Mary, Our Mother of Mercy

My mother died in July 2020. I was blessed to be home from my then-assignment in Rome for the event; as it happened, I was the only one there with her. In a manner that was like a reverse Pieta, she died in my arms, breathing her last breath into my face.

I cannot lie to you and tell you that this experience has been easy, and I do not think that the death of a parent, no matter what the age of the parent, can ever be. Not being a parent or a husband, I can only imagine how difficult the death of a child or a spouse must be. However, I do think that this event has been pivotal in my own life. In a way, it has forced me to grow up and to recognize that my own life, my home-base if you will, is changed. It has to be either with the Lord or not be at all.

I no longer have a mother on this plane of existence; she is no longer there, sitting in the chair in Brooklyn, as she had been for the past three years, waiting for me to order her food. To the eyes of the world, this death can seem pathetic — an elderly woman dies peacefully in the presence of her middle-aged son, just like thousands of others around the world every day. On the natural level, that’s how it is; but on the supernatural level, viewing things through the eyes of mercy, it was a blessed event; indeed, entrance into a new and eternal life.

Perhaps this is how Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Mother of Mercy, felt on this day. Just imagine what the past three years of Mary’s life had been like since her Son, Our Lord Jesus, had begun his public ministry. On the natural level, imagine the stares and the unkind remarks about her and her Son, about his lineage, about the presumption that he demonstrates in teaching the teachers, this time not in the temple as he had done when he was twelve, but now publicly challenging the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Scribes, and even the Sanhedrin. This is the situation when one looks at Mary on the natural level. And yet, through the eyes of mercy, it is indeed very different.

Yes, she, our Mother Mary, is the one who trusted that the Lord’s Word would be fulfilled, recalling her fiat uttered in complete trust and surrender to the Archangel Gabriel. Yes, it was she that allowed infinity to be dwindled to infancy in her immaculate womb, but the pain that she no doubt experienced because of her Son’s rejection was very real. The Blessed Virgin Mary knew that she was in battle, a battle with her Son’s foe, an enemy destined to lose, but one who can cause damage, a great deal of pain, to her Son and the world. This new Eve will crush her ancient enemy’s head, but not before she has to endure the agony of seeing her Son’s, Our Lord’s, passion and death.

Recall the film the Passion of the Christ, released in 2004. It brings home that the real threat is Satan, the prince of lies. This is seriously portrayed in Gibson’s film, especially in some key scenes. Satan, you might recall, in this film, is rather an androgynous character, sometimes being more manly and other times being rather feminine. The two scenes in the film that are the most troubling involve the Blessed Mother and Satan.

In one very difficult scene, the Lord is suffering during his scourging at the Pillar and Satan is there, almost as the anti-Blessed Mother. Satan, dressed as the Mater Dolorosa, carries a wizened, wrinkled little baby, rejoicing at the suffering of the Innocent One. As Mary, the New Eve, gives birth to the Lord of Everlasting Life, he who is the Eternal Youth, the New Adam, Satan, the Father of Lies, gives birth to and nourishes old, wrinkly, decaying death.

In the second scene, the Lord is carrying his cross on the Via Dolorosa; on one side of the street, the Sorrowful Mother weeps, following her Son along, ever the Co-Redemptrix. On the other side of the streets, dressed in a way matching Our Lady completely, walks Satan, laughing and rejoicing in the suffering of the Lord.

Our Lady watches her poor, banished children, blinded by anger and rage, weighed down by the weakness of soul from original sin and actual sin, perform actions and have attitudes so radically divergent from what comes from the depth of her anima magna. She, the Mother of all the Living, not only weeps as she watches her Son suffer and die, beaten, broken, bloodied, bruised, but also for all of humanity, who do not know what they do.

In the eyes of the world, this is a pathetic, hopeless scene. This is what this looks like on the natural level. A mother weeps copious tears at the foot of the instrument that has been used to punish her son, an apostate to the Jewish faith, a disgrace to the Hebrew faith, a political insurrectionist. With her stand a boy who is a fisherman, as well as two other women, one of whom is not really someone whom one would wish to be associated with in some circles. So sad is this scene that a Roman centurion thrusts his lance into the side of the criminal to put him out of his misery.

Yes, this is what this looks like to the eyes of the world, a world that is fallen. Yet, when we see with the eyes of mercy, we see a very different scene. We see flowing from Christ’s pierced side the fountain of sacramental life; we see a world that doesn’t even yet realize that with that one little action on a hill outside of Jerusalem, it is saved for all eternity. What is Mary doing in this scene? Nothing less than being mercy in the midst of the misery of mankind. Being mercy in the midst of the misery of mankind is what Mary does. Mary, our Mother of Mercy, our Lady of Sorrows, is also our Lady of Hope. At the cross, her station keeping, as the song goes, and as the Gospel proclaimed today reminds us, she knows what it means to bear that cross and she knows what it means to wear that cross over her heart.

She knows in her heart of heart and in her soul of souls that all this fierce struggle, this all-too human tragedy between good and evil that her beloved Son is experiencing on this earthly plane, is all for the salvation of the world. Every cut inflicted, every bruise endured, every insult and calumny heard, every indignity of every single bit of spittle he suffers, none of it, none of it is in vain. She knows in her heart of hearts and in her soul of souls that what her beloved Son, the only Son of a widowed mother, endures on this earthly plane, the shame on this natural level, leads to a supernatural level, wherein Satan is roundly defeated, and the prince of lies is made subject to the One who is All Truth.

Our Mother of Mercy knows this truth not only through the direct experience of being with her Son, Our Lord, but also through contemplation. Imagine Mary doing the first form of adoration, holding her child, this remarkable little project completed by the Lord and her, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Mary, our Mother, has one thing that we must possess more than ever — and that is HOPE! And that is precisely what we need today. Mary, Our Lady, knows that the Lord has pity on us. She knows the love that pours forth from his Sacred Heart, beating in a pure rhythm of love for us. She has the confident assurance that he is the victor, ultimately, over every trial, every adversity. That’s what makes her the mercy of God in the midst of the misery of mankind.

Rev. John P. Cush, STD About Rev. John P. Cush, STD

Fr. John P. Cush, the Editor-in-Chief of Homiletic and Pastoral Review, is a professor of Dogmatic Theology at Saint Joseph’s Seminary (Dunwoodie) in the Archdiocese of New York. He is a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn. Fr. Cush holds the Doctorate in Sacred Theology (STD) from the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome, Italy. He is the author of The How-to-Book of Catholic Theology (OSV, 2020), Theology as Prayer (IPF, 2022) and is a contributor to Intellect, Affect, and God (Marquette University Press, 2021).


  1. Avatar Bp. James Massa says:

    Such a beautiful meditation. Worthy of von Balthasar or St. Thomas!