Fr. Joseph Levine; April 2, 2021
On Palm Sunday, when we listened to the Passion according to St. Mark, we heard Jesus say, shortly before entering Gethsemane and immediately before announcing St. Peter’s denial, All of you will have your faith shaken, for it is written: “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be dispersed.” But after I have been raised up, I shall go before you to Galilee.
The present situation in the Catholic Church fits well with Jesus’ words; it looks like the shepherds from Pope down to almost all the bishops – whether they be followers of Judas, whether they be cowardly, whether they be confused, whether they be good and well intentioned – it seems that they have been “struck” as by some mysterious force. The result is that by and large the Catholic faithful have also become confused and do not know what to think. At a time when we really need clear and strong guidance from the shepherds, the bishops, it is not there. Meanwhile great evil is at work in the world. There seems to be little opposition to the evil, even when the perpetrators have conflicting agendas, like the High Priest and Pontius Pilate.
So what are we to do?
This Good Friday, as on every Good Friday since ancient times we have listened to St. John’s narrative of Christ’s suffering and death. More than any other of the evangelists St. John shows us that, paradoxically, Jesus is in complete control every step of the way, from his arrest in the garden, when he first throws the soldiers to the ground by the power of his voice before letting them arrest him; to his royal demeanor before Pilate, even after being scourged and crowned with thorns, as he calmly informs his fearful captor that he would have no power over him unless it had been given to him from above; to the deliberate manner and meaning of his final words from the Cross and the freedom with which he bows his head and hands over the spirit. Indeed, even the soldier who pierces his side after his death is fulfilling Jesus’ purpose.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep, who lays it down to take it up again in the resurrection, to give us life, the life of grace, eternal life. We must put our trust in him.
When the evangelist tells us that Jesus “hands over the spirit” he is not just referring to his death but referring to his death as the source of the gift of the Holy Spirit. When the soldier pierces his side with the lance and blood and water flow out that is not just insult added to injury, nor just the fulfillment of prophecy, it is revelation, revelation of the love of the Heart of Jesus from which comes forth the life-giving stream of grace and mercy.
To live from that gift of the Holy Spirit, to enjoy that live-giving stream of grace and mercy we must not let ourselves be among the sheep that are scattered but among the sheep who stay by the Cross.
St. John tells us the secret by showing us the Blessed Virgin Mary at the foot of the Cross.
Jesus does not just give us Mary as our mother at the foot of the Cross, but he points out to us that by her presence and collaboration with him as she stands there she has truly become our mother. She becomes our mother by collaborating with Jesus, the crucified Redeemer, as ‘co-redemptrix’.
As we become with Christ ‘co-heirs’ of eternal glory (cf. Rm 8:17), but are by no means equal to Christ, through whom we receive our inheritance, so Mary, at the foot of the Cross becomes the co-redemptrix, but is by no means equal to her Son, the Redeemer, who redeemed her beforehand through her Immaculate Conception.
Nevertheless, precisely because of her Immaculate Conception by which she was prepared to be the worthy Mother of God, and precisely because of her motherhood of Jesus, Mary was able to stand at the foot of the Cross not as a passive and helpless spectator, but as an intelligent and active participant. She understood that Jesus, her Son, the innocent Lamb of God, was giving his life as an expiatory sacrifice for the sins of men, and she actively united her intention with his, offering her heart and will. She stood at the foot of the Cross saying in her heart, “Amen. So be it. To God be the glory.”
She stood at the foot of the Cross knowing that this was not the end, but the beginning; she stood at the foot of the Cross believing in the Resurrection. Years before, Elizabeth had said of Mary, Blessed is she who believed. (Lk 1:45) At the foot of the Cross, Mary’s perfect faith shines forth in the highest degree. She is the disciple who has perfectly learned the lesson of her teacher so as to share uniquely in his work. (cf. Lk 6:40)
Mary’s participation in Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross is the model for our participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which is one with the sacrifice of the Cross.
Those who stand with Mary at the foot of the Cross (John, the beloved disciple, and the women) are there because of their devotion to Mary. Mary has brought them with her to the foot of the Cross; Mary has taught them to put their trust in Jesus; Mary obtains for them the strength to stand with her and share in Jesus’ sacrifice. The sheep who are not scattered are the sheep who stay close to Mary, the sheep who are consecrated to Mary. They are the faithful sheep.