Reproclaiming the Everlasting Gospel
The Women Under the Cross
A great crowd of people followed him, including women who beat their breasts and lamented over him. Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me. Weep for yourselves and for your children...”
St. Luke 23:27
As a Catholic child I made the stations of the cross in a darkened, incense-scented church pausing at each picture of the passion to pray for Jesus. His suffering, pain and death were imprinted on my child heart. There were others also pictured whose grieving faces will never leave my memory…the women.
Among them were his mother Mary and Mary Magdalene, his disciple. The two women closest to him during his lifetime. At the time of his death they drew near to share his pain.
As a mother, I know that my deepest pain is witnessing my child’s suffering – whatever that might be. Yet, Jesus’ mother Mary stood at a distance to witness her son’s brutally slow death. All through the day he was dying, pulling up against the nails of the cross to catch a suffocating breath. How could she bear witness?
There upon the cross hangs my child. Who could have foretold such agony for a mother? To see her baby suffering such a painfully slow death. I cradled him in my arms, swaddled him, taught him. Joseph and I secreted him out of the land of Herod during the holocaust of innocent children. We, his parents, were his basket of reeds.
How my heart ached when he was lost at age twelve on a trip to Jerusalem. I searched the caravan frantically for him, asking each person, “Have you seen Jesus? Have you seen my boy?” After three days of desperately searching, we found him in the temple speaking with the rabbis. We asked, “Son, why have you done this to us?” He replied that he was doing his Father’s business, and we should not be troubled about him. It was then that I first knew that he belonged not only to me, but to God.
Later when he became a man, I began to fear for his sanity. For long periods he would go into the desert alone, in total fasting and prayer. His brothers and I went searching for him when we heard of his madness. He claimed to be a prophet! As we approached the small house where he was visiting, we saw it was filled with people and a great crowd surrounded it. I sent word to him that his mother and brothers were outside waiting. He answered, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers? Whosoever does the will of the Father is brother and sister and mother to me.”
My child hangs upon a cross. I stand beside him in his hour of pain. Once they called him the son of Mary. Now he is called the son of man.
Standing nearby is Mary Magdalene, who is called a whore, who has been rejected throughout the ages, but who is actually a disciple of the Christ. Her many sins were forgiven because of her great love for him. Magdeline remained with Jesus while most of the other disciples ran to hide in their fear. She witnessed her beloved master writhing upon a cross. She comforted him by her faithfulness.
I have followed you from Galilee, Master. In this land of men I have been a slave. Yet you recognized me as a person and raised me up from the dust. You freed me. My sins you did not overlook…you counted every one of them. You healed me and forgave me…you loved me. No threats can separate me from you in this hour. I am without fear because you are near. Through your tender mercy, I learned of God’s faithful love. Blessed are your words which fell upon my wounded heart. Blessed is the womb that bore you. You are the Christ, the messenger, the son of God….
We women do nor turn our faces away from suffering. Life comes into the world by our bodies, by our willingness to bear the pain for a worthy cause. Life leaves the earth with the sound of our weeping. We are weeping for our children, as Jesus knew we would. We are weeping for ourselves.
The strong women under the cross are symbols of the powerful and loving God. If a man died on the cross and saved the world by his weakness, the women beneath him bore witness in their loving strength. Gathered here beneath the cross, we weep God’s tears for his people.
Maurine Pyle (December 1983)
After receiving a vision of the cross
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Thank you for this solemn and moving piece, Maureen. The women's sense of loss and contained grief pull emotions to the surface, as we recognize the tragedy. Their dignity in the face of this loss would be sufficient affirmation of life, but there's the unexpected reversal to come that also overwhelms emotionally in its complete affirmation, experienced as joy: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. For ye shall go out with joy and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands (Isa. 55:11-12).