Third Word: “Woman, Behold Your Son. Behold Your Mother.”

The Devil Battles Against the Mother

Diego Velázquez, “Christ Crucified” (detail), c. 1632
Diego Velázquez, “Christ Crucified” (detail), c. 1632 (photo: Public Domain)

Editor’s Note: The Seven Last Words, taped at EWTN April 11, will be broadcast on Good Friday at 5 p.m. Eastern, hosted by Father Raymond J. de Souza.

The Scandals in the Church and
the Scandal of the Cross
“Father, forgive them,
for they know not what they do.”
“Today you will be with me
in paradise.”
“Woman, behold your Son.
Behold your Mother.”
“My God, my God,
why have you forsaken me?”
“I thirst.”
“Father, into your hands
I commend my spirit.”
“It is finished.

The first word from the cross is addressed, fittingly, to the Father: Father forgive them. Depending on the order chosen, the sixth or seventh word is also addressed to the Father: Father, into your hands … Now, the third word introduces the maternal dimension. From the cross, Jesus entrusts the apostle John to his Blessed Mother. The Church has understood that all of us, along with St. John, are entrusted to Mary as our Mother. In recent times, Mary’s title of “Mother of the Church” has gained new prominence; St. Paul VI formally proclaimed it during the Second Vatican Council; St. John Paul II put the image of Mater Ecclesiae in a prominent place in St. Peter’s Square; last year our Holy Father Pope Francis created a new feast of Mary, Mother of the Church, to be celebrated on the Monday after Pentecost.

The maternal dimension of our faith draws life from the motherhood of Mary at the foot of the cross. We think of her there as the Mother of Sorrows. And, together, both titles, “Mother of the Church” and “Mother of Sorrows,” fit this age of scandal. The Church herself is meant to be a mother for the disciples of Jesus, and the Marian profile or image of the Church is the more important identity.

In 1987, during the Marian Year, St. John Paul II made that point explicitly in his Christmas address to the Roman Curia:

“In this sense the Marian dimension of the Church is antecedent to that of the Petrine, without being in any way divided from it or being less complementary. The Immaculate Mary precedes all others, including obviously Peter himself and the Apostles. This is so, not only because Peter and the Apostles, being born of the human race under the burden of sin, form part of the Church which is “holy with sinners.” … This link between the two profiles of the Church, the Marian and the Petrine, is profound and complementary. This is so even though the Marian profile is anterior not only in design of God but also in time, as well being supreme and pre-eminent, richer in personal and communitarian implications for individual ecclesial vocations.”

The scandals have reminded us of the failings of the Church of authority — the Petrine profile. The remedy must be a Church that is more Marian, more the disciple, more the mother.

In 2016, promulgating new legislation regarding sexual abuse, Pope Francis chose to the give the document the title, “As a Loving Mother.” It begins: “The Church loves all her children like a loving mother, but cares for all and protects with a special affection those who are smallest and defenseless. This is the duty that Christ himself entrusted to the entire Christian community as a whole. Aware of this, the Church is especially vigilant in protecting children and vulnerable adults.”

The Church has failed as a shepherd to be the Good Shepherd of which Jesus speaks. The Church failed as a mother, to be a mother like Mary.

In the history of salvation, as outlined in the Scriptures from the Book of Genesis to the Book of Revelation, there is a mortal combat between the mother and the serpent, between the maternal mystery and the diabolical mystery.

In a recent book, Phil Lawler, argues, like John Paul did in 1987, that the Marian dimension of the Church must return to remedy the weaknesses in the Petrine dimension. His book has a provocative title: The Smoke of Satan. The title is taken from a prophetic utterance of St. Paul VI in 1972.

Lamenting the chaos and confusion he saw all around him, Paul VI said, during his homily for the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, that “from some fissure the smoke of Satan has entered into the temple of God.” He continued: “We believe … that something preternatural has come into the world specifically to disturb, to suffocate the fruits of the Ecumenical Council, and to prevent the Church from breaking out in a hymn of joy for having recovered in fullness the awareness of herself.”

The same Church which proclaimed Mary as Mother of the Church was now choking on infernal smoke. The battle of the mother and the devil was evident to Paul VI. At the time it was thought that the Holy Father was speaking of doctrinal and liturgical strife and the defections from the priesthood and religious life. We now know that the 1970s were the high point — low point, really — for priestly sexual abuse. Not only was the smoke of Satan in the temple of God, the fires of hell were licking at the door.

The great evil of sexual abuse is diabolical. And the remedy God’s gives us against the devil is maternal, the Immaculate One, Mary, given to us from the cross as our mother.

Woman, behold your son. Behold your mother.

Glory be to the Father …

The Earth is Not Our Mother

“The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate.”—G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy