Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Stabat: Regenerating the Church from the Foot of the Cross

As I try to steady myself amidst the earthquake of the crisis in the Church, I frequently return in my mind’s eye to living and working in New York City during the tragic event that we mark today, 9/11.  I remember going to a liturgy for the victims in a large and packed church in the heart of Manhattan.  It was only when two very large candles were lit that I began to sob:  “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.”  In the intense days that followed, I frequently touched that mercy in the atmosphere on the streets, and especially riding the subway.  We were strangers, but our best hope was to be human together and attentive to each other’s pain and each other’s needs.

And so now too, I am drawn to the foot of the cross: “Lamb of God.”  What a horrible, violent, shameful, ugly, fearful, repulsive scene.  What must it have been for Mary, who sang of the greatness of God’s work when Jesus was in her womb, to witness the body of her Son so reduced—to the point that he even seemed drained of his divinity: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) 

And yet in the Gospel of John, Mary is called to focus her attention on the person who is standing beside her: “Woman, behold your son.”  And John is called to turn to Mary: “Behold your mother.”  And so John took Mary into his own home. (John 19:26-27).  This is the powerful DNA of the newly born Church that emerges from Jesus’s radical identification with all forms of human weakness and suffering. 

It is true that this moment of intense purification calls for a creative brainstorm on how to start or strengthen structures and practices of transparency, accountability, and shared decision-making.  But perhaps in the midst of these conversations, we can also work together to identify some of the spiritual wounds that have led to unhealthy and even vicious practices within Church structures and institutions.  For example, many who work within the Church—priests and laity alike—do not experience the warmth of an intimate and human space that nurtures their spiritual, personal and emotional integrity, and also keeps them connected and accountable to the larger community.  Who is paying attention when inevitable personal crises emerge?  Who has time to listen and walk together through those questions and doubts?  What practices can sustain our focus and reinforce our efforts to be in the world, all together, a people of the Beatitudes: poor, meek, pure, just, close to those who suffer?

I think it may be here that Jesus’s words from the cross cry out to each of us: “Behold your son.”  In his Commentary on the Gospel of John, the Church Father Origen explained that Mary had just one Son.  The injunction was not to behold another son, but to behold her one Son, the Christ, in John: “Lo, this is Jesus, whom you bore.”  (Book 1:6)  When we behold the wounded body of today’s Church, we behold the wounded body of Christ. 

“Behold your mother.”  What might it mean for us to “take Mary home” in the wake of this crisis?  There would be many ways to invoke her presence and her closeness to us in this moment.  As our blog recalls, Mary is Mirror of justice, and she is also Refuge of sinners.  Both dimensions of her love can accompany us in the important work of truth-telling and healing in the wake of the unspeakable crimes and abuse that have been revealed.   

Perhaps one of the most powerful ways to bring Mary home is to focus on how her open adherence to God’s great love generates the presence of the living Christ in our world.  This presence can then in turn be our guide in the difficult work of in-depth cultural change.  Within the great mosaic of the Church we may have different roles and ways to respond to the crisis.  For some of us, our contribution might simply consist in helping to create a space of community and love where people are welcomed and accompanied in the ups and downs of our lives, so that many can experience the Church as the home and school of communion. (Novo millennio n.43).

All of this work can be an expression of Mary’s own love and care for the Church, through which, in that stabat, she beholds her own Son.  Mary, Seat of wisdomVessel of honor, Help of Christians, pray for us.  Amy Uelmen

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