Contradiction, Liberation and Compassion

One of the books I’m currently reading is the third volume of Pope Benedict’s series Jesus of Nazareth, this one titled The Infancy Narratives.

Talking about St. Luke’s account of the presentation of Jesus in the temple, in which Simeon prophesies to Mary that “a sword will pierce through your own soul,” the Pope talks about the contradiction of Jesus: that “the theology of glory is inseparably linked with the theology of the cross.”

Jesus is the sign of contradiction. The King of Glory will be crucified. But, Jesus is not the only one who experiences this contradiction. “The contradiction against Jesus is also directed against the mother and it cuts her to the heart. For her, the Cross of radical contradiction becomes the sword that pierces through her soul.” In that, claims the Pope, Mary is for us a model of true compassion: “From Mary we can learn what true com-passion is: quite unsentimentally assuming the suffering of others as one’s own.”

Pope Benedict contrasts this with the Church Fathers’ characterization of paganism as an insensitivity toward the suffering of others. In contrast to paganism, “the Christian faith holds up the God who suffers with men, ad thereby draws us into his ‘com-passion.” The Mater Dolorosa, the mother whose heart is pierced by a sword, is an iconic image of this fundamental attitude of Christian faith.”

The liberation of Chritianity is not, Pope Benedict reminds us a romantic good feeling. Rather, it is a “liberation from the imprisonment in self-absorption.”