Our Lady of Sorrows, not Our Lady of Wrath
In today's Gospel reading in the Ordinary Form of the Mass (Matt. 23:13-26), we read what scholars sometimes refer to as Jesus' "discourse of the Seven Woes." "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites!" Jesus cries seven times, denouncing the Pharisees for "shut[ting] up the kingdom of heaven in men's faces," for manipulating words, for preferring empty works over true virtues, for "straining gnats and swallowing camels," for "clean[ing] the outside of cup and dish and leav[ing] the inside full of extortion and intemperance."
This is Jesus' final public teaching in the Temple, His last before His Passion, and it stands in stark contrast to the gentle words of His first public teaching: the Seven Beatitudes. In reading these Seven Woes in black and white, and especially when contrasting them to the words of the "gentle" Jesus just 15 chapters earlier, it is easy to read them in a tone of wrath. Jesus' words are angry. They are very angry.
As I sat pondering this in prayer this morning, it occurred to me that today is also the Feast of the Queenship of Mary in the Ordinary Form, and the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. "These are harsh words for such a glorious feast!" I thought to myself. "Couldn't the Church have picked something a little more...regal...for today's Gospel reading and leave the cursing for tomorrow?"
Perplexed, I returned to Fr. Bartunek's meditation on today's Gospel passage in his series The Better Part that I use as part of my daily morning prayer. Fr. Bartunek writes that the Greek word translated in many translations as "woe to you" is better reflected by the translation "alas for you," such as in the NRSVCE translation. The translation "alas for you" [r]eflects the Greek better, since it includes the connotation of sorrow. Christ's anger in the face of the Pharisees' stubborn resistance is shot through with sorrow and regret." Yes, Christ is angry, but more so, He is heartbroken.
My prayer returned to Our Lady, and a particular image of her with her Immaculate Heart that I have in my kitchen came to my mind. To be "immaculate" means to be free from sin, to be pure, to be without duplicity. "Blessed are the pure in heart," Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount, "for they shall see God." The Blessed Virgin perfectly embodies the ideals of Jesus' first public teaching, and it is reflected in the image of her Immaculate Heart.
In contrast, in His final public teaching, Jesus is in anguish over our hypocrisy, our duplicity, our legalism, in short, our lack of purity of heart. This attitude He condemns to hell: eternal separation from God. In this attitude, too, Mary perfectly reflects the posture of her Son's heart, yet it is not an attitude of fire and brimstone, it is one of deepest sorrow. Despite the pain caused by my sins and betrayal, a pain that pierces her Immaculate Heart with swords, she is not "Our Lady of Wrath," she is Our Lady of Sorrows.
So many times we envision God as one who is very angry at us, ready to condemn us to eternal damnation and torture for failing to live up to His standard of perfection. In response to this image, our pride causes us either to bow up and stand in indignant opposition to relationship with Him, or it causes us to shrink in cowardly fear, a perverse kind of pride that also ultimately refuses His Hand extended to us as a Father, as a friend, and as our divine spouse.
How different our relationship with Him could be, however, if we saw the truth of His Sacred Heart, a truth reflected perfectly in the Immaculate Heart of Our Lady. They are Hearts we have broken, not Hearts that desire vengeance. Realizing this, instead of puffing my chest out in defiance or shrinking in cowardice, my own heart yearns to console theirs.
"What can I do to mend the breach? What can I do to make it better?" I ask them.
It is in this attitude that grace can seep in. "You can do nothing, my dear daughter, my friend, my beloved," they tell me. "But if you will let us, we can do all."
Unite your heart with that of our Heavenly Queen, a heart that is gentle, a heart that is pure, a motherly heart that is infinite tenderness. Let her present it to her Son, our King, and allow Him to clothe you in His own purity. In doing so, you shall see God.