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 (Jn 19:26-27).
In the summer of 1991, I entered the Franciscans of Holy Name Province as a pre-novitiate and was stationed at Holy Cross Friary in the Bronx. My ministry for that year was working in the friary and the adjoining parish of Holy Cross. Shortly after entering, one of the friars, Br. Paul Goldie, passed away. He had been serving at the friary since 1953 and had been a friar for 54 years. A practice among the friars was to pass on personal items to those in the community when one of their own passed away. I was honored to have been given a picture of St. Francis, that hangs in my classroom and Br. Paul’s rosary.
I noticed that the rosary was different from others. Instead of a crucifix it had a Miraculous Medal, instead of five beads there were three beads leading to the decade of beads, and instead of five decades of beads, there were seven groupings of seven beads. In between each of the series of seven beads there was a small medal. On one side was a picture of Mary pierced in the heart seven times, and on the back of each medal was a different scene. I would find out some time later that this was a Rosary of Our Lady of Sorrows. The depictions on the back of the seven medals represented Mary’s seven sorrows: Simeon announces the suffering destiny of Jesus, Mary escapes into Egypt with Jesus and Joseph, Mary seeks Jesus lost in Jerusalem, Mary meets Jesus as He carries his Cross to Calvary, Mary stands near the Cross of her Son Jesus, Mary receives into her arms the body of Jesus taken down from the Cross, and Mary helps place the body of Jesus in the tomb.
The fifth mystery, Mary stands near the Cross of her Son Jesus, is from our Gospel reading today. It must have been the most sorrowful of the seven, for Mary to witness her son dying such an agonizing death as the crucifixion. Yet, Mary did not run from the pain, she embraced his and her own pain, the piercing of the lance, pierced her own heart, the depths of her own soul. Mary, though free of sin, was not free of the pain of a fallen world. In fact, Mary like Jesus, felt it more deeply.
By being willing to love, we risk experiencing and entering into the pain of those we love. So many times we run from love, because we do not want to experience the pain relationships entail. We are finite and fragile beings, and so we will let each other down, we will make mistakes, say the wrong things, do hurtful things, we will get sick or deal with chronic illness and need care, we will lose patience, we will sin, and those we care about will die. Jesus though calls us, like Mary and John present at the Cross, to remain present to one another, to love, to will the good of the other, and so to experience the fruit of an authentic relationship which is grounded in the unimaginable love that God the Father has for us.
Love is the bond of communion that gives us the strength to move through the crossroads and upheavals of life, love is the bond of commitment that draws us out from our selfishness so to learn from one another, to grow stronger together, to be present to one another. Where there is an authentic relationship, there is love at its foundation. When we love one another we participate in the communion of the Holy Trinity, we participate in the very same divine communion of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Is there risk of rejection in inviting another? Yes. Is there pain in love? Yes. Is there conflict in relationship? Yes. Yet to be fulfilled, to be fully alive, for love to be real, we must be willing to take the risk to love and be rejected, just as God does with us. As we enter relationships or strive for better authenticity in our present relationships, we must be willing to love, to commit to one another, to be present to one another, to share our pain and experience another’s pain. We must be willing to accompany each other in our imperfections as well as be humble and willing to offer and seek forgiveness and reconciliation.
I do not know if we can ever come close to imagining what Mary and John experienced with Jesus at the climax of his crucifixion. Each of them embraced horrific pain and sorrow at the foot of the cross, yet they remained, and so they were able to mourn, heal, and experience the full joy of the Resurrection. At the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, they also experienced the divine communion of love between the Father and the Son, and shared that same love and commitment with the community of Jesus’ followers and those who had never met him.
Br. Paul’s rosary, which I still pray with, was passed on to me. It is a reminder for me of the brotherhood I shared with the friars. It is also a reminder to be present to others in their pain and struggles. There will be sorrows in this life. As we resist running from them and instead embrace them, we will find Jesus waiting with his arms wide open to receive, hear, comfort, and assure us that he is with us. May we also remember to lean on, be present to, support, and love one another as Mary and John did.