Behold your Mother!
by Br. Alexis Bugnolo
These words of Our Divine Redeemer echo throughout the ages. They resound from Mt. Golgotha, from the pages of Sacred Scripture, in the memories of St. John the Evangelist, in the preaching of the Apostles and first evangelists. They are recalled in the divine liturgies of the Church, are meditated upon by the prayers of the Saints, explained in their writings, emblazoned in art and music, in churches and paintings and frescos and statues. They have become the call to arms of saintly founders and are the mottoes of monasteries, convents, priests and bishops and cardinals.
Beautiful words, consoling words, words of confidence and words of hope. I personally think that in their own way, these words of Jesus from the Cross are the most beautiful in all the pages of the Bible — the most encouraging among all the words men have or shall ever hear.
I remember reading a study on the Shroud of Turin, which explained the exact manner in which, according to this holy relic, the Body of Jesus hung from the Cross, and the exact manner of His Death. The study pointed out that when Jesus in the moment of death shouted out and laid down His Most Sacred Head, He did so in a very telling manner. This final position of Our Lord’s Head is recorded in the blood and sweat stains of the Sacred Shroud.
What made this description so poignant was what the author observed about these facts in his summation — namely, that Our Lord Jesus Christ in the very final moment of His earthly life did a thing which remained the only thing He could do: that is lay down His Head in a very significant manner. In such a manner as would enable Him to look straight down to the right hand side of the foot of His Cross.
As I wondered why this was, there came to me a wonderful and most consoling realization. Have you ever noticed paintings of the Crucifixion? I would dare say that most of them depict Our Blessed Lady standing at the foot of the Cross with St. John and Mary Magdalene at the foot of the cross. But Mary is nearly always under Christ’s right arm, that is to say, on the right side of the Cross.
A conclusion presses itself upon our devotion: that in the last moment of His Life, Christ Our Lord made a decisive effort to make sure that the very last gaze of His mortal life would be filled with the vision of the sorrowful and most compassionate face of His Mother, Mary.
I don’t think we Christians can think of this long without being very much touched at heart by it, and even brought to tears by it, especially if you have made it the habit of meditating on the Passion, as all the Saints recommend us to do, or have at least been awakened to this holy exercise by Mel Gibson’s recent and literally stunning film, “The Passion of the Christ.” I think, weak creatures that we are, that this is especially true if we have had the personal experience of being at the death bed of a mother or father or son or daughter. The reality of how ephemeral our existence is inescapable in such moments. And it is only natural and fitting that we should burst out in tears at such tragic separations – something which is not unfitting, since as our Holy Religion teaches us, death is unnatural – and Jesus Himself cried at such occasions.
Of course being God Almighty, Jesus had no need of consolations in the Hour of Death. Indeed many a Saintly author speculates that to drink the very dregs of the bitterness of His Passion, He forced Himself to look upon the woeful suffering of His Mother in that last moment of His Life, so as to offer the merit of a Son’s Heart torn open at the sight of a Mother’s suffering, as the very last and final oblation to the Father for our salvation.
Yes, I do believe, that in that last moment, Christ received the compassion of His Mother, received Her Sacrifice of Himself, and looked upon Her in His death as if to say, “Look! Since I go now to the Father, I receive and take from Thee all that Thou has borne for My Sake with Me here and throughout all Thy life up to this day, and throughout all Thy life until I call you hence to be with me! I take it with Me to the Father, to offer it to Him forever in union with My Own Sacrifice.”
I think too many of us forget that the very last moments of Christ’s Passion were very Marian. The Holy Spirit Himself teaches us this, when the Evangelists cite the fact that Christ did not say, “It is consummated!” until first He said, “Woman, behold Thy son; son behold thy Mother!”
These marvelous words are, as it were, the “Ite Missa Est” of Golgotha. With them, Christ the High Priest completes and finishes His Sacrifice, and lays down not only His Head but now His whole human Life, accepting death and allowing His soul and body to be split asunder in the Holy Sacrifice of the Cross.
Now just as the Passion of Our Lord is the most central Mystery of our divine Religion, so the final moments and words of Our Lord from the Cross ought to be something very central to our interior life of prayer and meditation. For if Our Lord went to such lengths as to ensure and enable our remembrance of Him by promulgating the Holy Mass and ordaining the Apostles with His own powers as High Priests, saying, “Do this in memory of Me!”, how much must He want that we remember that which He did for us, and especially the very crowning moment of that Salvific Event!
Of course there are many graces, especially of consolation and encouragement for anyone who mediates on Sacred Scripture, and most of all, who meditates on the life of Jesus and Mary. And this is a very exquisite consolation that few find or enjoy in this life, trampled and trammeled as we are by the hubbub of daily life and the plethora of the modern means of mass communication. How sad and tragic, that so many, for example, make it a daily ritual to read the news, yet give not a thought to spending some quite time alone, with the doors of their room shut, or in some solitary place, meditating on all that Jesus and Mary did and said and suffered for our sake.
One of the great truths which we can mine from these final words of Our Lord, by means of meditation, is that which will teach us something of the magnitude of how much confidence we ought to have in the Most Blessed Virgin Mary.
If we but consider that “before the foundation of the world” God had been considering and pondering from eternity all the details of creation — not as an architect who draws up plans and changes this or that, perfecting the project day after day, right up and even often during construction, but as the Infinite Eternal, Omnipotent and Most Wise uncreated Intelligence, Full of Charity and Truth, conceiving in the depths of His Divine Heart the most wonderful and stunning manifestations of His Divinity — we must certainly stop and ponder once again, and more and more, these words of Our Lord, “Behold thy Mother!” For in them are hidden great treasures of grace.
If we but recall the reason why God became Man, that it was to save our sorry souls from the eternal perdition of Hell, to which we all would have voluntarily wandered to by the end of our lives, born as we are, bereft of sanctifying grace, of faith, hope and charity for God, we can taste in mind something, however so small, of the savoriness of the remedy of these words: “Behold thy Mother!” “Thy” here means “you and I”, “each one of us”, “all of us”, “believers and those yet to believe”: “all of us in need of salvation and redemption”, howsoever much grace we have already received.
And since this is why Christ came and suffered and died: this final proclamation of the King of the Ages must have everything to do with the revelation of the ultimate means of salvation.
I believe Our Lord gives us His very own infallible commentary on this passage in the same Gospel of St. John, as He speaks with Nicodemus under the cover of night. “Unless you be born of water and the Holy Ghost…” He says. It is Our Lord Himself who uses the metaphor of birth for justification. It follows that being newborns in grace, we need a Mother.
This conclusion is inescapable, when we consider that the One who uses this metaphor is the Same as the One who created all living things, and who made us male and female, establishing some of us father or mothers for others of us: who in short preordained the human family within the original and individual necessity of our corporal being.
We must ask ourselves, then, “What was Our Lord thinking of when He spoke those wonderful words at the crowning moment of all that He would merit for us?” In His human mind, all the saints tell us that He knew all about creation, past, present, and future; foresaw all of us and all of our sins and good deeds, foreknew all of our thoughts and feelings and all of the movements and inclinations of our hearts. But just as importantly, as Our Divine Master and Teacher, in that final moment He considered all the pious questions of all His faithful who would beg him in prayer to explain something more to them about the meaning of His Life, Suffering and Death, especially at this final moment.
And so, these words, “Behold thy Mother” are without doubt the Answer of Christ to all our questions regarding the meaning and significance and importance of His Passion.
“Have confidence, I have overcome the world!” says Our Lord to the Apostles at the Last Supper. These words find their historical consummation, without doubt, in the Passion and Death, and point to the meaning of these words He speaks to St. John, “Behold thy Mother!” They indicate to us that all that Christ would do would be both truly victorious, and hence that the remembrance of it should be a source of confidence for us.
And we can draw much confidence from these words of Our Lord to St. John. Yes, Christ has died and is Risen, and yet though He has ascended into Heaven, to sit at the Right Hand of the Father, and with Him, at the end of Her earthly life, His Mother, to intercede for us before the Face of God the Father, it nevertheless remains no less true, that He has given His Blessed Mother to us, to be our Mother! Our sweet Mother!
If we but consider the greatness of Mary’s holiness, the spotlessness of Her purity, the inviolability of Her Virginity, the excellence of Her Faith, the magnitude of Her Charity, the strength and firmness of Her Hope, and every other virtue which is Hers beyond the measure of men and angels, and if we but consider that this Wonderful, most Splendid and beautiful of women is now Our Mother! I say, who cannot be encouraged, who cannot be moved, who cannot be warmed at heart, stirred to a sweet delight, stirred to reach out in spirit to Her, to embrace Her and kiss Her and enfold both body and soul in Her embrace, embracing Her with soul and body likewise – to bury, as it were, oneself in Her Maternal Bosom, as a little child does, when seeing its Mother after a long absence, it runs swiftly and immediately up to Her, jumping into Her arms and hugging Her with every affection!
But if we consider even more, that this Woman, is not only Our Mother, but the very Mother of God, the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, the Daughter elect by the Father, the Queen of Angels and men, the Mediatrix of Grace, the Co-redemptrix of the Universe, I say, who cannot be stirred to confidence, seeing that in Her are the treasures and means to obtain every good thing, every medicine of soul and body.
But what is most consoling and encouraging about the Blessed Virgin, being Our Mother, is that She is always listening to and observing and watching over us, and She is very able and powerful and willing to grant us our pious wishes and prayers, if we but ask with great confidence.
Perhaps you have seen little children who are brothers and sisters vying with each other for their mother’s affection or intercession. If one receives some special favor, the others are not slow in asking, begging, insisting, demanding the how and why of how they obtained it from her. How zealous they are! How innocent! And How Simple! Should not we be similar, when we hear of what Our Lady has done for some of Her children!
Yes, I am sure you have heard at least once of how Our Lady helped some saint: but it is more encouraging, I believe, to consider how She has helped some sinners, even more so than some Saints.
One such wonderful story is that which Our Lady did to a poor mule driver in Spain some 400 years ago. He was a very poor man, and not learned at all. I do not think he could even read or write. All he could do for a living, was lead his mule along the mountain paths nears his village, carrying cargo over the mountain pass for various merchants in the locale. He would rise very early in the morning, pack some food for the journey, load up his burrow, and walk up the mountain, arriving at the end of the day on the other side, where, having unloaded the same animal, and rested at a friends house, he would eat and sleep and rise the next day, to do the same thing, on the return trip.
And so he lived his life and scratched out a meager living for his wife and son and father and mother who lived with him in his two room shed.
But one day, the mule slipped as it clopped its way along the mountain path. And to save it and its load this poor mule driver ran quickly to the other side and did all he could to prop up the animal so that it would not slip and fall. But though he had done this successfully on many occasions, this time he failed, and the animal and all its cargo came crashing down upon him, knocking him to the ground.
He screamed, Oh how he screamed in agonizing pain!
Very soon the other peasants leading their own animals along the way, came running to help him, and succeeded in getting his animal up. It was then he discovered that he could not stand – he had badly injured his leg. The villagers came and took him in a stretcher to his home and to bed.
As the days passed it go no better. And when the local priest came to visit him, he assured him that it would not get better, and that the only hope was to arrange to be carried to the University Hospital at Salamanca.
It was a long a costly journey, but his best friends and relatives did him this favor.
Needless to say, by the time he arrived, gangrene had set in and there was nothing the doctors could do, but cut off his leg at the mid of the thigh.
For a mule driver, this was little better than death, for it meant that he could not work at his trade: and no work meant no pay, and no pay meant that he, though the only bread winner at home, could no longer support his family.
His friends and relatives bore him home and left him at home in his bed. And to add upon all his sufferings, as soon as they had left his home, his wife and parents turned on him with the most bitter and disgusting insults, saying: “What good are you to us now! It is all your fault! We are all going to starve on your account! Did you return home thinking we are going to take care of you!”
And with that this poor man pulled up his blanket, prayed desperately to Our Lady, and went to sleep, filled with the most bitter remorse and sorrow, bereft of any hope and overcome by the pains of sorrow and betrayal no less painful than the surgery wounds of his leg.
But this, thanks be to God, is not where this poor man’s story ends, but rather where a most consoling story begins. For that night, as he slept, he dreamed.
And in that dream, he saw Our Blessed Mother.
And this is what he dreamed: he saw himself sick in bed, and into his room stepped the Blessed Virgin, covered in a shining blue mantle, and looking upon him with such a tender compassion, as if She had come to him, on a sick call. And as he rejoiced at heart to see Her loveliness, She opened Her mouth and said to him, encouraging him as She touched his legs, “Be healed!”
In the morning, the man awoke, and as he had not yet opened his eyes, for it was dark still, he called to mind the dream that had given him such confidence. And he said to himself in his heart with the simplicity of a child, “O, how good you are to me, Blessed Virgin! I prayed to you, when I had no other hope, to help me! And you in your kind charity have given me such a consoling dream to lessen all my sorrows when I have suffered such a tragedy as this!” And so he reposed, until the sun had arisen, and his wife has gotten up and gone out.
After she left, he tried to make himself comfortable in bed. He suddenly felt so odd. The doctors had said that, although they cut off his leg, that it would feel that it was still there for some time still. And so it was: under his covers he could still feel his leg!
But as he looked down the bed, what he saw was all wrong. He saw not one, but two bulging points where his foot should be.
Two?, he thought to himself: Yes, I can still feel my leg, as the doctors said I should on occasion, for it is a trick of the nerves, but I should not still see two feet!
At that the memory of his dream came back to him and he ripped his covers of the bed to find TWO perfectly healthy legs!
He jumped from the bed and began to scream with joy: A Miracle! A Miracle!
Soon the whole village was gathered around his house and word spread far and wide of what the Blessed Virgin did for him.
And for our confidence, it happened that this story came to the ears of the King of Spain, who sent a commission of royal investigators to record and interview all the facts and testimony. They even went to the University of Salamanca and interviewed all who had assisted at the amputation of the peasant’s leg. They even unearthed the coffin in which it was buried. And they found it empty, but for the blood stained wrappings which once bound it fast!
Today, on the sight of the poor man’s bedroom, stands a magnificent Basilica to commemorate this miracle of confidence.
Let us therefore, have great confidence in the Blessed Virgin, who is in truth and has been made so forever, Our Mother! That She does and will and wants to grant us the things of which we or our loved ones, or some poor soul, is truly in need of.
We don’t need to be saints to receive Her favors. We just need to ask with humility, sincerity!
Therefore, let us pray and beseech Her everyday with unbounded confidence! And lest us offer up such prayers as this:
Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary,
that never was it known,
that anyone who fled to Thy protection,
implored Thy assistance,
or sought Thy intercession,
was left unaided.
Inspired by this confidence,
we fly unto Thee, O Virgin of virgins, our Mother!
To Thee do we come; before Thee do we stand, sinful and sorrowful.
O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not our petitions,
but in Thy gracious mercy hear and answer us. Amen.
CREDITS: The Image of our Lady, is known as the Theotokos of Jerusalem, and is found at the Church of Her Domition in Jerusalem. See https://medium.com/@ierosolhmitissa/the-true-story-of-the-uncreated-and-miraculous-holy-icon-of-the-most-holy-theotokos-b25e9cfebca5. The title of this post is an adaptation of a line from J. R. R. Tolkein’s, Two Towers.