Wednesday, May 2, 2012

When Reality Hits

But alongside the joy which, with your Magnificat, you [Mary] proclaimed in word and song for all the centuries to hear, you also knew the dark sayings of the prophets about the suffering of the servant of God in this world. Shining over his birth in the stable at Bethlehem, there were angels in splendor who brought the good news to the shepherds, but at the same time the lowliness of God in this world was all too palpable.

The old man Simeon spoke to you of the sword which would pierce your soul (cf. Lk ), of the sign of contradiction that your Son would be in this world.
Then, when Jesus began his public ministry, you had to step aside, so that a new family could grow, the family which it was his mission to establish and which would be made up of those who heard his word and kept it (cf. Lk 11:27f). Notwithstanding the great joy that marked the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, in the synagogue of Nazareth you must already have experienced the truth of the saying about the “sign of contradiction” (cf. Lk 4:28ff).

In this way you saw the growing power of hostility and rejection which built up around Jesus until the hour of the Cross, when you had to look upon the Savior of the world, the heir of David, the Son of God dying like a failure, exposed to mockery, between criminals. Then you received the word of Jesus: “Woman, behold, your Son!” (Jn 19:26). From the Cross you received a new mission. From the Cross you became a mother in a new way: the mother of all those who believe in your Son Jesus and wish to follow him. The sword of sorrow pierced your heart.
Spe Salvi 50

Reflection – From joy to sorrow – this is the movement in this section of the encyclical! And it’s not exactly a foreign one in our lives is it? Yesterday, Jesus was being conceived in Mary’s womb, and the joy of the coming of God into the world was apparent. Now, Mary sees what that coming of God looks like and what it will demand of her. And a sword of sorrow pierces her heart.

Well, this is not alien to our lives, not at all. There is the joy of the wedding – wasn’t that a great party! And then… the marriage. Misunderstandings. Sacrifices. Problems. Children. All the demands and difficulties and honest-to-goodness pain that enters into life with the nitty-gritty demands of married life.

A priest is ordained, and that too is a great moment of joy. Parish life—well, not without it joys, but great challenges, too. Opposition, loneliness, crushing burden of work, swamped by worries over finances and administration, the call to enter the pain of one’s flock. From joy to sorrow.

And consecrated life, in all its forms, too – great joy, great gladness in the taking of vows or promises, and then the reality hits: monotony or uncongenial obediences or the irritation of living in community.

From joy to sorrow! From the happy beginnings of a life to the realization of what you must do to persevere in it and what that will cost you. The picture is not one of unrelieved grimness, of course. There is joy and laughter and beauty present in any life at any point. But we all know the movement described by Mary and Jesus, the movement through the sorrowful mysteries of life. It comes to all of us.

And it is here that the need for hope and the call to hope is especially acute, when reality hits and may even bite. It is here that we need to hang onto Jesus and Mary with particular urgency. It is here that so many people falter, so many are tempted to leave their commitments, and do in fact leave their commitments. It didn’t work out like a Hollywood movie with the happy ever after over the closing credits—something must have gone terribly wrong here!

We need Jesus and Mary to help us know that nothing, absolutely nothing, is wrong with this picture. That from joy to sorrow and through sorrow to glory is the absolute necessary norm of human life, of any human life lived in serious commitment to the task of love and the path of truth and goodness. And that hope, even in the darkest hours, breaks through and makes it possible for that sword to pierce our hearts, too, not easily, not without great cost and travail.

But with their help, we can do it, and doing it, come to see the light of glory breaking upon our lives. And that is our true and lasting hope.

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