“THERE STOOD BY THE CROSS OF JESUS, HIS MOTHER.” (John xix. 25)
We have now to witness a new kind of Martyrdom –a Mother condemned to see an innocent Son, and One she loves with all the affection of her soul–cruelly tormented and put to death before her own eyes. There stood by the cross of Jesus his mother. St. John considered that in these words he had said enough of Mary’s Martyrdom. O all ye who pass by the way, attend and see if there be any sorrow like to my sorrow! (Lam. i. 12).
Consider Mary at the foot of the Cross of her dying Son, and then see if there be sorrow like to her sorrow. As soon as our agonizing Redeemer had reached the Mount of Calvary, the executioners stripped Him of His clothes, and piercing His hands and feet, not with sharp but with blunt nails, as St. Bernard says, to torment Him more, they fastened Him on the Cross. Having crucified Him, they planted the Cross, and thus left Him to die. The executioners left Him, but not so Mary. She then drew nearer to the Cross, to be present at His death: “I did not leave Him,” the Blessed Virgin said to St. Bridget, “but stood nearer to the Cross.”
But what did it avail thee, O Lady, says St. Bonaventure, to go to Calvary, and see this Son expire? Shame should have prevented thee; for His disgrace was thine, since thou wert His Mother. At least, horror of witnessing such a crime as the crucifixion of a God by His own creatures should have prevented thee from going there. But the same Saint answers: Ah, thy heart did not then think of its own sorrows, but of the sufferings and death of thy dear Son, and therefore thou wouldst thyself be present, at least to compassionate Him. A true Mother, says the Abbot William, a most loving Mother, whom not even the fear of death could separate from her beloved Son!
But, O God, what a cruel sight was it there to behold this Son in agony on the Cross, and at its foot this Mother in agony, suffering all the torments endured by her Son! Listen to the words in which Mary revealed to St. Bridget the sorrowful state in which she beheld her dying Son on the Cross: “My dear Jesus was breathless, exhausted, and in His last agony on the Cross; His eyes were sunk, half-closed, and lifeless; His lips hanging, and His mouth open; His cheeks hollow and drawn in; His face elongated, His nose sharp, His countenance sad; His head had fallen on His breast, His hair was black with blood, His stomach collapsed, His arms and legs stiff, and His whole body covered with wounds and blood.”
All these sufferings of Jesus were also those of Mary; “Every torture inflicted on the body of Jesus,” says St. Jerome, “was a wound in the heart of the Mother.”
Ah, Mother, the most sorrowful of all mothers, who can ever console thee? The thought that Jesus by His death conquered hell, opened Heaven–until then closed to men–and gained so many souls, can alone console thee. From that throne of the Cross He will reign in many hearts, which, conquered by His love, will serve Him with devotion. Disdain not, in the meantime, O my Mother, to keep me near thee, to weep with thee, since I have so much reason to weep for the crimes by which I have offended Jesus. Ah, Mother of Mercy, I hope, first, through the death of my Redeemer, and then through thy sorrows to obtain pardon and eternal salvation. Amen.
“Whoever was present on the Mount of Calvary,” says St. John Chrysostom, “might see two altars, on which two great Sacrifices were consummated; the one in the body of Jesus, the other in the heart of Mary.” Nay, better still may we say with St. Bonaventure, “there was but one altar–that of the Cross of the Son, on which, together with this Divine Lamb, the Victim, the Mother was also sacrificed.” Therefore the Saint asks this Mother: “O Lady, where standest thou? Near the Cross? Nay, rather, thou art on the Cross, crucified, sacrificing thyself with thy Son.” St. Augustine assures us of the same thing: “The Cross and Nails of the Son were also those of His Mother; with Christ crucified the Mother was also crucified.” Yes; for, as St. Bernard says, “Love inflicted on the heart of Mary the tortures caused by nails in the Body of Jesus.” So much so, that, as St. Bernardine writes, “At the same time that the Son sacrificed His Body, the Mother sacrificed her soul.”
Mothers ordinarily fly from the presence of their dying children; but when a mother is obliged to witness such a scene, she procures all possible relief for her child; she arranges his bed, that he may be more at ease; she administers consolation to him; and thus the poor mother soothes her own grief. Ah, most afflicted of all Mothers! O Mary, thou hadst to witness the agony of thy dying Jesus; but thou couldst administer Him no relief. Mary heard her Son exclaim, I thirst, but she could not give Him even a drop of water to refresh Him in that great thirst. She could only say, as St. Vincent Ferrer remarks: “My Son, I have only the water of tears.” She saw that on that bed of torture her Son, suspended by three nails, could find no repose; she would have clasped Him in her arms to give Him relief, or that at least He might there have expired; but she could not. “In vain,” says St. Bernard, “did she extend her arms; they sank back empty on her breast.” She beheld that poor Son Who in His sea of grief sought consolation, as it was foretold by the Prophet, but in vain: I have trodden the winepress alone… I looked about and there was none to help; I sought, and there was none to give aid. (Is. lxiii. 3, 5).
I pity thee, my afflicted Mother, for the sword of sorrow which pierced thee, when on Mount Calvary thou didst behold thy beloved Son Jesus slowly dying before thy eyes, amid so many torments and insults, on that hard bed of the Cross, where thou couldst not administer to him even the least of those comforts that are granted to the greatest criminals at the hour of death. I beseech thee, by the agony which thou, my most loving Mother, didst endure together with thy dying Son, and by the sadness which thou didst feel, when, for the last time, He spoke to thee from the Cross and bade thee farewell, and left us all, in the person of St. John, to thee as thy children; by the constancy in which thou didst then see Him bow down His Head and expire, I beseech thee to obtain me the grace, from thy crucified Love, to live and die crucified to all earthly things, that I may spend my life for God alone, and thus one day enter Paradise to enjoy Him face to face.