This post is based on Week Seven of An Ignatian Prayer Adventure.
I picked up a prayer book and out fell a bookmark showing a mosaic detail of Our Lady of Perpetual Help from the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.
I stared. Sometimes, like this time, God leads me into a prayer that I never expected. In this icon, Jesus grips Mary’s hand with both of his tiny ones, turning away from a vision of an angel presenting him with the Cross in his future. Mary holds Jesus firmly in a stance that exudes stability and strength, as if to say, “Jesus, you can count on me. I will always be here for you.” In my imagination, I grab Mary’s hand too, placing my fingers over Christ’s.
As Jesus’ eyes fix on the Cross, I hear Mary tell her child, “I will be with you all the way. I will walk with you. I will suffer with you as you suffer. Do not be afraid.”
But wait. Mary’s eyes in this icon are not looking down at her Son. They’re looking out at the viewer, at me. And I hear, from somewhere within, an invitation: “Hold my Son close. Never let him go. He suffers today, in your world. Show determination in walking the way of the cross, knowing I also am with you.”
The longer I look at this image the more I hear the invitation: “Come, stay with us. Be a support, because you are a mother and you know how to be there for your children.”
Mary, you are so right. I’ve stood in the past with my children in some terrible situations, feeling compassion for them. In some cases, all that was needed was to be present, as in holding a child’s foot during surgery or witnessing a child go through a fearful MRI. “I am here. You’re not alone.” And I’d do it again. I would run into the street in front of a car to save my children. I want to help them through their crises.
Because of Christ, suffering has meaning. As the author of Hebrews tells us, “[Jesus], for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross.” (Hebrews 12:2) We don’t strive to stand with those who suffer merely to experience suffering. We look ahead to heaven, where pain doesn’t exist and all hearts are mended. With eyes fixed on Jesus, suffering has a point.
Mary models for me how to walk with Jesus. “Stay with me, even when it’s scary and you think you can’t do it.”
“Stay with my Son in the isolation of the garden, where in agony he will feel completely alone,” Mary says, looking at me from the icon. During this Holy Week, many are suffering isolation, quarantined for the common good. This is a time to draw near Jesus and to be motivated by love and united in prayer.
Image from Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs & Symbols.
Thank you Mother Mary. Thank you for the blessing of determination.
Her staying powers were phenomenal. Mary – an ideal mother. A truly tremendous model for mothers worldwide. Thank you Loretta.
We have an icon of the Madonna hanging in our church, Our Lady of the Nativity. Beside the icon is a little wooden representation of the Nativity scene. Until now I have always preferred the Nativity depiction – it’s simple, and lovely, and speaks to my heart. The Madonna icon I have always found rather intimidating. She is serious, unsmiling and, I felt, disapproving of my carefree disposition. After reading your post, I feel quite differently. True, this image is not that of a young mother looking forward to the joyful activities of family life. This is a woman, rather, who sees beyond. As you said, she exudes stability and strength; but there is more. She is also instructing us, her children, to stay with our own children as they face the vicissitudes of life, to be with the suffering in our community and the wider world, and to accompany her Son on His journey to Calvary. From now on, I will see the Madonna in the role of providing a mother’s all-encompassing love and protection, especially in our present climate of uncertainty and fear; and asking us to do likewise.
Thank you so much Lorella.
As a mom myself, I’ve learned that a mother is a mother for all of her life. We support our children during trials especially, and rejoice with them. I’m really fortunate to have good relationships with all four of our children. That’s because they allow me to be imperfect, they know I love them, and I work to be a non-evaluative lister.
My comments are always awaiting ??? something or other. Maybe it is because I am Australian and not American??? Let me just say this I did send A BIG thank you to you for the beautiful reflection on the Painting. I try very hard to stay with Jesus through his suffering and Can see myself with Him in the desert and other places. Thank you again and God Bless you in your work. A.M.D.G.
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Thank you so much, In this tine in our torn and broken world, Reading this I must admit made me weep. Your interpretation of this painting of Mary and Jesus, is a call to all. I am alone and family far away . Old & unwell and so It will get me on track, which sometimes I slip off and just lie and ask Jesus to help me cope if that is what I have to do to be with Him eventually. I fear of slipping into deep depression ,but trying hard not to. thank you again . and God Bless you especially during this most Holy Season of Easter, no-one allowed to leave their homes . I can’t anyway! A.M.D.G.
Thank you for this posting. Mary suffered too, but never left His side.
Loretta, when I read your reflections I am inspired by how you place yourself in the moment.
Thank you for showing me there is nothing abstract when I encounter Christ on scripture. He is talking to me for whom he died to wash my sins.
The icon is so different from most traditional ones of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. I really love it. I have two different images, both probably at least sixty years old, possibly. One was my grandmother’s, another belonged to the mother of a dear family friend. Thank you for posting this image!