April 26, 2017: Mary Through Joy and Sorrow

~by Louis Templeman


Blessed are you …”. “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior. Luke 1: 45, 47.

They took his tunic … they cast lots … This is what the soldiers did. Standing by (was) his mother. John 19: 23, 24.

Mary became a mother twice. First, her son, Jesus, was conceived within her by the Holy Spirit when she believed the word of the angel, Gabriel. The second time she became a mother was when she stood with St. John at the foot of the cross. The first time in joy, the second in sorrow.

With joy, Mary received the news from Gabriel. She gladly proclaimed herself the handmaid of the Lord. With faith she embraced the impossible. We see her soul’s disposition in her song, the Magnificat:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God my Savior. For he has looked up on his handmaid’s lowliness, behold from now on will all ages call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me. (Luke 1: 45 – 47).

This song exposes her love and knowledge of scripture. This teenage girl was a fine student and expositor of the word of God. She spoke like a prophet, and a psalmist, in her grand and joyous song of thanksgiving. She must have appeared to be a normal, ordinary girl with little life experience, yet, her song identified her as a saint with profound spiritual depth.

Initially, she pondered the angel’s word and was “troubled”. Gabriel was certainly aware she was judging his words. For she embraced holiness and would allow no message from any angel to budge her from her fellowship with a holy God. She refused to jump, in conceit, on the extraordinary admiration that she was “favored” and “the Lord is with you”. She would need an explanation for this exaltation. She was poor in spirit. If there was a temptation to pride it found no root in her spirit.

So, Gabriel calmed her down, “Be not afraid …” (Luke 1:30). Then he announced the startling news of God’s plan for her to be the mother of God’s son. Again, she defended her purity, her holiness. No angel, however glorious, would sway her from her attachment to holiness. Then the angel Gabriel explained further that she would indeed become a mother, but remain a virgin. Her son would be God’s promised savior, a light to the Gentiles and the glory of her people, the Jews. Unusual, but morally appropriate. Then as a sign of confirmation the angel informed her of her old cousin Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Pregnant at her age! “… for nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1: 38).

Mary then journeyed right away to her cousin’s home. Her elderly cousin was in her third trimester and would need help. When Elizabeth saw her, she echoed the joy she found in Mary. She praised Mary’s faith which would have immeasurable impact on world history. “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Luke 1: 45).

Her second experience at motherhood began differently. From John 19: 23 – 27 we read:

They took also his tunic but the tunic was seamless woven in one piece from the top down. So, they said to one another, ‘Let’s not tear it but cast lots for it to see whose it will be,’ … This is what the soldiers did. Standing by the cross of Jesus (was) his mother …. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple 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 he took her into his home.

Mary, history’s most singular and significant mother, began her motherhood in joy, but in sorrow it was expanded and perfected. At the cross Mary saw her son humiliated, tortured and killed. As he hung in the throes of death she saw Roman hands – professional, skilled in the act of slow, torturous killing – take her son’s clothing and divide them as spoils for the executioners. They divided all but his seamless tunic. This, tradition tells us, Mary wove with her own hands.

Roman hands, disregarding her sorrow and her son’s torture took the tunic and decided it was a real prize. It was too fine to rip up and divide. It was a prize worth gambling over. They recognized its quality. Four laid claim to the property of the dying criminal. Surely, a strange and macabre compliment. What humiliation and helplessness she must have endured, as she watched the winner of the game hold up the cloak she had crafted and gloat over his win, as her son groaned in pain.

However, her eyes and ears were drawn away from this gruesome soldier’s cursing and boasting to her son’s call. “Woman,” he gasped, “Behold your son.” She stood beside St. John. To St. John, he said, “Behold your mother.” Mary and John looked away from Jesus and stared into each other’s eyes. What took place in that fertile bed of sorrow was a spiritual conception every bit as miraculous and providential as that which happened 34 years before. The words of Christ were creative, powerful, sacramental. The voice was the same as that which called Lazarus back to life after four days in the grave. The voice that said in the primordial day of creation, “Let there be light,” spoke through the broken body of the Son of God and created, from the sorrow of Mary’s pure heart, God’s new creation family. “Behold your son. Behold your mother.”

The joyous teenager, of perhaps 15, in perfect holiness began the mystery of the incarnation. Her faith was the gateway that began the work of the Almighty through Jesus Christ. In joy she began. In joy she became the mother of Jesus. The older woman, perhaps 48-years old became a mother again, in sorrow.

In joy she sang and composed a memorable psalm. In sorrow she conceived in silence. When Mary and Joseph presented the infant Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem, Simeon told Mary that a sword would pierce her heart as she participated in her son’s career. At this point beneath the cross she felt that sword which was, as it were, labor pains as she became mother to the family of God.

What began in joy was perfected and enlarged in sorrow. Because she was worthy of this sorrow and willing to embrace it, we who follow Jesus should, like St. John, bring her into our homes in a place of honor. In doing so, we become the fulfillment of Mary’s prophetic psalm in which she sang with joy, “all ages will call me blessed.” If any was ever anointed as a mother by God, surely it was Mary. In joy, she conceived Jesus. In sorrow, the Church. As her spiritual children we can alleviate some of that sorrow in the joy she finds at hearing us bless her.

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Louis writes from Jacksonville, Florida where he lives with his old friend and wonderful bride, Joy. They transformed their friendship into the sacrament of marriage on August 30, 2012. They share their home with two self-absorbed, playful, twin cats (Flo and Jet) and one very allusive and arrogant cat named D. Louis has recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and is fighting the good fight. Much of what he writes these days he is sharing his journey with us. Please keep Louis and his wife Joy in your prayers.

CLICK HERE to visit Louis’ Catholic Journeyman Archive

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