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.