I was recently listening to a podcast that referred to our blessed mother’s accompaniment of Jesus as she stood by his cross during the crucifixion. Fr. Donncha Ó hAodha spoke beautifully about how our blessed mother was with Jesus, accompanying him, during his darkest moment, and I encourage you to listen to the entire episode, titled, “The Triumph of the Cross.”
What I’d like to do in this post is reflect on our blessed mother Mary as a model of accompaniment. By looking to our Lady for guidance in this area, we will see how accompaniment very often means standing at the cross with those who suffer and suffering with them. Mary at the cross can inform our own approach to accompaniment and purify it of all that would seek to avoid the cross in the lives of others out of a false sense of compassion.
To begin, we should take a look at a couple of verses from John 19 and the scene of the crucifixion:
“But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home,” (Jn 19:25–27).
This moment if the life of Jesus and Mary is where we get the words for the sequence that’s offered on the memorial of our Lady of Sorrows — Stabat Mater. Mary’s standing at the cross of Jesus is starkly contrasted by the flight of the disciples, with the exception the beloved disciple and a few of the women who had journeyed with Jesus. This is the first example we receive from our blessed mother at the cross — she stood there at the Cross of Jesus, she was present.
The second example we can receive from our blessed mother is her compassion — she suffered with Jesus on the cross. Too often we hear about a version of accompaniment that would seek to remove the necessity of the cross from the life of Jesus’ disciples or potential disciples. What did Jesus say when Peter rebuked him for saying that he, Jesus, must die? “Go behind me, Satan, because thou savourest not the things that are of God but that are of men,” (Mk 8:33).
Immediately after issuing these words to Peter, our Lord turns to the multitude with the disciples present, and says, “If any man will follow me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me,” (Mk 8:34). Did not our blessed mother take up the cross of Christ in her soul, and walk every step with him, and suffer every wound as if it were her own? Simeon had prophesied about this reality when he told Mary, “and a sword will pierce through your own soul also,” (Lk 2:35). Mary made the cross of Christ her own through compassionate love. She accompanied her divine Son in his agony. She suffered with him.
Pope Francis speaks about spiritual accompaniment in a way that reflects both Mary’s standing at the cross and her compassionate suffering with Christ:
“Spiritual accompaniment must lead others ever closer to God… to accompany them would be counterproductive if it became a sort of therapy supporting their self-absorption and ceased to be a pilgrimage with Christ to the Father.” (Evangelii Gaudium, 170).
A “pilgrimage with Christ to the Father.” This is what’s taking place at the cross. This is what takes place in genuine spiritual accompaniment with those who suffer.
We would be misguided in our spiritual accompaniment if we failed to recognize the cross of the one who suffers existing within Christ’s own cross. Without the cross of Christ, suffering the cross lacks guidance and the hope of redemption. Within the cross of Christ, we realize that we are accompanying him, like Mary, standing, suffering with him, on his pilgrimage to the Father.
Finally, to aid us in acquiring the disposition of suffering with Christ that characterizes our blessed mother, we are given all we need in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. During the Mass, Christ’s self-offering on Calvary is re-presented, and we can truly stand with Mary (who is present at every Mass), remembering her compassionate love for her son Jesus on the Cross. This Eucharistic principle is the foundation for any pastoral ministry that would involve spiritually accompanying a suffering disciple or potential disciple of Christ on their pilgrimage to the Father.
When you are next invited by our God to stand at the cross of Christ and suffer with him, I hope that you will remember our blessed mother Mary’s example. Whether you’re invited to accompany the sick, the dying, the emotionally or physically wounded, the doubtful, the confused, remember how Mary stood at the cross of Christ and suffered with him, the redeemer. Suffer with Jesus, God, who suffers with us. See the suffering within the cross of Jesus. By the grace of God, stand, suffer with, and do not flee from this pilgrimage to the Father.