"Woman, behold thy son! Behold thy mother!" (St. John 19:26, 27).
WE HAVE thought of the triumph of the Cross in prayer and in grace; let us think now of its triumph in love. These words of our Lord set before us the length, the breadth, the height and depth of the love of Christ which passeth knowledge.
For the time we forget those who nailed the Saviour to the Cross, we forget the penitent and now pardoned thief. The form of the Mother of Jesus is before us, and our Lord's beloved disciple. Jesus speaks to each; He cements a new union between His own Mother and His favored disciple.
"Woman, this is henceforth thy son. I put him in a certain very true sense in My place to thee."
"Son, this is henceforth thy Mother. I have no greater legacy that I can leave thee than this."
Am I not right in saying that this was a triumph of love? For our Lord relinquished as His exclusive possession His beloved sinless Mother, to give her to another. And on the part of that Mother whose heart is wrung with anguish as she beholds the Passion of her Son, what a triumph of love is this, in which she consents to this Word and receives another in His place, she who had been highly favored and permitted to call by the name of Son the only begotten Son of God.
The Catholic Church treasures this kind of love. You find it nowhere else. It is her glory; she triumphs in what our Lord and His blessed Mother here began. His purpose would not have been fulfilled had He merely come to us and chosen us out separately, creating no holier relationship to our fellow men.
No, He came to redeem us as a race. He would not have a lonely world, He wished to have the world brought together into a great family.
He came as the new Head of the human race, the second Man, the last Adam. He came to weld human souls together into a world-wide society in which love should find its realization and its triumph.
What our Lord did when He commended His Mother and His beloved disciple each to the other, He carries on still as He binds together in one body all His children in the fellowship of the Holy Ghost in the communion of the Catholic Church.
He Who has made of one blood all nations to dwell upon the face of the earth, has created in this family of His Church ties stronger and closer than those of kindred and of flesh.;
The Holy Catholic Church is the school of self sacrifice, whose lessons of love are learned from the Cross. And what heights there are in that love!
Think of the height to which He calls those upon whom He lays a special choice, that under vows of obedience and poverty and chastity they may follow His steps exactly, leaving natural kindred, letting go human ties, and in order to be bound to Him only and to be all His, taken out of the world.
Only our Lord can teach that, and only the Catholic Church can reproduce that triumph of love which we see in the religious life. Let us dwell for a moment on its purpose.
When our Lord looks steadfastly and lovingly upon a soul, and says as He said to the rich young ruler, "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come and follow Me" (St. Matthew xix. 21), He surely is not holding out the religious life as a substitute for disappointments' in the world.
It would be dishonoring His call to this fellowship with Himself, to imagine that only hearts which have been denied human sympathy and the affection of home are eligible to such a vocation.
Nor is it a qualification for following Him in the counsels of perfection that the heart itself can no longer respond readily and joyously to the lovely and innocent things which gladden life.
No, our Lord's offer is this: to take the natural affections of the heart at their very best, to purify them through close contact with His Cross, and, after they have been first surrendered to Him, to restore them cleansed, redirected, invigorated, endowed with new capacities and with a delight and an intensity of loving never known before.
This new force of love is necessarily centered in Himself, but so far is this from weakening its capacity towards others, that in loving all souls in Him, it loves them with a simplicity and strength which have triumphed over self, and in which jealousies, hurt feelings, wounded pride and selfishness in its varied forms, no longer exact tribute from the heart made to love Him who gave His life for the love of men.
His own Blessed Mother is the first to make this surrender, and in the completeness of self-sacrifice to illustrate this new capacity of universal love.
Nothing this world ever knew was so pure as her human love for Him who took His humanity all from her. Yet even this holy claim she surrenders, in order to bestow upon St. John and upon every child of the Catholic Church that love which finds its rest and satisfaction in her Son.
And surely here there are lessons for us all.
How often we despair of our own hearts, how often we say and in saying give up any further effort, "I cannot love such a person, I can never make myself feel kindly toward such an one."
But the Cross shows us the triumph of love over every such obstacle as we fix our eyes upon Him who is stretched upon its length and breadth, and there commends His Mother to St. John and St. John to His beloved Mother.
Surely we have here a lesson which rebukes at once the selfish and wrong objection that makes us despair of our love.
His grace can triumph even over our dull, cold hearts, if we will take Him into them and surrender them to His control. Silently, wonderfully, powerfully, He will act upon them. He will inspire them with the power of loving which they have not known before. He will make them His own, and then He will deal with them as He did with His Mother, He will make others to share them with Himself.
Ah, yes, one cannot forget, meditating on these words, that in. the home, in the family life, in the union of Christian man and Christian woman in the bonds of Holy Matrimony, this saying has its special force.
I do not now mean to dwell upon the more terrible evils which despoil the home and separate man and wife from each other; but apart from these graver wrongs, it is important to remember that the home, the family, cannot be built up upon merely human affection.
Christ was present at the marriage in Cana of Galilee; His presence blessed it and multiplied gifts for it.
It is only as the wedded hold to the love of Christ and love each other in Him, that they can attain the ideal of holy and unselfish love which our Lord intended.
They learn thus that after the merely natural side of affection has reached its height, there is a higher love still, growing more and more beautiful as life goes on.
Daily, in such wedded life, there is enacted what took place on Calvary, where Jesus with His blessed Mother and St. John formed that circle which included them with Himself, and set before the world that ideal of love which is based upon His great love for men, and which lives on wherever the home is sanctified and love offered up first to Him before it is spent upon His creatures.
May He teach us then by this Word more and more of this control of the affections; may He take from us whatever discourages us and would persuade us that we cannot exercise love in the right way; and may He take possession of our cold hearts and by bringing them to His Cross so unite them with His own, that they may love Him more, and for His sake love all whom He purchased with His Blood.
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