March 25, 2022

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Jesus meeting Mary on the way to Calvary can comfort parents

Sean GallagherWhen I was a student at St. Joseph School in Shelbyville in the late 1970s and early 1980s, my fellow students and I went to the church on Friday afternoons in Lent to pray the Stations of the Cross.

Those moments of prayerful reflection on the suffering and death of our Lord made an impression on me. My memories of those times praying the stations are vivid.

We prayed a version of the stations fitted for the experiences of young children. They helped us to see the meaning of Christ’s suffering for our own lives as grade school students.

Decades later, I’m now blessed to pray the Stations of the Cross each Friday morning in Lent with the students of Lumen Christi Catholic School in Indianapolis, where my four younger sons are enrolled.

Praying the stations as a husband and father leads me to prayerfully reflect those painful moments in Christ’s journey to Calvary, which have added to the insights given to me in prayer when I was a child.

Although each of the 14 stations have powerful meaning for all believers, the fourth station—Jesus meets his Mother—goes to my heart most of all and hopefully draws me closer to both of the people in this poignant scene.

Having lived as a father for nearly 20 years, this is a moment into which I can prayerfully meditate on rather easily.

The depiction of the cross-laden Christ meeting Mary in Mel Gibson’s 2004 movie The Passion of the Christ makes it all the more intense.

In that scene, Mary is off to the side of the path on which Jesus is walking and sees him falling under the weight of the cross. In an instant, she sees in her mind’s eye her son falling when he was a toddler and her running up to him and saying, “I’m here.”

Then she does the same thing as Jesus falls under the cross on the way to Calvary. She bends down to the ground. Their eyes meet. He reaches out, touches her face and says, “See, Mother, I make all things new.”

These words, by the way, are not found in the Passion accounts in the Gospels, but in Revelation 21:5. They’re said by a triumphant and glorious Christ sitting on a throne in heaven.

The use of these words in this scene in The Passion of the Christ is a theological reflection on how the Lord is victorious even in the midst of unspeakable sadness, pain and loss.

And as we are all baptized into Christ, we can share in this victory in the tragedies and hardships of our lives.

Such difficult moments are experienced powerfully by parents and children. And, as the scene in The Passion of the Christ suggests, the experiences can be intensified as they accumulate through the years. Memories of past shared hardships when our children were young can come fresh to our minds as new ones arise when they are teenagers or young adults.

The emotional weight of such moments can lay heavily like a cross on both parents and children. But our faith helps us know that we’re not alone in such dark times.

Jesus and Mary are with us. Mary knows the heartbreak of every parent who witnesses their children suffering. Jesus knows what it’s like for a child to see the hardship of a parent who wants to take the pain away from him or her but is powerless to do so.

And best of all, Jesus and Mary in the fourth station share with suffering parents and children the promise of the ultimate victory over pain and even death itself.

(Sean Gallagher is a reporter and columnist for The Criterion.)

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