Sister Doreen’s Reflections.
Healing Words from the Cross:
“Woman, this is your son … this is your mother.” (John 19:27)
From the Tree of the Cross Jesus spoke words of healing, seven important qualities we all need if we are to help complete God’s vision for humanity: in this third word spoken from the Cross for healing: LOVE’S RESPONSIBILITIES.
There is something infinitely moving in the fact that Jesus in the agony of the cross, in the moment when the salvation of the world hung in the balance, thought of the loneliness of his mother in the days when he was taken away, and acknowledges love’s responsibilities.
These words – “Behold your son! Behold your mother!” – contain within them the full force and mystery of love’s responsibilities. These words lead us to consider the most fundamental attitude of the Christian to the world: the attitude of love – an interest in the whole person. God is mindful of the needs of our bodies, the heartaches of our souls, the restlessness of our minds, the inspiration of our spirit.
Wrapped up in these words from the Cross, I experience the struggle with the apparent contradictions and solutions of life. These words create a scene of faith and vulnerability, of belief and doubt, of promise and betrayal, of power and powerlessness, of belonging and exclusion, of suffering and hope. It is as if this third word from the Cross is saying that in order to nurture a life of faith, we cannot do so without attention to the inherent vulnerability of human life. These are tender words. They are a call to us to love tenderly. It is a call to being really present – really present to oneself, to each other and to God.
To love tenderly nurtures the feeling and the knowledge of belonging.
To love tenderly nurtures the gift of tenderness that is a consequence of openness and the absence of defensiveness.
To love tenderly nurtures growth and new strength – which brings with it a corresponding new vulnerability.
If we are to be faithful to our vocation to love as God loves, we are called, not only to be tender, but also to be intensely determined to hold firm to life. Communities that serve as contexts of transformation – who live out the call to love tenderly – manifest their vocation by serving as environments in which life can come unraveled and re-woven with a new health and life. They are places where new and fragile beginnings are nurtured. They are places of contradiction which continually challenge limited and idolatrous forms of faith, refusing to rest in forms which offer love and justice for some, but not for all.
We are called to be tenderly and fiercely determined to hold firm to life – even as God holds us.
This third word is of comfort and of the need to understand our belonging to each other and of needing each other. It involves us in a shalom relationship – of justice, of peace, of wholeness and health. It springs out of a deep understanding of a compassionate God whose love is always, unconditionally available – a faithful God who is continuously present and active in our life and in the life of the world. It is as God’s beloved in whom God is well pleased, the apple of God’s eye that we discover our greatness and our glory. We have been created, chosen and made holy by God. At the same time we are conscious of being fragile and needy. These words spoken from the cross – “behold your mother, behold your son” are spoken to make us conscious that while we are fragile and needy, we long for and rejoice in a God who accepts with compassion our fragility and appreciates our neediness while rejoicing in our belovedness.
What we hear in these words lie at the heart of the activity of love: “Behold your son! Behold your mother!”. They speak of loves responsibilities. It is an invitation to enter these responsibilities and be involved in their activity. It is a time for intentional work on relationships – with one another and with God. It is a time of experiencing an “unfoldment” of my life in which God’s blessing, compassion and justice are unleashed, not from some remote heaven but from the human heart. God’s joy and desire for all of us and all of creation is our full flourishing. What is needed for the full flourishing of our own communities, our own world?
We are called to be agents of healing for the entire earth. God feels earth’s sorrow, and mine. God shares earth’s work, and yours. God knows earth’s joy and ours. In relationships we share everything. Love’s responsibilities – “Behold your mother, behold your son” – words that need to be listened to with the ear of the heart, learning to hear as God hears and see as God sees. It is the way to release the fear and prejudice that separate us one from another.
Mary and John stood by. Knowing how to stand by is a holy act. It is to stand on holy ground. It is to be in the centre of loves responsibilities and involved in loves activities. Love is the gift giving of ones very own self. Our words and our actions are sheer emptiness devoid of real love unless we ourselves are behind them. We come close to others only if we give them something, and the most important present we can give is our own presence, our being with them: our standing by.
The third word from the Cross introduces us to the mystery of love and love’s responsibilities. Placing another person above the interest of ourselves, protecting the other, struggling for the other, giving them life and inner growth – these are qualities that find expression in the action and the words – “Behold your son! Behold your mother!”. This embraces the servant qualities of simple assistance and standing by, faithfully staying with another. It holds within it that deep mystery of the tenderness of saying good-bye. Love sustains life in its weariness, disappointments and loneliness by giving it away – by giving it a present of itself. We cannot give away anything that will not return as an infinite gift to us. We lose everything that we keep locked away to ourselves, and we lose nothing of ourselves that we give away. We come up against the Gospel truth: we lose what we hang on to.
In Jesus words we are given a deep insight into how these possibilities of love can become ours, for the healing of humankind. “Behold your son! Behold your mother!” – a call to new responsibilities, and a call to seize our opportunities to choose, to serve. As a faith community, as the body of Christ, in the words of R Rolheiser in “Holy Longing: “then Christ’s presence in the world today depends very much upon us. We have to keep God present in the world in the same way as Jesus did. We have to become, as Teresa of Avila so simply put it, God’s physical hands, feet, mouthpiece, and heart in this world.”
Unless we as a faith community speak the words of Jesus to each other “behold your mother, behold your son” those words will not be heard. Unless we demonstrate the comfort and sense of belonging to each other, the world will not find the power to enable a response.
We may make many mistakes in reaching out in love and service to others – in taking hold of the great choice life holds out to us. As we weave the two-fold ply of love and learn how to make those choices more unselfishly and genuinely, so we are bound to make many mistakes. But so we will grow! To not love for fear of making mistakes is not life but death. To not let go and step out into the unknown – to accept the risks, challenges, responsibilities, pains and vulnerabilities that are inherent in Jesus words – “Behold your son! Behold your mother!” – is to risk losing the healing power that leads to new life and growth. It is the road to wholeness and this is the door of hope to a sad at heart, disturbed and shattered world.
And this challenges is for us – to speak the word of healing to ourselves, to humankind and to the nations – by taking love and love’s responsibilities into the holy ground of human need in order to bring wholeness to birth. How does this challenge me to reach out?