Continuing from Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson’s Lenten Sermon on the Seven Last Words of Christ Our Lord, Part III, from “Paradoxes of Catholicism”.
THE THIRD WORD
“Woman, behold thy son. Behold thy mother”
Our Divine Lord now turns, from the soul who at one bound has sprung into the front rank, to those two souls who have never left it, and supremely to that Mother on whose soul sin has never yet breathed, on whose breast Incarnate God had rested as inviolate and secure as on the Bosom of the Eternal Father, that Mother who was His Heaven on earth. Standing beside her is the one human being who is least unworthy to be there, now that Joseph has passed to his reward and John the Baptist has gone to join the Prophets — “the disciple whom Jesus loved”, who had lain on the breast of Jesus as Jesus had lain on the breast of Mary.
Our Lord has just shown how He deals with His dear sinners; now He shows how He will “be glorified with His Saints”. The Paradox of this Word is that Death, the divider of those who are separated from God, is the bond of union between those that are united to Him.
I. Death is the one inexorable enemy of human society as constituted apart from God. A king dies and his kingdom is at once in danger of disruption. A child dies and his mother prays that she may bear another, lest his father and she should drift apart. Death is the supreme sower of discord and disunion then, in the natural order, since he is the one supreme enemy of natural life. He is the noonday terror of the Rich Fool of the parable and the nightmare of the Poor Fool, since those who place their hope in this life see that death is the end of their hope. For these there is no appeal beyond the grave.
II. Now precisely the opposite of all this is true in the supernatural order, since the gate of death, viewed from the supernatural side, is an entrance and not an ending, a beginning and not a close. This may be seen to be so even in a united human family in this world, the members of whom are living the supernatural life; for where such a family is living in the love of God, Death, when he comes, draws not only the survivors closer together, but even those whom he seems to have separated. He does not bring consternation and terror and disunion, but he awakens hope and tenderness, he smooths away old differences, he explains old misunderstandings.
Our Blessed Lord has already, over the grave of Lazarus, hinted that this shall be so, so soon as He has consecrated death by His own dying. “He that believeth in Me shall never die.” He, that is to say, who has “died with Christ”, whose centre henceforward is in the supernatural, simply no longer finds death to be what nature finds it. It no longer makes for division but for union; it no longer imperils or ends life and interest and possession, but releases them from risk and mortality.
Here, then, He deliberately and explicitly acts upon this truth. He once raised Lazarus and the daughter of Jairus and the Widow’s Son from the dead, for death’s sting could, at that time, be drawn in no other way; but now that He Himself is tasting death for every man, He performs an even more emphatically supernatural act and conquers death by submitting to it instead of by commanding it. Life had already united, so far as mortal life can unite, those two souls who loved Him and one another so well. These two, since they knew Him so perfectly knew each the other too as perfectly as knowledge and sympathy can unite souls in this life. But now the whole is to be raised a stage higher. They had already been united on the living breast of Jesus; now, over His dead body, they were to be made yet more one.
It is marvelous that, after so long, our imaginations should still be so tormented and oppressed by the thought of death; that we should still be so without understanding that we think it morbid to be in love with death, for it is far more morbid to be in fear of it. It is not that our reason or our faith are at fault; it is only that that most active and untamable faculty of ours, which we call imagination, has not yet assimilated the truth, accepted by both our faith and our reason, that for those who are in the friendship of God death is simply not that at all which it is to others. It does not, as has been said, end our lives or our interests: on the contrary it liberates and fulfils them.
And all this it does because Jesus Christ has Himself plunged into the heart of Death and put out his fires. Henceforth we are one family in Him if we do His will, (we are) His brother and sister and mother; and Mary is our Mother, not by nature, which is accidental, but by super-nature, which is essential. Mary is my Mother and John is my brother, since, if I have died with Christ, it is “no longer I that live, but Christ that liveth in me”. In a word, it is the Communion of Saints which He inaugurates by this utterance and seals by His dying. “Woman, behold thy son. Behold thy mother.“
† Immaculate Heart of Mary, Queen of our hearts, Mother of the Church, do thou offer to the Eternal Father the Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, for the conversion of poor sinners, especially our Pontiff.
Please pray the Rosary for the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary!