Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Chartres Meditation 9: At the foot of the Cross stood Mary, His Mother

At the foot of the Cross stood Mary, His Mother

Introduction: The Gospel affirms the presence of Mary at Calvary

Jesus, seeing His mother, and the disciple whom He loved, said to His Mother: ‘Woman, behold your Son.’ Then He said to the disciple: “Behold your mother.’ And from that day, the disciple took her into his home. (John 19, 26)

1          ‘At the foot of the Cross’ The Co-Redemption is the real meaning of Mary’s presence at the sacrifice of her Son.

Objection: Mary, like all mankind, is saved by Christ: therefore she cannot save with Him.

For example: The eye cannot see itself.

Answer: Mary is saved by Christ.

Mary is saved by Christ, she needs the Cross in order to be at friendship with God, definitely. But this salvation is applied to the Blessed Virgin in a different way to us. We are saved by being cured (grace makes us well again), while Mary is saved by being preserved from sin (grace preserves her).

Example: She does not attain health by medicine; she is in good health from the very start.

Explanation: Salvation takes place in two ways.
There is nonetheless a relationship between the two ways of being saved. Christ wanted first of all to redeem Mary (she is the first to be saved) and then, with her, involving her in His activity, he allows her to participate in His saving work.

Example: A mountain guide sets out to find some walkers, lost in a storm.  On setting out, he meets someone who is not lost but is waiting for him. He takes that person with him to help him find the others. It is still the guide who is the only person who can save them: it is he who knows the path and leads them back to it, but both of them are involved in accompanying the lost walkers back to the safety of the house.

Even though Salvation is One Work
Redemption, salvation, is one act of Christ, the Saviour of all mankind; that is the salvation of Mary and of all of the rest of us. At the foot of the Cross, Mary is not saving herself, nor is she creating an alternative redemption. Her salvation comes from Christ. But in assisting Him, she also gains merit, alongside him, for all of the rest of us.

In our Christian life, the first grace is always a gift, freely given and unmerited. However, all the others will be given to us if we love God, freely, willingly and with all our human strength. So we become co-operators of grace in ourselves, we work out our own salvation. For Mary, it is the same thing but on a larger scale. The first grace, completely freely-given, was the Immaculate Conception. Then by her own efforts, she united herself to that grace, so as to become a co-operator in the salvation of all. That is the Co-Redemption.

Important precision: it is not the same grace of salvation merited by Christ and by Mary.

The grace which Mary merits for us at the foot of the Cross is not like the grace that Christ merits. Jesus is, in fact, the Head of all humanity, and He is God; the grace which He obtains is absolutely not for Him: He has no need of it.  When Jesus forgives from the Cross, opens heaven to the good thief, calls souls to His love, that is a gift of mercy. Whereas the grace merited by Mary is a call to mercy: not the magnificent gift of the Head. But it is the humble present of the handmaid, who takes what she has to give from the Head, and benefits from it herself.

The moon reflects the light of the sun: it is from the sun that the moon takes its light.

Conclusion of this section
In brief, the Co-Redemption does not obscure the Redemption: it is its brightest reflection. It shows how God’s goodness is so great that He wishes others to give alongside Him. It is not enough for Him to be a generous Father, He wants others to open their hands to distribute His blessings with Him.

Spiritual Application
God is also calling us to that greatest of all goods: the salvation of all. Let us seek out in our own lives those places where the Cross is to be found, where His love is awaiting us, to transform suffering into growth, poverty into treasure, death into life, and earth into Heaven.

2          Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your Mother: the meaning of the Co-Redemption is found in the divine maternity of Mary.

Now that we have accepted the reality of this Co-Redemption, there is another objection to answer.

Objection: Mary distributes graces, but she does not acquire them
Mary may well apply the graces she receives by assisting at the Cross, but she is nothing more than the distributor, never the cause. She plays a role in the dispensation of graces (the subjective redemption which considers what each person receives) but she has no power to acquire that grace (the objective redemption, which is the work accomplished by Christ).

Answer: God does not only wish to give goodness, but also to give the capacity to do good.
God does not just seem generous. He truly is. He gives us all good things, but as we have already said, He also gives us the capacity to do good things ourselves. 

That means that He calls us to work towards our salvation, just as He commanded man to make the earth fruitful by his work.  As St Augustine put it, God created you without your co-operation, but He will not save you without your co-operation.

Mary is truly a cause in the Redemption, just as she is in the Incarnation.
In the case of Mary, as well as her eminent place in the order of grace exemplified by the Immaculate Conception, it is in the light of her divine Maternity that we understand her role in the accomplishment of Salvation.

Her Maternity accompanies Christ from His conception to the end, because it is a divine maternity

In fact, there is a greater love still: to give one’s life for the person one loves. This self sacrifice is what Christ accomplishes perfectly on the Cross; and the martyrs have copied Him; apostles, bishops, priests having given their lives for the sheep entrusted to them. How, then, could one even imagine that the most perfect of saints, the Blessed Virgin, should not have this crown of the supreme offering? How could one doubt that it is at the foot of the Cross that she accomplishes it?

And there is more: because she is the Mother of God and the Mother of the Church, giving human life to the Son of God, and bringing divine life to the Church, how could we hesitate to believe that her maternity is fulfilled in this Co-Redemption, where her Son Jesus becomes, by His Passion, the first-born of a multitude of brothers?

Comparison with St Theresa
St Theresa of the Child Jesus, enfolded in the hidden life of Carmel, felt called to a significant action, a true work of help for the missionaries. Was that the simple idealism of a young religious? No: the Church has in fact authenticated that mission of St Theresa’s declaring her the patron saint of the Missions. In the same way, we can understand that Mary, the Mother of God, the Mother of Salvation, that is Jesus, is truly she who gives eternal life, who gives salvation, just as she gave earthly life to Christ.

Scriptural Illustration
We find in the Scriptures a parallel between two expressions used by Christ and Mary. First, when she accepts the Angel Gabriel’s message, Mary says: ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done unto me according to thy word.Ecce ancilla Domini, fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum.

And in the Agony in the Garden of Olives, Jesus says, ‘Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass by me. However, not my will, but thy will be done.’ Pater, si fieri potest, transeat a me calix iste, verumtamen non mea voluntas, sed tua fiat.

The two phrases are similar, and both reflect the same spiritual attitude: submission to the will of God, the desire to place oneself entirely at the service of His plan of love and salvation.

Spiritual Application
Let us ask Mary, the Co-Redemptrix, to help us to direct our hearts towards God so that we may be ready to do His will.

New Objection: Nothing can be added to the work of Christ.
But then, what is she adding to the salvation achieved by Jesus?

Answer: The work of Christ is perfect and achieved; nonetheless, Mary co-operated with it.

Mary adds nothing to the Redemption; or at least, nothing substantial, nothing extra… but perhaps a quality, an ambiance: that of a sympathetic humanity. Clearly, Jesus could not sympathise with Himself: He was the one suffering, hurting. So one dimension of human suffering was borne by Mary at the foot of the Cross: suffering the hurt of those whom we love.

Also, Mary was accomplishing at Calvary the mystery of the new Eve, showing how Christ is the new Adam, the definitive and perfect head of humanity. Beside Him is a woman, of the same flesh, and who, paradoxically, has taken her supernatural life from Him (whilst it is she who gave Him His natural life). In that way, Mary shows us a woman, faithful, strong and sensitive, who is that half of humanity, who is associated with the unique Saviour, with the head of the redeemed, with the perfect, though not solitary, man who is the First Born of God and of the elect of the earth.

The disciple took her into his home: the fulfilment of the Co-Redemption is the Church.

The Gospel passage we quoted ends with St John’s welcoming of Mary into his home. Here we touch on the final aspect of the Co-Redemption: its ecclesial dimension.

Question: How far does the Co-Redemption extend?

Answer: Over all the Church, and more precisely over all those who are saved.

In its declaration Lumen Gentium, the Second Vatican Council reminded us: ‘This maternity of Mary in the order of grace began with the consent which she gave in faith at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, and lasts until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this salvific duty, but by her constant intercession continued to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation... Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked by the Church under the titles of Advocate, Auxiliatrix, Adjutrix, and Mediatrix.’

Illustration: unbelievers protected or converted at the moment of their death by Mary.

There are many stories of astonishing conversions, or sinners repenting at the moment of their death, due to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin. That should not surprise us: just as Christ is the Saviour of all, so Mary is the Co-Redeemer of all.

The Church is the privileged place of Salvation, because Mary is at the heart of the Church.
All the same, Mary’s mediation, like Christ’s action, takes place within and through the Church: Mary, of course, was entrusted to one of the apostles, St John, a priest and faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.

This welcoming of Mary into the Church also shows us that it is Mary who is at the heart of the Church to build it up and strengthen it. St Luke, before telling us about Pentecost, explicitly states that: “all of them, with one heart, persevered in prayer, with the women, and with Mary, the Mother of Jesus.’ (Acts 1, 14)

Spiritual Application
Persevere in prayer: in this time of Pentecost, we have an invitation from Mary, Co-Redemptrix, as well as her example, surrounded by the apostles, in those days of uncertainty and doubt which followed the Ascension. That is a good resolution for our pilgrimage: persevere in prayer.

Conclusion: Prayer of St Ephraim
Let us conclude with a prayer to Mary, the first of the saved, and Co-Redeemer alongside the Unique Saviour:

Sovereign Virgin, Mother of God, health of the whole family of Christians, you never cease to look down on us as a tender mother. You love us as if we were your children, always wanting to cherish us, and bestowing ineffable benefits upon us. You protect us and you save us; watching over us with solicitude, you deliver us from the dangers of temptation, and from the crowds of sinners who surround us. Full of gratitude, we thank you, we celebrate your generosity, and we proclaim your blessings, we sing of your marvels at the top of our voice, and we praise your care, your foresight. We sing hymns to your powerful teaching, and we forever tell of your boundless mercy.

Sovereign Mother of God, who raised the child Jesus Christ, our Saviour, I place all my hope in you, who are above all the powers of heaven. O Virgin, symbol of purity, strengthen me by your divine grace. Be my guide in this life and lead me according to the will of your great Son, our God. Obtain for me the remission of my sins, be my refuge and my protection, my deliverance and the hand that guides me to eternal life.

May your heart be moved on my account: for are you not the Mother of a God who is all-good? Look with bounty upon me, welcome my prayer with favour, answer my request, and quench my thirst. Unite me to my family, to my companions in service, with all men of peace, in the sanctuary of the just, in the choir of the saints.


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