Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Burden of Grace

"It is in the struggles against difficulties that all that is best in man is nurtured into vigor and preserved from decay. Through labor we live, in enjoyment we die." -The Rambler, 1854

I never quite considered grace to be a burden until I read a book called The Cross of Jesus, originally published in 1647. The author is Louis Chardon, seventeenth century Dominican priest. His work brings to light that grace, special or ordinary, can be a burden to the soul. Your own personal experience may confirm this. God may have inspired a desire in you and yet, at the same time, he may have permitted circumstances in your life that temporarily made it impossible for that desire to be realized. Perhaps you were inspired to carry out a project but have met with failure; or maybe God has put a strong desire in your heart for children but you are infertile; or perhaps the spouse you vowed to love until death has walked away from your marriage. Whatever the case, God's will for us- as far as the circumstances he places in our lives -can seem to be a blatant contradiction to what he has called us to do. Jesus and his mother, Mary, exemplified how the cross beams of God's will intersect with each other; thus causing them suffering on one hand and yet affording them great opportunities to glorify God on the other.

As for the Blessed Virgin, she is the Mother of Jesus, her son, and the mother of all Christians; that is, all of those saved by her Son. Generally speaking, maternal instincts are such that they seek to preserve the well-being of the child. As it relates to Jesus, Mary was like every other mother who wanted very best for her first born: happiness, good health and a life longer than her own. However, she had a supernatural calling to be both the Mother of God and the Mother of the saved. In order that the latter could enjoy eternal happiness she was called upon to prepare her Son for the Sacrifice on Calvary. Pope St. Pius X said “it was not only the prerogative of the Most Holy Mother to have furnished the material of His flesh to the Only Son of God, Who was to be born with human members of which material should be prepared the Victim for the salvation of men; but hers was also the office of tending and nourishing that Victim, and at the appointed time presenting Him for the sacrifice.” (Pius X, On the Immaculate Conception)

The more I read the writings of the popes and the Saints the more I realize that at every turn Mary hastened the hour of Christ's death despite her natural maternal instincts. To begin with, she made it possible for him to suffer by merely clothing him with her flesh at the moment of his of conception. From that moment on, Jesus was able to feel pain; even within Mary's womb. When it came time to present Jesus in the Temple, she received confirmation that a sword would pierce her heart so that the “thoughts of many would be revealed” (a reference to Judgment Day). In other words, God would add her tears to the blood of his only begotten Son to bring about the salvation of the world.

One would think that Mary would be dreading the day that Jesus' public ministry would begin. After all, his mission was destined for a cruel death. Although a natural dread might have afflicted her spirit, the Blessed Virgin took the initiative to ask Jesus to perform his first public miracle. His divine intervention only revealed the identity of his Messianic mission but to hasten that mission to its culmination on Calvary. Therefore, at the wedding of Cana when the Blessed Virgin informed Jesus that the host was out of wine, he responded by making reference to his hour; indicating that a miracle of turning water into wine would usher in that “hour” when he would turn wine into his own blood at the Last Supper only to be followed by the spilling of his own blood on the Cross.

It was there on Calvary that the Blessed Virgin became the Mother of elect. Jesus said to her, “Woman, behold thy son,” and to St. John, “Behold, thy mother.” St. John, who by nature was the son of mother Zebedee, became the son of Mary in the supernatural order. This is why the book of Revelation makes reference to the offspring of Mary. Indeed, as Abraham was father of God's chosen people in the Old Testament, the Blessed Virgin became the mother of all of God's children in the New Testament.

It was only by accepting God's calling to be the mother of the faithful that she found the strength to nurture the Lamb for his Sacrifice. The Blessed Virgin had two cross beams running counter to each other in her life: The first cross beam was her natural, maternal instinct to protect her Son Jesus from harm or anything that would threaten him. The second cross beam was her vocation to help bring about the salvation of souls. It was the latter that had to take precedence in her life. This grace to be the mother and nurturer of the Victim, although necessary and a cause for joy, was also a burden and sacrifice for her. Like other mothers, her instincts as a mother were keenly sensitive to the pains of her Son; as such, they demanded recognition.

As the first disciple of Jesus Christ she would set the example. She would show the world that trials and suffering were not incidental to being a Christian. In fact, to suffer with Christ would be every bit as necessary as preaching the Gospel. With St. Paul we can say to others, "So death is at work in us, but life in you." Or on behalf on the Church we can even dare to say: "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church..." As for Mary her pain had to be offered to God on the altar of her heart whenever she witnessed Jesus suffer. These two beams- the love for her Son and the desire to see her spiritual children saved -ran counter to each other in Mary's soul and became for her a Cross she had to carry...all the way to Calvary.

With that said, what seemed like a contradiction in Mary's life turned out to be the greatest blessing for the world. It can be also said that she too benefited from uncertainties and contradictions of God's plan. Under Christ himself she is blessed- not only among all women -but all men too.

Next blog: A peculiar Cross our Lord had to carry and what we can garner from it.