He and I are a lot alike; well-meaning, but not always getting it right!”
Mama was quiet. She sniffled and smiled. “Yes, dear Peter.” She continued, “I loved how my son was loving us all through our mistakes and even in our misguided understanding, our pale human wisdom; he molds us for Heaven. He lived to love us in our human weakness.” Another tear ran down her cheek, and her smile faded. “But to watch your son AND your God endure such cruelty at the hands of the very creatures he came to love…”
It was quiet for a moment while we tried to find breath for our next words.
“Unfathomable,” is the only utterance I could choke out in a whisper.
I got up and went over to the fire and checked the pot that now steamed from the boiling hot water. I got two cups and some small stems of dried Egyptian Chamomile, with its fragrant leaves, which had been lying in a palm basket next to the fire. I carefully broke up the stems and placed a fig in the bottom of each of the cups for flavor and sweetness, and poured the hot water into the cups.
When I returned to her, wrapping my fingers around the cup for warmth and carefully handing it to her, I reached for another comforting thought.
“How blessed is the peace you must have in the great depths of your heart. Whatever you endured, over the course of your whole life, you had the peace of GREAT and unprecedented OBEDIENCE to Our God (CCC 144, 494,511). I can’t imagine how pleased He must be with you. All people reach the end of their lives full of regrets. But you must not have a sense of regret. You knew when you prayed on everything you were supposed to do, called by Almighty God, you did so with complete love, trust and hope. If we all lived that way, I believe we would suffer no regrets at the end of our earthly lives. Obedience to Our Lord, is the way to the greatest peace on this earth I think.”
We sat together for a while. In her humble way, she was quiet and contemplative, pondering deeper the events of the past days. Her eyes downcast at her cup, glistening lashes softly leaning toward her cheeks. But there were no words to capture any of the wonder and mystery behind the love of the God-man that purchased salvation for all of history with His own life. The sorrow, the majesty, the miraculous…it was a moment in time that reaped consideration and grace for every age of human existence.