Called to Be Like Mary, Mother and Bride Through the seasons of my life as…
Many years ago on a Good Friday afternoon I was stopped in my tracks at the words flowing from my mouth so matter of factly to the candidate whom I was sponsoring through RCIA. I was previewing for her the liturgy she was about to experience for the first time: “At one point we will be called forward to venerate the cross,” I instructed. “You can either bow, or touch the cross, or you can kiss the cross.” Kiss the cross. The words stunned. For days, just beneath my face-to-meet-the-world, tears fought to surface constantly. I had experienced a betrayal that knocked the breath from me. I knew the Lord well enough to seek His solace, to put my trust in Him as best I was able, to unite my suffering to His, but ninety per cent of me still reeled with the raw hurt that engulfed me. Kiss the cross–WHAT??!! When it came my turn, bending over to kiss the spot on the bare wood where I imagined Jesus’ heart to be, all I could say from my own broken heart was, “I love you. Help me.” Kissing what had happened was repugnant to me.
There are many levels to be addressed in such circumstances. Accountability and remorse on the part of the betrayer, a willingness to seek help, the long journey in restoring trust to the relationship–hard work on both sides. Underneath it all is the most tender invitation from our Jesus for profound intimacy with Him, the “Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief” who is closer to us than our own breath, whose capillaries burst in Gethsemane as He absorbed our betrayal, causing Him to sweat blood. He alone knows our very particular pain. My dear Mennonite friend coming into the Church was compelled by one magnet and one magnet alone after the tragic death of her son. Having stumbled onto an almost-over Mass in a country church one morning out for a walk, just in time to hear the priest’s quiet “the Body of Christ” to each reverent recipient, she knew. In her words, “My little church does not leave a stone unturned in bereavement–meals brought, laundry tended to, house cleaned, every need met. I felt their love, yet it couldn’t touch my pain. But the host mesmerized me. I knew it was truly Jesus, and only He could meet me at the depth of my sorrow. I have to receive Him.”
In the path laid out for me there were subsequent betrayals, all entailing the initial incredulity, the horror at trust betrayed, the desperate plea to the Lord to reveal His will for my staying or leaving–and clinging, clinging, to the one trustworthy Heart I knew. Yet I see in hindsight that there were other “clingings” as well, none of which were wrong in themselves–in fact, quite promising–but in need of deeper surrender. This inner healing conference, that Catholic marriage counselor, this Theology of the Body week. that retreat with a gifted priest-exorcist…the list goes on and on. Each time I trusted in the deep conviction these engendered in my husband’s tender soul. I believed utterly in the glory of Christian marriage and in Jesus’ power to heal ours, and I well knew (which made the addiction more crazy-making) there was committed love in our life together. I believed…I hoped…I gave myself fully into the bedrock that the Lord, in all the repeated suffering on both our parts, was making us intact. This was not “magical thinking;” my husband never ceased to agree to real help and, at least at the beginning of each of the countless cycles, eagerly embrace it. In our recent history, struck to the heart with remorse and motivation to change, he committed to an intense discipline with a Catholic addictions counselor. Such joy, on both our parts, for the true success he was realizing! Finally, I thought, HERE WE ARE. Thank you, thank you, God!! The sixth decade of marriage is not too late.
But–not so fast (fast?!). The Bridegroom of our souls has a way of wooing us, wooing us, until we become as entirely His as possible this side of our heavenly wedding with Him. With a subsequent, staggering (to both of us) “confession” of my husband’s, there were all my old, and valid, responses–hurt, anger, self-questioning disbelief and self-castigation for having trusted once again. But quietly came an equally staggering grace. This time, settling down after the initial sting, I felt myself absolutely cruciform. Not simply because this newly revealed aspect of the “behavior” left me reeling, but because it opened my eyes to the stunning depth of the core wound beneath. This surely was a non-marriage–my gut speaking–for reasons deeper than I had ever fathomed before. A stark disability lay between us. I had been seeking water from a stone. The reality check was piercing. I was reduced to bare bones. Nothing–absolutely nothing–left to give.this “marriage.” I felt instantly cruciform, every bit of terra firma obliterated. Everything I thought was the sun coming up and the sun setting every day, wasn’t. Stripped bare of all the “normal” that had dressed me, I was viscerally drawn to Jesus on His Cross as never before. Our mutual nakedness made Him, immolated there, the only home to have. Nothing else suffices in such moments, only the wedding on the Cross. Peter’s words, “Where else can we go?” contain it all. “I looks at Him, and He looks at me,” answered the old man when the Cure of Ars asked him what he did in Adoration. But this is even more specific. Jesus, my only life is from my cross to yours, from your Cross to mine. Oh, the depth… Perhaps there could be more, but I can’t imagine it. This, finally, the place of union, this marriage bed of the Cross. All is abandoned, surrendered. I am empty of pleas, of expectations, even for healing or restoration or reconciliation. I have yielded those. I am naked before you in this profound unity. ONLY YOU.
In this state, His timing so perfect, our tender Lord gently tended and nourished me with particularly anointed teaching–a Theology of the Body “Immersion” happening nearly in my own back yard that very week. In confession with a gifted priest there it came clear to me that I was attached, at least to a degree, to an ideal, which somehow didn’t allow accepting my husband (not his behavior, but him) in his depths. I was all but unaware that I had been insisting on what I believed was mine to have, and not what I–what we as a couple–had been given. My daughter, during a missionary year, had a wise spiritual mentor whose constant refrain was, “Receive what’s given.” With Jesus on the cross, I’m having clearer vision of what that means. In the chastened place of reality which the last incident paved for us, we are finding a new mutuality and even a new intimacy in a level of prayer and accountability which hasn’t been in place before. I have entered in instead of eschewing. “Kissing the cross” means I can have true compassion for where my husband’s heart still bleeds, and not go off the balance beam in a nurturing that enables–or in assumptions that prove illusory and come back to bite. “Kissing the cross” means I am grateful for my husband’s addiction coach, but keep my heart and gaze steady, boundaries in place, no la-la-lands. With that confessor’s help, “kissing the cross” means acknowledging that this is my marriage, and this marriage has been fruitful. Thank you, God, for all the good, the true, the beautiful, the stupendously graced. “Kissing the cross” means embracing all of my husband, all that shines bright and is so lovable, and all that demands our trysting place be at the foot of the cross, as one therapist long ago expressed it. And “kissing the cross” means often fleeing to the safest, most secure place that exists–Mary’s womb, to be carried completely, to be formed in trust of the Father and His plan, to learn to love as she does, minus control, agendas, insistences, self-reliance. Nothing but Fiat, and only with grace.
“Kissing the cross” means I am also kissing the fulfillment of the Cross–Heaven. We must keep the WHOLE picture before us–that this life is “marriage prep” for the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. No accident of poetic imagery that heaven is described most often in the Bible as a wedding! Deep in our body-spirit DNA as male and female made in God’s image, we sense that our yearnings for fulfilling union carry the blueprint for the ultimate union between Christ and His Bride, the Church (Eph 5). When that blueprint is trammeled, the suffering is heaven’s opposite, hell. But–“there is cause for rejoicing here. You may for a time have to suffer the distress of many trials, but this is so that your faith, which is more precious than the passing splendor of fire-tried gold, may by its genuineness lead to praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ appears. Although you have never seen him, you love him, and without seeing you now believe in him, and rejoice with inexpressible joy touched with glory because you are achieving faith’s goal, your salvation” (1 Pet 1:2-9). “For the sake of the JOY that lay before him he (Jesus) endured the cross…” (Heb 12:2). And what is this joy? “A new heavens and a new earth” (Rev 21:4). Nothing lost. Every moment redeemed. Each specific agony we have experienced met with its own, specific glory. “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it so much as dawned on man what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9)—an eternal, ecstatically fulfilling WEDDING!
Father Donald Haggerty’s recent meditation in the “Magnificat” (10/10/21) pierced with its truth. “It can happen,” he writes,” that the opportunity for a great offering to our Lord coincides with a time of great personal pain. And who of us can say whether we are approaching such a day, when God’s love for us…will entail a shocking loss… A sacrificial act of offering must take place, more serious than any other renunciation we have made in our lives. It is a profound offering to God of what he has taken from us, holding back nothing, uniting ourselves now to his choice, even as this act may cost much in tears. ‘Yes, Lord, this, too, indeed everything you have asked, I offer to you’… The essential truth of sacrifice as an outpouring–a bloodletting of the heart, an immolation of soul–will reveal itself, and it must be recognized for what it truly is: an entry into the heart of God.”
Thank you, God. What awesome mystery, this entry into your heart.