Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Mother Mary’s tears

By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published April 17, 2014

April172014_murrayOne of my favorite lines in the Gospels comes from Mother Mary when she has been searching for three days to find her boy. When she and Joseph find Jesus, she utters words any mother in the world would understand, “We have been searching for you in great anxiety.”

Too often Mary seems to share nothing in common with people today. She is the distant, perfect figure, someone who never doubted, who never said, “It’s too much for me.” Someone who never shed tears.

But in that golden moment when she found Jesus in the temple, her words show us how deeply human she was. She was a real mother and she worried about her son.

We know she stood at the foot of the cross. She didn’t say anything, but any mother can fill in the gaps here. As the words of the famous hymn “Stabat Mater” tell us, “At the cross her station keeping, stood the mournful mother weeping, close to Jesus to the last.”

The words reveal she was not an impassive, unemotional figure. She was not a statue with arms outstretched. She was doing what any mother would do while watching her only son dying an unimaginably terrible death. She was crying.

So often in our lives we feel helpless. There is someone getting a divorce, and we don’t know what to do. There is someone else diagnosed with a terrible illness, and we don’t know what to say.

I think about my sister-in-law often when I reflect on helplessness. She lived a reclusive life with her mother, and gradually became a slave to alcohol and overeating. She never married and never had children although I know she wanted both.

In the old days we would go out for supper and talk, but as the years passed, she built emotional walls around herself, and the evenings out stopped. I wrote letters, suggesting she join a church so she could meet people. I sent her little prayers and encouraging sayings. My husband and I invited her to join us on a vacation and asked her to spend weekends with us. But she always declined.

Then one day we got a frantic call from my mother-in-law saying that Lisa had dropped dead from a heart attack. That was a few years ago, and still I look back and think, “What else could I have done?” “Where did I fail her?”

It’s tempting to think some kind of action will help when people in our lives are struggling with heart-breaking situations. Let’s run to a counselor, or let’s attend a meeting, or let’s send them information in the mail.

But then we have the image of Mary standing at the foot of the cross. She is like someone sitting patiently at the bedside of a dying child. She is beyond trying to change the course of events. She is beyond coming up with comforting words. Beyond begging someone to end this agony.

There was plenty of frantic activity when Jesus died. Soldiers brandishing swords to arrest him. Crowds screaming for his death. Soldiers beating him mercilessly and mocking him.

Then there was the long painful walk to the place where he would be killed, and the hideous pounding of spikes into flesh. We can assume Mary was there the entire time, and she heard all the cries from her son. She was silent, yes, but she still played a vital role in the events that day.

And her example is what I hold in my heart when I think about my beloved sister-in-law. I am learning there are situations in our lives we cannot change. Tragedies that unfold before us that we can’t make better. People who suffer and we can’t help.

Frantic activity won’t work. But we can always do the one thing that is most important, the one thing I still do now, even though my sister-in-law is gone, the one thing I believe Mary was doing as she stood weeping at the foot of the cross. And that is to pray for the one I have lost, and to love her forever.

Artwork is by Jef Murray, whose book, “Seer,” is a collection of his short stories accompanied by his illustrations. His website is Readers may contact the Murrays at