Prepare to place yourself in the company of the women at the foot of the cross
- The different sessions of this retreat have led us through a number of ways of becoming more still and focussed. You’ll have drawn on the experience of your own breathing, of noticing the different sensations in your body, of calmly observing the ebb and flow of your thoughts and feelings. By concentrating on a physical object you have been led into stillness, and by paying attention to the sounds around you you’ve been able to discover an underlying silence within. Take a moment to recall some of these methods, and see if you can remember one of them that seemed to work well for you.
- If there is one of these techniques that you have found helpful, take a few moments now to lead yourself through it. If you are new to these methods, you might prefer today simply to sit quietly now and prepare to place yourself in the company of the women at the foot of the cross.
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
Have you had the experience of staying with someone who was in great pain?
- Try to imagine the scene. All four Gospels tell us there was a small group of women that kept vigil by the cross, mostly women who had followed him from Galilee. What were these women doing? Why were they there, watching the excruciatingly slow death of their beloved Master?
- In Pasolini’s film The Gospel according to St. Matthew there is a very poignant sequence where several crosses are shown at the place of execution and at the foot of each one there is a female figure. Huddled in their shawls or veils, they wait there – somebody’s mother, sister, wife or girlfriend – waiting for their man to die. Their silent vigil is an act of loyalty. It doesn’t matter to them that the rest of the world comes to jeer and mock at those condemned as criminals. Their message to their loved ones is simple: “We are here, we still love you, whatever you have done, we will stay with you to the end.” How does that sense of dedication make you feel?
- According to Hebrew custom, it was a woman’s duty to prepare a dead person for his or her final resting-place. Imagine what a terrible burden this must have been. It’s distressing enough in a hospital or hospice to sit by the bed of a dying patient to ensure they are not alone as they depart this life, but to do this amid the cruel taunts of hostile bystanders and to share the shame, humiliation and disgrace of the public execution – this is an overwhelming sorrow. Have you had the experience of staying with someone who was in great pain? A loved one or a member of your family. Who has been there for you in your darkest hour? How did they support you?
- Jesus is stripped of his clothes and hanging naked on the cross, but this is also a moment filled with gentleness and kindness. Look at Mary, the Mother of Our Lord, as she waits at the foot of the cross. Listen again: “Seeing his mother, with the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, Jesus said to her, ‘Mother, there is your son’; and to the disciple, ‘There is your mother’; and from that moment the disciple took her into his home." What is to happen to her now?
Talk to God
Reflect on what God’s Son has done for you and give thanks
- Is this yet again an act of kindness of Jesus - a good son, thinking of his mother’s future. But in the context of the whole of John’s Gospel, this last gesture of Jesus has other implications. Jesus’ final gesture is to bring Mary and John into oneness as he and the Father are one.
- Jesus does not say to the beloved disciple “Here is my mother.” He says: “Here is your mother.” By giving his mother as the mother of the beloved disciple Jesus is calling her to give life to the beloved disciple, to bring Jesus to birth, as it were, within him, so that the disciple may dwell in Jesus and Jesus in him. And in the same gesture, the beloved disciple is called to become Jesus for his mother, for she has only one son: Jesus. This is a scene of love and communion.
- In the Franciscan tradition the San Damiano cross, a Byzantine cross inspired by John’s Gospel and the crucifix that spoke to Francis of Assisi, is very important. The Christ depicted on it is not a brutalised crucified Christ, but the serene crucified Christ from whose side water and blood flow to nourish the faithful who stand beneath. John’s account of Jesus’ death is powerfully different from the other Gospel accounts. He stresses not what humans have done to God’s Son, but what God’s Son has done for us. As this prayer time draws to a close, perhaps you could reflect on what God’s Son has done for you in your life? During this retreat? During this time of prayer? Reflect and give thanks.