Anyone who has stepped into the vast courtyard of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome knows the feeling of awe that comes over a person at the sheer size of the place. I was pushing a baby buggy as I walked in. This was my first trip with my little boy, three months old, and suddenly my baby and I felt very small and a rush of protective anxiety came over me. I picked up my precious, sleeping bundle and, leaving the buggy next to one of the pillars, walked up the stairs hugging my son close to me.
As I approached the basilica, my eyes were automatically drawn upward to that massive dome, arching up like the sky itself. I stepped inside and gazed at the mighty pillars, the hosts of saints and apostles standing motionless above my head, the gleaming gold lamps around St. Peter’s tomb. Around me, crowds of people streamed in and out, chattering their international tongues.
Suddenly I caught sight of a particular statue. I had seen photographs of Michelangelo’s Pieta, but had forgotten that it would be here. Its power was overwhelming and drew me like a magnet. I walked up close. Here was a mother just like me, and in her face I could see the same passion of love, a love beyond explaining and like no other, that I felt for my own child. But in her face was also a suffering I had never known. I remembered the “sword that cut through her heart” and I held my son closer, wondering how she survived it.
I remember that sword again as I read about the many mothers who have lost sons and daughters in the war. I know their grief is one with Mary’s grief on Good Friday. I think of the mothers whose sons do return, but who look into their eyes and see wounds—wounds to their spirit where a mother’s caress cannot reach.
I remember Jesus’ words to the women who followed him as he bore his cross:
“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, “Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts than never gave suck”
Are we living in those days now? Will my heart someday be pierced by a sword also? How many mothers have felt its stabbing pain this year? I have not lost a son or a daughter. Not yet. But I think every mother can feel Mary’s pain. I would like to protect my innocent children, as Mary wanted to protect her little baby Jesus. But there is evil and darkness in the world and none of us is safe from its power.
But there is something else in Mary’s face. I see her love and her pain, but I also see deep reverence. The body cradled in her lap is her child, but also her God. She knows she is holding a soul of greatness as far beyond the wretchedness that killed him, as the sky towers over a clod of earth.
In her face is the promise of Easter and of resurrection. It is dark, overwhelmingly dark for all those suffering mothers and wives here in America, and down in Iraq. But I believe there will come a day, like Easter came for Mary. Two days ago was Palm Sunday. We all remembered the Palm Sunday long ago, but this year we should especially hold to the promise of the Palm Sunday that is coming:
Behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands…These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb...[He] will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.