Mary stands near the Cross, drawing the others with her. Her physical nearness expresses her spiritual nearness as well as the nearness of affection and concern any mother would have for her suffering child. Crucifixions were brutal and ugly to witness. The professional violence of the crucifiers was mingled with the hostility of the mob. It is not hard to imagine that Mary was subject to harassment and heckling. There would be no lack of disdain or insult from the crowd. So, her nearness to the Cross also expresses her courage, her indomitable fortitude. Her commitment to her Son would brook no intimidation. While the other women mentioned and the Beloved Disciple did support her, it is not difficult to deduce that it was Mary who gave strength to them.
And Jesus would have seen all this from the Cross. The Evangelist tells us as much. It is in seeing his mother stand near the Cross and the disciple he loved stand near his mother that Jesus is prompted to speak, with whatever breath he could muster. With one look, he grasped the situation. And in his dying love for his mother and for his disciple, he binds them in a covenant, a relationship. It is a covenant of deep human significance, of mother and son; it is a covenant of deep spiritual and religious significance, because it is the will of the Son of God for mother and for the disciple. It is part of his last will and testament. It is therefore sheer grace, pouring from the heart of Jesus.
Jesus speaks first to his mother: “woman, behold your son.” The sense of the word “behold” is first to see physically. But it also means to apprehend, to grasp with the mind, as when, for example, we finally understand a problem and say, “I see.” It has another meaning, too. It means to experience as when we say, for example, I want to see how cold the water is. To see physically, to see with the mind’s eye and to experience: that’s what to behold means. Jesus had beheld his mother in this way standing near him, and also his disciple. And now he commands his mother to turn her gaze from himself to behold instead the disciple, now called her son. Mary now sees the disciple with new eyes, she understands him and she experiences him in the sense that she feels with him what is happening in his heart and soul. As she did in beholding her crucified Son, so she now shows her compassion, her fidelity and commitment, her presence and her love towards the disciple.
We cannot love if we are not loved first. As one writer puts it: “The beauty of a mother’s gaze is that the child can feel the emotions of love, security, safety, and overall well-being by connecting with her through eye-to-eye contact. This sets the stage for the future development of social skills, visual recognition of people, and their readiness for social interaction in the world.” Jesus knows this, of course (it was He who created it to be so) and so it’s fitting that he first tells his mother to behold the disciple. Experiencing Mary’s love and care, the disciple is then able to respond to Jesus’ command to him, “Behold your mother.” Now it is the disciple who will see, understand and experience his mother, given to him in grace and love by his older brother and Lord. And the result of this exchange of beholding leads to a practical result: the disciple took her into his home from the very moment Jesus commanded him. Mary is not to be homeless, but to be in the disciple’s, every disciple’s, home. It is a covenant commanded by the will of Christ. We cannot leave Mary out in the cold if we would welcome Christ inside.
I have wanted our Parish Festival to refocus our gaze, our beholding, on our Mother Mary in order to realize with new fervour that She is already beholding us, each one of us. It is a way of continuing to obey Christ’s dying will and love for us and for her. We need daily to cast our gaze upon her, to welcome her into our home both physically and metaphorically, into our hearts and lives, our families and activities. Jesus continues to entrust her to us, and we to her. Her presence is no threat to us; even less is it any threat to Jesus. As with the couple in Cana of Galilee, she anticipates our needs and intercedes with Jesus on our behalf. As our earthly mothers care for us, Our Lady likewise and much more so is on the lookout to help us in the order of grace and nature.
The revival of faith in our parish can only be rooted in beholding first the Lord Jesus truly present in the Eucharist. Then, listening to Him speak to us from the Eucharist, that revival will flourish further as we behold the Mother he has made ours by the same love which made the Eucharist possible. I pray that the Lord will renew within each of us this two-fold grace to help us in our mission as individual Catholic believers and as a whole parish community. I pray, too, that our Mother has achieved the wishes of her Immaculate Heart during this Festival for the graces of God which Her expert Mother’s eye could see we most needed. Mother of Christ and Mother of Humanity, Star of the Sea, we revere and thank you at the end of this Festival which we have celebrated in love for your honour.