I have a friend who moved to the United States some twenty years ago. Although she speaks the language fluently, she hasn’t quite lost her accent, and a colloquialism will occasionally still mystify her. That’s how I am with the Catholic church. Twelve years ago I came into the Church as a young woman. Though I feel at home here, I still stumble upon meditations that strike me as so strange that I realize I am a foreigner.
This was the first Lent since I started praying a daily Rosary, and somewhere along the way it was suggested to me that I pray only the sorrowful mysteries in Lent (except Sundays). So day after day I have meditated on the Agony, the Scourging, the Crowning with Thorns, the Carrying of the Cross, and the Crucifixion.
What has jumped out at me is the juxtaposition of these mysteries with the phrase of the Hail Mary: “Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.”
Blessed are thou among women….said again and again as I contemplated His agony, His body slick with bloody sweat, His face in the dirt he made.
Blessed art thou among women…as I contemplated the whips tearing at his flesh, furious lashes that end only when his executioners have worn themselves out from the effort.
Blessed art thou among women…as I saw her Son humiliated, scorned, spat upon, and struck repeatedly so that the thorns of the grotesque crown impale his head.
Blessed art thou among women…as I watched Our Lady watch her son’s battered, mutilated body stumble under the weight of the cross, a spectacle to the indifferent and an abomination to the contemptuous.
Blessed art thou among women…as she stands by Him crucified, witness to His struggle to breathe, His enduring of the unfathomable torture.
Blessed is she? Blessed? What mom dreams of the day when she will stand beside her son while he is tortured? On the face of it, it seems like a mockery to repeat this over fifty times in the face of His Passion. At any rate, it is a jarring enough paradox that it gave me pause. I knew then that I am still not a native to the church.
Forty days’ meditation gave me time to reflect. That she is blessed, I believe. So, as in so many teachings of the church that I didn’t immediately grasp, it was time to dig deeper.
How can it be that Our Lady is blessed in these days of Holy Week?
We see the world upside down, so writes Father Michael Scanlan in his book Let the Fire Fall. I believe that Mary’s blessedness in the face of the Passion is the right-side-up way to view it. I need to adjust my vision.
As in so many things, I was looking at the Passion in primarily the physical sense. Material being that I am, this body is so present to me that it usually constitutes my first consideration. But what if I were to look at the Passion in primarily spiritual terms? What if I thought about it as Fr John Riccardo presents it in his meditation on the Rosary (found here)–as the world’s greatest athlete gearing up for the single most important competition in history? What if I saw the spiritual implications of the Passion first–Jesus about to save the world from the rule of Satan?
Here, Jesus, though he looks like the defeated, is actually victorious, for he, as a priest said in a meditation I once went to, had enticed the devil to do the one thing the devil could not do–kill God Himself. It was a chess match, and while it looked as though the King had been taken, he had actually set a trap that would end in checkmate against his opponent. It was a daring, heroic, stupendous, awe-some, all-in kind of plan.
Did Our Lady understand the Passion on the spiritual level–as a supernatural match for which the prize was the human soul? Spouse of the Holy Spirit, the woman who will crush the serpent under her heel, the mother of God, I imagine she herself very well may have undergone severe temptations and wrestling with the devil in her own hidden life. She must have been clued into the spiritual realm of the Passion, even if she did not fully know what would happen three days hence.
Blessed indeed was she! She saw her son undergo bodily torture, yes, but through that, she saw him win the war. She saw him, fully human as well as fully God, not recoil from the agony of body and soul but instead stand victorious in the redemption of our human nature.
That one there is my son. The one who is wrestling all of the powers of hell but who stands–bloody, yes–but triumphant. That’s my boy–the one who whose suffering gives historic and eternal witness to the profound love of God. That one hanging there is mine, the one who is willingly giving his very life to save the eternal souls of the human race. Jesus is my son. I am blessed.