With Mary at the foot of the cross

This story appears in the Lent feature series. View the full series.

by Nicole Trahan


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Good Friday — the day we commemorate the execution of Jesus. This year our commemoration reminds me of a quote from Meister Eckert about Christmas. In essence, Eckert asked what good it is for us that Jesus was born 2,000 years ago if he is not also born in us each day — for the Son of God always needs to be born.

In a similar way, I am reminded that although Jesus was executed in history 2,000 years ago, every day Jesus is persecuted and crucified anew in the victims of violence in Syria and Egypt, in the immigrant and the refugee, in our Muslim and Jewish brothers and sisters, in those who are executed by the state, in all those considered to be "other." Jesus dies a thousand deaths each day.

In this Passiontide, I feel a call to walk this journey through the Passion in union with Mary who walks with her son as he carries his cross and stands with him in his final hours. As Marianists, we seek to walk each day in union with Mary as we dedicate each day to continuing her mission of bearing Christ in our world. So this perspective makes sense for me. This approach to the Passion, though, seems even more fitting this year.

I see in Mary a companion in this journey through our modern-day circumstances. I imagine that Mary must have felt a full range of emotions as she accompanied her son — deep sadness, compassion, anger, powerlessness, and even trust in the midst of maddening confusion. And while my range of emotions may not be as deeply felt as Mary's, if I am honest, I see the same emotions in myself when faced with the current reality of our world. Deep sadness as I learn of the sufferings of those physically far from me — as I read about chemical weapons attacks, church bombings, shootings in schools and on city streets, racist and xenophobic actions against groups or individuals. Compassion as I meet people who live in fear because of their ethnicity, legal status or faith tradition. Anger as I see some in civil leadership positions with their apparent blindness, greed, fear and hardness of heart. Powerlessness because I feel so small relative to the issues I see. And yet, I also feel trust in a loving God through it all. What, then, can we learn from Mary with whom we share these feelings?

In the face of our current reality, I think of Mary, standing at the foot of the cross of her only son. Mary stands. Some may see this as a passive posture. However, I see it as anything but passive. Mary's stance at the foot of the cross is one of courage, non-violent resistance, of defiance … and it is an act of love. She stands for justice in the face of unjust systems. It is a steadfast stance of trust in the One who overshadowed her and was with her at each step of her life. In standing there, she most likely put her own life at risk, but that was not her concern. Her concern was for the one who suffers and to stand in non-violent opposition. This, I believe, is our call as well — to stand in resistance to the systems that oppress, violate or murder and to stand with the one who suffers, who is our primary concern.

Mary stands to be present and to support. There are times when others are in such pain that our only possible response is simply to be present to them. There will be times in our current national and global reality in which we can do no more than be present to those who suffer. Perhaps we cannot be present in person, but in many situations we can. We just need clearer sight to see those in our midst who are in need of a compassionate presence.

She stands with the beloved disciple. She stands, not alone, but in community. There is a sculpture that is in our Marianist Brothers' Generalate in Rome depicting Mary and John at the foot of the cross. In this sculpture, both Mary and John gaze at Jesus — their concern is with the one who suffers. However, they are also embracing one another, supporting each other in their pain and in their support of Jesus. We cannot stand at the foot of another's cross without the support of a loving, faithful community. We cannot do it alone. The pain is overwhelming and the work for justice too large.

In light of the reality that surrounds us, we may find ourselves asking, "How am I called to respond?" "How can I use the gifts God has given me to respond to the suffering Christ in our midst?" As we ponder these questions, let us take Mary as our model. Not the Mary of our youth — meek and mild — but Mary who stands courageous, bold and steadfast.

[Nicole Trahan is a member of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate (Marianist Sisters) who teaches sophomore religion at Chaminade Julienne Catholic High School, serves as the National Director of Vocations for the Marianist Sisters, and is director of the pre-novitiate program for her province.]