Sacrifice of Isaac-Caravaggio
When we act in accordance with the Father’s will, it is not always easy.
Take the example of the child Jesus. Our Lady and St Joseph took the child Jesus up to Jerusalem so as to act in accordance with the law. Another way of expressing this is to say that, by fulfilling the law, they acted in accordance with the Father’s will.
And in so acting, what sorrow was brought to Our Lady. For it was here in the temple that she heard the words of Simeon: “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against, and a sword will pierce through your own soul also.” (Luke 2: 34b-35a)
We see here the intertwining of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus – he who is a sign that is spoken against – and the sorrowful and immaculate heart of Mary. For it is through her heart, so full of grace as to be immaculate, that Mary gave her fiat and so conceived in her womb and bore a son, one whose name means God saves, one who desires to save us through the mercy that pours of his most Sacred Heart.
It’s because of this Sacred Heart though that the prophecy of sorrow was delivered unto Mary. No Christ; no prophecy. No Jesus; no immaculate heart. No Sacred Heart, no sorrowful heart.
The sorrow of the prophecy is threefold: the sorrow that her Son would be a sign that would be spoken against; the sorrow that many of her spiritual children would fall; and of course the sorrow caused by her own suffering which, even upon hearing Simeon’s words, commenced.
Recall that his mother, his brother, his sister is the one who does the will of the One who sent Him (cf Mt 12:50). When we act in accordance with the Father’s will, we too can expect to be intertwined with the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and the sorrowful heart of Mary. If we do the will of Christ, we do the will of the Father and to do the will of the Father, is to do the will of the Sacred Heart for the Father and He are one.
In Scripture, the mountain can be associated with sacrifice. Abraham was willing to sacrifice his only son on a mountain of Moriah. Christ, the only begotten Son of God, offered himself as a sacrifice on the Mount of Calvary.
It is in sacrifice and sorrow that we meet God in a particular way. Sometimes, as with Abraham, we are only asked if we are willing to make the sacrifice. When we show God that yes, we would embrace His will, we find that sometimes our acquiescence is enough and instead of asking us to pick up that particular cross, He takes it from us.
Why does God ask of us to pick it up if it is not His will that we carry it? Even when the cross is taken from us, the mere act of surrendering to His will is a sacrifice, one which pleases Him greatly. But it is also allows us to be purified. Indeed, as Our Lady and St Joseph ascended into Jerusalem with the forty day old babe in their arms, it was a time of purification (c.f. Luke 2:33). God also asks because it is through this surrender, when ahead seems naught but sadness, loneliness and the cross, that He is able to show that He will be with us.
In Exodus, the Lord reveals to Moses, “But I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that I have sent you: when you have brought forth the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God upon this mountain.” (Ex 3:12).
Christ too served God upon the mountain; indeed on the Mount of Calvary, Christ is the one who serves God perfectly. By doing thus, by doing the will of the Father, His cross became a sign of both serving God and sacrifice.
What does it mean that Jesus is set for a sign that is spoken against? “The sign which is spoken against is called in Scripture, the cross. For Moses, it says, made a bronze serpent and placed it for a sign.” So St Basil tells us. But Saint Gregory of Nyssa points out that “perhaps Christ Himself is termed a sign, as having a supernatural existence, and as the author of signs.”
When we embrace our cross, or at the very least pick it up and follow Jesus, we meet God, even amidst the sorrows that the cross can bring. “But I will be with you,” God says. And it is here, in the surrender, in the cross, that we meet God.
In Scripture, God’s people ascended into Jerusalem and into the Temple, the place where sacrifice was offered. In the Psalms of ascent, we prepare ourselves for the sacrifice and we prepare to offer ourselves in sacrifice:
- Save me O Lord – Psalm 120
- I lift up my eyes to the hills. From whence does my help come? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth – Psalm 121
- For love of my brethren and friends I say, ‘Peace upon you!’ For love of the house of the Lord I will ask for your good – Psalm 122
- To you have I lifted up my eyes, you who dwell in the heavens…have mercy on us Lord, have mercy – Psalm 123
- Indeed our snare has been broken and we have escaped. Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth – Psalm 124
- Those who put their trust in the Lord are like Mount Sion, that cannot be shaken, that stands forever – Psalm 125
- Deliver us O Lord from our bondage as streams in dry land – Psalm 126
- If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders labour – Psalm 127
- Indeed thus shall be blessed the man who fears the Lord – Psalm 128
- This is Israel’s song – Psalm 129
- Out of the depths I cry to you O Lord – Psalm 130
- O Israel, hope in the Lord both now and forever – Psalm 131
- Go up, Lord, to the place of your rest, you and the ark of your strength – Psalm 132
- How good and how pleasant it is, when brothers live in unity! It is like precious oil upon the head – Psalm 133
Like Our Lady, like Christ himself, we can go up to Jerusalem and present ourselves to the Father, offering ourselves as the sacrifice. The sacrifice offered by Our Lady and St Joseph in the Presentation was both a fulfilment of the Law, a purification, and a sacrifice of themselves. The sacrifice offered by Christ on Calvary is both the sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of ourselves. We too can go up to Jerusalem, up to Calvary.
The fulfilment of the Law is a fulfilment of the law of love, a love in which He laid down His life for us, His friends. We too are asked to fulfil this law by loving one another as Christ loves us, a love which is embodied by both his Incarnation and by His Passion, for in His humility, He submitted to the former which led to him enduring the latter.
The last sorrow of Our Lady is the burial of Christ, the completioin of the Passion. The first sorrow is the prefiguring of the Passion with the Presentation and it is here that the prophecy of Simeon is first heard. Why then do we count the Presentation as a joyful mystery?
It is joyful because it is a confirmation of Mary’s fiat. In the Annunciation she gives her fiat and in doing so, she freely offers of her whole self. But in the Presentation, her offering is deepened for what was abstract – the Word – is now a concrete reality – the Word has been made flesh. She offers again her whole self, including her love of this child and offers a willingness to endure both His passion and her own passion. Such love is a reflection of, an overflowing of, and a prelude to the great joy that is Christ’s love for the Father and the Father’s love for Christ.
It is joyful because it is through the cross that Jesus goes to the Father. It is joyful because the fruits of the Incarnation and subsequent Passion is the Resurrection:
Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.
John 16: 20-22
And in own lives, God may ask for what seems impossible to give but through surrendering to the cross – however poor that surrender is – he transforms the sorrow into an even greater joy. He gives us more than we could hope for. He may ask you to carry that particular cross all the way to Calvary; he may, as with Abraham, ask only for your willingness to give all that you hold dear, but either way He will bless you for your surrender.
And as we ascend into Jerusalem, the words from a psalm come to mind:
Deliver us, O Lord from our bondage
as streams in dry land.
Those who are sowing in tears
will sing when they reap.
They go out, they go out, full of tears
Carrying seed for the sowing:
They come back, they come back, full of song,
Carrying their sheaves.