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19th Mar 2024 - A Lenten Retreat


"Standing beneath the Cross of Jesus were His Mother, and His Mother's Sister, Mary, the wife of Cleopas and Mary Magdalene". (John 19 v25)”

Time passes very quickly with days into weeks and weeks into years. It seems so recently that we celebrated Christmas and already we are reflecting on the significance of Lent. Since Christmas is very much about Our Lady as is the Feast of the Presentation in the Temple known as Candlemas.

I thought we might give some attention to how Our Lady features in the season of Lent with special reference to Holy Week.

We are aware that Jesus in His public Ministry and indeed before was always a puzzle to His Mother even at a young age when he got lost and was found teaching in the Temple. Most mothers would despair and ask themselves who is this child that I have given birth to?; He doesn't take after me and certainly he doesn't take after his dad. Jesus was the kind of child that every teacher would either love or dread to have in his / her class. As an adult in His public life, He was probably out all day teaching, preaching, visiting the sick and above all communicating with His Heavenly Father. All his left very little time to help Joseph in the carpenter's shop. On top of that Mary probably never knew what time He would return home for food and maybe when Fardid return home He was silent and Mary wonder what He had been up to.

I wonder if all this prepared Mary for the horrible day when she met Him on the way to Calvery carrying a huge cross with a crown of thorns and blood flowing down His face disfiguring it beyond recognition. The struggle up the hill behind her Son carrying the Cross was more than most women would have the inner strength to cope with. Maybe Mary leaned on some of the other women in the crowd to steady her feet as the tears flowing down her face would have made it impossible to see the rough terrain. Whatever it was that kept Mary on the journey to Calvery she made it with her son and watched with anguish as the soldiers nailed His broken body to the Cross.

To add insult to injury Jesus was crucified between two thieves. The women and John were there with Mary to support and comfort her. If we think that was the most painful happening we need to know that the soldiers continued to ridicule Jesus even to the extent of throwing dice to gamble on who might have His white cloak. The sheer horror of the scene must have made Mary cry out in anguish saying . “My Son I Love You: I Am Your Mother And I Will Not Walk Away From You At This Hour”. Jesus with weak voice said to Mary "Woman Behold Your Son" and to John He said, "Son Behold Your Mother". Mary then knew that John would care for her and that He would be there when she needed him.

There is so much suffering in our world. Everywhere people stand beneath their Cross every day and experience the most distressing pain and grief watching those they love suffer and die. In my Chaplaincy at St Thomas's Hospital almost every week I feel challenged by the many encounters I have especially with parents whose children are seriously ill. Mary beneath the Cross of her Son all she could do was stand there quietly in His presence. Her calling at that time was to just "Be There".

I remember when I was living in Croydon I was asked to visit a family where the lady of the house was dying. The then curate from St Mary's Parish was called and he administered the Last Rites which he did with great devotion. He then went down and sat at the bottom of the stairs in complete silence quietly saying the Rosary until Dolly upstairs died in the presence of her son and a lifelong friend from their teaching days together. The memory of the priest at the bottom of the stairs affected me deeply and in my Chaplaincy when I am challenged for a response I think of Fr. S saying nothing but by his quiet presence commanding peace and calm to all upstairs and allowing Dolly to die in the most prayer filled presence I have ever experienced.

The Crosses we stand by may not always mean that someone is dying. Maybe it is someone who is endlessly talking and relaying a journey through old wounds talking at a great rate and not allowing one to make any kind of a response. If this being the case one is indeed beneath the Cross. Listening to someone who is so depressed that all he or she wants to do is give up and no longer live one has indeed stood on the hill of Calvery, In families where there is a member with alcohol dependency or who is abusing drugs and every day making false promises or utter denial to a Mother/ Father / Husband or wife; the listener has indeed stood at the foot of the Cross.

Mary stood beneath the cross of Jesus. Standing all that time was indeed very tiring for her to say nothing about the heart ache and sorrow at seeing Jesus die. Her watching there tells us of her faithfulness. She was totally present to the intense suffering that Jesus was experiencing. We leam from Mary that the human spirit is very resilient and put to the test can endure. The Martyrs give us an example of what it means to suffer and to die for Christ. Keeping vigil with someone who is suffering and who is near and dear to us requires great patience, faithfulness and a spirit of prayer and the ability to stay with the situation as it is and not to agitate to make it different. We need to hold out and bear up under tough times and not be destroyed by the situation. Like Mary we will find strength to stand there with the help of God.

Mary you have been there before me,

Weary and worn from the long vigil,

Saddened by the pain of your loved one,

Heartbroken by what you could not change I draw inspiration from your journey I, too, can move through the pain of my situation Your faith and courage leads me on

(Author not known)

Sr. Assumpta Walsh

Lent 2024



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