Love’s Compulsions

“Near the cross where Jesus hung stood His mother, with her sister, Mary the wife of
Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. Jesus saw His mother with the disciple whom He loved
standing beside her. He 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.”
(John 19:25)

How like Jesus to rise above the excruciating pain and the agony of His last moments on earth to care for the needs of His mother. As He told Peter to care for His disciples after he himself would recover from the shame of betrayal (Luke 22:37), so here He worries over the life ahead which His own mother would endure after Jesus was gone from the earth. It was important to Him that she not have to face a future of loneliness and neglect.

How it must have shocked the two of them there at the cross. He surprised them by those words, yet pure love often shocks by its largesse. She never would have expected that He would think of her—at least not then. And she could not have been the mother of Perfection if she had been worrying about herself. Both are paradigms of selflessness.

In a world where words have so lost their meaning, no phrase is as abused as “I love you.” It should imply that the speaker realizes the person he or she is addressing is not just the object of affection. One you love can never be simply “out there.” Rather, the heart that loves is not enclosed in the lover’s breast. The person, the “I,” is no longer an isolated unit. In the case of Jesus, only a few hours after He spoke those loving words to Mary and John, a lance would pierce His heart, and “blood and water gushed forth” (John 29:34). Tender love burst from His heart before the lance’s steel point. It rested on Mary, His mother, and the disciple whose greatest honor was to be beloved by Jesus in a special way. What privilege—what an obligation. We live in a time when many children cannot find time to care for their own aging parents, much less somebody else’s mother. I think of my former bishop, an immigrant to America, who was appalled at what he considered this country’s way of reducing parental affection to one Sunday of the year. He felt that we should be sending cards and flowers regularly to those who gave us life and raised us from childhood.

Note the way the evangelist John was honored to have the Lord’s mother entrusted to his care. This is, after all, his gospel. Devotion to the ever-virgin Mary is characteristic of all true believing Christians. We identify with the beloved disciple. As he becomes our brother in Christ, we too are adopted children of Christ’s holy mother. Many homes bear the icon of the Holy Theotokos, which in Greek literally means God bearer. The title affirms the truth that she indeed bore the Son of God in her womb. Beyond that affection is a meditation on that ceremony of adoption that afternoon on Calvary. Mystically all who truly love Christ identify with St. John. All meditate as well on their devotion to Christ. How many of us have the courage to stand up as John did and publicly witness our allegiance to Jesus at the risk of our lives? Do we live for ourselves alone, or is our love something that transports our hearts beyond the person we call “I”?