It belongs to the Beloved Disciple, the dear son of the Blessed Virgin and the first of the children Jesus gave to her at the Cross, to tell us of the mystery of her marvelous fertility: “A great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery” (Rev. 12:1–2). St. Augustine assures us that this woman is the Blessed Virgin, and it is a simple matter to show that she is by several convincing proofs. Yet how are we to understand her birth pangs? We know, because it is the faith of the Church, that Mary was exempt from the common curse upon mothers and that she gave birth without pain just as she had conceived without loss of her virginity. How then are we to reconcile this apparent contradiction?
We must understand that Mary gives birth in two ways. She gave birth to Jesus, and she gives birth to the faithful; that is, she gave birth to the Innocent One, and she gives birth to sinners. She gave birth to the Innocent One painlessly, but she gives birth to sinners with sorrow and anguish. We shall be convinced of this truth if we consider attentively the price she paid to purchase them. What they cost her was her only Son; she could be the mother of Christians only by giving her beloved up to death: O sorrowful fruitfulness! Who can remain unmoved at such a sight?
We cannot sufficiently admire the immense charity by which God chose us to be his children. His Son, equal to himself and begotten from all eternity, is the delight of his heart, and yet, O Goodness, O Mercy, this Father, although having so perfect a Son, did yet adopt others. His charity toward men, his inexhaustible and superabundant love, causes him to give brothers to his firstborn, companions to his only-begotten, and coheirs to the beloved of his heart.
And he does something more, that you will soon see on Calvary. Not only does he join to his own Son the children whom he has adopted by his mercy, but, what surpasses all belief, he gives over his only Son to death in order to give birth to these adoptive ones. Who would wish to adopt a child at such a price? This is, however, just what the eternal Father did.
Jesus teaches us as much in his Gospel. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). It is the same charity of the Father that gives up the Son, abandons him, and sacrifices him, that adopts us, gives life to us, and regenerates us.
We must not think that Mary paid a lesser price. She is the Eve of the new covenant and the common Mother of all the faithful, and it was ordained that she be joined to the eternal Father and that they give over their common Son to his execution with one accord. It was for this reason that providence called her to the foot of the Cross. She went there to sacrifice her son — to let him die, so that man may live! She went there to receive new children: “Woman,” said Jesus, “behold, your son” (John 19:26).
This is a truly anguished birth! What were her sentiments, when she heard the dying voice of her Son? Of all the swords that pierced her soul, surely this was the most sorrowful. “Woman, behold, your son.” Surely this, she said, is the last goodbye. My Son, is it with this blow that you leave me? Alas, what son do you give me in place of you? Must John have cost me so dearly? What! A mortal man for a man-God? What a cruel exchange. What a sad and unfortunate consolation.
O divine Savior, it was not your purpose to console her as much as it was to make her grief immortal. She was accustomed to loving God and now found in his place only a mortal man, and she was well aware of the difference. This son whom you gave to her seems more a reminder of her misery than a consolation for her loss. These words brought her death while they also made her fruitful: she became the mother of Christians while undergoing almost limitless affliction. These new children were drawn forth from her womb by the sword, and her heart was pierced with incredible violence in order to place within it the love of a mother that she would need to have for all the faithful.
Christians, children of Mary, children of her grief, children of blood and of sorrow, can you listen without tears to the evil you have brought upon your Mother? Can you forget the agony with which she gave birth to you? “Forget not the groans of thy mother” (Ecclus. 7:29, Douay-Rheims). Christian, child of the Cross, to you these words are addressed. When the world would beguile you with its luxury, you must avert your imagination from its pernicious delights by remembering the tears of Mary: forget not the groans of this most charitable Mother. Amid violent temptations, when your strength is almost worn down, when your feet stumble in the right path, when bad examples or the ardor of youth press upon you, forget not the groans of your Mother. Remember the tears of Mary. Remember the cruel sorrow with which you shredded her heart on Calvary, and be moved by a mother’s cry. What are you thinking, wretch? Do you want to raise up another Cross to nail Jesus to it? Do you want Mary to see her Son crucified again? Do you want to crown her head with thorns, trample underfoot the blood of the New Testament before her very eyes, and reopen all the wounds of her maternal love?
May it please God to prevent us from being so heartless. Let us be moved by a mother’s cry. My children, she says, until now I have not suffered at all; I count for naught all the sorrow that afflicted me at the Cross. The blow that you have dealt me by your sins, this is what wounds me. I have watched my beloved Son die, but because he suffered for your salvation, I myself consented to his sacrifice. I drank the bitter cup with joy. My children, believe in my love. To me it seems that this wound is nothing when I compare it to the sorrow that your impenitence gives me. When I see you sacrifice your souls to the fury of Satan; when I see you waste the blood of my Son by making his grace useless, making a plaything of his Cross by your profanation of the sacraments, insulting his mercy by abusing his patience for so long; when I see you add insolence to crime, and when among so many sins you have disdain for the remedy of penitence, which you turn into a poison by falling away again and again, amassing a treasure of eternal fury by your hardened and impenitent hearts: it is then that I am cut to the quick. It is then, my children, that my heart is pierced.
Editor’s note: This article is an excerpt from Bp. Bossuet’s Meditations on Mary, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.
Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet (1627–1704) was a theologian and French bishop. With a great knowledge of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, he devoted himself to writing in a way that was approachable to every person. Though lionized by the great English converts such as Waugh, Belloc, and Knox, his writing has only recently been made available in English.