December 31, 2016
“Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” (Lk 2:19)
Mary of the deep heart, suneterei (kept together with vigilance) the words and events surrounding the birth of her son and God’s, sumballousa (tossing them together in conversation.
These words comprised the words of the angel, the witness of the shepherds, the prophecies of Simeon and Anna, and the mysterious revelations in the life of a growing boy. So she guarded and juggled beauty and mystery and pain.
Mary of the deep heart stands at the threshold of this New Year, looking back on all that has been and looking forward to all that will be. She holds the things too beautiful to be gulped down in one and the things too painful and mysterious to be dismissed with a wave of the hand.
We too hold within us pain and beauty, like Jacob and Esau striving for supremacy in the womb. Our world and each person in it bear this inner struggle that threatens rupture, such that to look too deeply at anything is to feel this tension.
Perhaps this is why we like our crucifixes to be beautiful. As Augustine says:
“Beautiful is God, the Word with God…
He is beautiful in heaven, beautiful on earth;
beautiful in the womb, beautiful in his parents’ arms,
beautiful in his miracles, beautiful in his sufferings;
beautiful in not worrying about death,
beautiful in giving up his life and beautiful in taking it up again;
he is beautiful on the Cross, beautiful in the tomb, beautiful in heaven.
Listen to the song with understanding, and let not the weakness of the flesh distract your eyes from the splendor of his beauty.”
(Exposition on the Book of Psalms, see also Vita Consecrata, 24)
How can pain be beautiful?
I asked this question once when making the Stations of the Cross with the abuse of children very much in mind. “Sweet the nail and sweet the wood” – is this not a travesty and a scandal? How can suffering be beautiful?
At length, an answer came: because the one who suffers is beautiful.
Mary knows this secret. She sees behind the encrusted blood and spittle to the created soul which, unbeknownst even to itself, is so beautiful only God can look at it without blinking.
Could I dare to look into the eyes of my enemy and risk seeing such pain and such beauty?
On this threshold of the New Year, we stand with Mary, treasuring and pondering the year that has passed, with its inexpressible pain and irrepressible beauty. May we, under the gaze of the Mother of God, live the pain and the beauty of this coming year deeply, with full consciousness and a spirit of gratitude.
Image: Rose window, St Joseph's Abbey, Spencer