Homily: “On Beholding Our Mother”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on Good Friday, 2018.

In this Holy Week, we continue to follow Him through the mysterious events of the final days, hours, and minutes of His blessed life. We continue to minister to Him through our service—our worship, our prayer, our fellowship, our openness. And having continued with Him in the Garden of reality beyond time and space, we have come to the foot of the cross. Standing by us are Mary, His mother, Mary’s sister (also named Mary), and another Mary—Mary Magdalene. A holy trinity of Marys caught up in the glory of the Holy Trinity through Jesus Christ—a glory so strong and indestructible that He having loved us so much already, loved us to the very end: loving us with the last words, His last commandments, from the Cross, emptying Himself with the teaching that we will need to continue His ministry and live out the new commandment He gave on the previous night—a commandment of servant ministry that loves each member of the community like Christ Himself and celebrates the Eucharist which makes actually present again He who through whom all things have been made.

It is that threefold commandment which the Church at Pentecost began to live out by means of the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of the bread, and the prayers. All of the Christian life—the threefold commandment of servant ministry, celebrating the Sacrament of His Real Presence, and love for brother and sister—was revealed on the night before He died.

And yet there was one last teaching to give in order to make the commandment truly available to all Christians. Without that last teaching, the Christian life would be another in the long list of interesting outlooks on life that have a certain appeal but are at the end unrealistic and therefore attainable. But Jesus intended His disciples to follow Him, follow His example, follow His path, to delight in His will and walk in His ways—not symbolically, but actually; not merely in our feelings or our mind, but with our whole bodies, our whole heart; not sometimes, or only certain days of the week, but all times and all days of the week. He intended us to actually be the Body of Christ—to actually Be His Body—that He would have no hands or feet on earth, but ours; no eyes to look compassionately upon the world but ours; no feet with which to walk but ours. He intended that, He took our nature upon Him for that to happen; He taught the twelve Apostles and the other disciples that for that to happen.

But how would that happen? It would happen by taking seriously the last teaching He gave, and He gave it from the cross: He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son.” And He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother.” The symphony of reality reached its most fevered pitch, all of salvation history was focused and concentrated into this one moment, this one timeless, eternal moment—a moment whose meaning is inexhaustible and in which we are participating right now.

Can there be any doubt that Mary responded to her Son as she responded to Him at the Annunciation—saying, yes, Jesus; yes, my Son, behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord—of course the beloved disciple will be my son—Thy will be done—can there be doubt that she responded Yes with joy that rose higher than her sorrow, with strength that overcame her weakness, with faith that bruises the head of any serpent doubt? This teaching gave Mary spiritual direction to guide this disciple, and indeed all disciples who gathered weeks later before Pentecost in the Upper Room, into the ways of Her Son, the ways of God’s action in her life, the words Jesus had spoken tenderly to her through their 33 years together, all to prepare them for the coming of the Holy Spirit and the life of servant ministry that celebrates the Eucharist amid love for the brothers and sisters of the faith.

Mary received all that her Son had given her, she treasured it and pondered it in her heart, not holding on to this truth herself but giving it away. Completely receiving everything Jesus had given her, and completely bestowing this gift upon disciples of her Son. She is the most blessed of saints not by her own merit, but because she completely received, and completely gave to others the gift of her Son. She had given herself without reserve to the person and work of her Son, and she could not but pour out upon the Church, from the very beginning, her maternal self-giving.

It is for this reason that in the devout prayer and contemplation of Holy Church over its two thousand years, an image has been used to describe Mary’s ministry, this ministry of pouring out upon disciples all she had received from her Blessed Son—an image that is an analogy of her role in salvation history. With reverence, the Church has found the image of a chalice to describe Mary’s ministry. Like the chalice, Mary is completely open and receptive for the precious blood of Christ. And like a chalice, she is completely giving of the presence of her Son—an outpouring that provides strength, consolation, and hope. Can we doubt that Jesus, in the last moments of breathing, took consolation at the presence of His mother? And if she gave consolation to Jesus in moments of excruciating pain and torment, she will gladly give consolation to all disciples who reflect on Jesus and the despicable, horrendous, and profoundly sad way He was crucified.

In this moment, too terrible and painful for words—in this moment when the incomprehensible has become palpable and real—in this moment when He was nailed to the cross, and bowed His head, and gave up His spirit (like Noah gave up the dove from the Ark to fly into the world)—Mary stood steadfast at the foot of the cross, and with strength that only comes from God’s grace, ministered to Him, loved Him to the end, and saw where He was laid. It was strength she received from Christ, and it was strength she and the other women who followed her example did not keep to themselves, but gave back to others, then, now, and for all times. May we, first standing at the foot of the cross, and then receiving Christ’s body and blood, be like a chalice—completely receiving Jesus so that we can give Him away to others completely in love.