Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Calling and Contradictions

"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

The Cross of Jesus, is a book originally published in 1647 by Louis Chardon, seventeenth century Dominican priest. In this work he brings to light that grace, special or ordinary, can be a burden to the soul. He even suggests that this was the case for the Blessed Virgin.

Your own personal experience may confirm this. Perhaps, God has inspired a desire in you to carry out a mission or an endeavor but under this condition: That it be met with obstacles and detours. Maybe you were inspired to carry out a project but have experienced one failure after another; or it could be that God has put a strong desire in your heart for children but you are infertile; or your marriage may have started out with much promise but unbeknownst to you, your spouse wants a divorce. 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.

Our Lord and the Blessed Virgin were not exempt from this kind of test. They too exemplified how the cross beams of God's will intersects 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 both the Mother of Christ and of all Christians. Generally speaking, maternal instincts are such that they seek to preserve the well-being of the child. As it relates to Jesus, however, Mary was like every other mother who wanted very best for her first born Son: happiness, good health and a life longer than her own. Nevertheless, she had a supernatural calling to be the Mother of the Lamb- the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world! In order that sinners could enjoy eternal happiness she was called upon to prepare her Son for the Sacrifice. As Pope St. Pius X said, “[I]t 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)

At 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 in order 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 of turning water into wine at Cana. His miracle not only revealed the identity of His Messianic mission, but it also hastened that mission towards Calvary. Therefore, at the wedding of Cana when the Blessed Virgin informed Jesus that there was no wine left, he responded by making reference to his "hour," that it had not come yet. What Jesus did here (John 2) was that he made a connection betweeen His "hour" and the miracle of turning water into wine at Cana. The miracle at Cana ultimately hastened our Lord's steps to that "hour" on Holy Thursday night at the Last Supper.

Another miracle would mark the beginning of that "hour." And that miracle was the transubstantiation of bread into His Body and wine into His blood. This Holy Sacrifice of the Last Supper- also the First Mass -was to be sealed the next day by shedding His Blood on the Cross.

There, on Calvary, the Blessed Virgin became the Mother of the saved. 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 maternal instincts running counter to each other in her life: The first maternal instinct was her natural desire to protect her Son Jesus from harm or anything that would threaten him. The second maternal instinct was her vocation to help bring about the salvation of souls- her future children. Painful though it was, 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, Mary 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 maternal instincts- 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 felt like a painful contradiction in Mary's life turned out to be the greatest blessing for the world. She benefited from the uncertainties and seeming contradictions of God's plan; especially when she was called to hasten the hour of Christ's Sacrifice. We too can benefit from God's calling and those contradictions that may, from time to time, test that calling. And most importantly, the Mother of God will use those contradictions to prepare us for our hour- the hour of our death. "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen."