Editor: This is a homily given by Carlo Maria Martini, S.J., Cardinal-Archbishop Emeritus of Milan at a Mass in honor of Our Lady of Sorrows celebrated on the Mountain of La Salette on July 2, 1996.
In the letter to the Hebrews we read: “During his life on earth, (Jesus) offered up prayer and entreaty, aloud and in silent tears, to the one who had the power to save him out of death, and he submitted so humbly that his prayer was heard” (Heb 5:7).
A commentary on the Passion of Jesus, this is one of the most moving of New Testament passages. With the exception of the agony in Gethsemane, the Gospels describe Christ’s Passion in an impartial, detached, and almost cold manner, as though Mark, Matthew and Luke had decided not to allow their own feelings to intrude.
Hebrews Expresses the Very Heart of Jesus
These words from the Letter to the Hebrews, on the contrary, take us into the very heart of Jesus, for the author has every intention of having us contemplate our sovereign high priest as he offers himself for the sinners of the world, and as he offers God perfect worship, and as he is offering it now in the heavens.
Might not this image of our high priest in the heavens make him seem far too removed from us? For this reason the author of Hebrews assures us that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness” (4:15).
Let us now take a close look at the passage Heb 5:7-9: “In the days when he was in the flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.”
The Greek text says “flesh”, that is, frailty. Christ experienced that frailty, that weakness which is common to all human beings: the heartaches, the exhaustion, the weariness, the hunger, the thirst. But perhaps has he suffered more deeply from something else, if we recall the exhortation he addressed to the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane. “Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mat 26:41).
He undoubtedly had their spirit in mind, but not without a premonition of that resistance human flesh opposes to the Father’s will. This is at the root of that terrible test, of the greatest and most intense of all trials, to which this passage from the Letter to the Hebrews refers.
It is in this state of trial, Jesus “offered” – and this term is highlighted because it is part of the priestly lexicon and refers to a sacrificial offering. Jesus offers these entreaties and supplications as well as intense prayers of petition. He offers these to the one who was “capable of saving him from death.”
Mary too often prayed with trembling that her Son be spared persecution, anguish, and death.
“When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way” (Luke 4:28-30).
“At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you” (Luke 13:31-35).
“The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against Jesus, how to destroy him” (Mark 3:6).
The evangelists mention the loud cries of Jesus:
“Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi lema sabachthani?’” (Mark 15:34).
“Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last” (Mark 15:37).
“Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this was God’s Son!’” (Mark 15:39).
“In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground” (Luke 22:44).
The Prayers of Jesus Were Heard in the Resurrection
The prayers, the tears, and the cries of Jesus throughout his life in some way take in and gather into one our own tears, our own cries, and our own wails of anguish. “Remove this cup from me” (Luke 22:4). Yet Hebrews does say “and he was heard.” There is therefore something profoundly mysterious about this expression. The prayer of Jesus was substantially heard.
He had in fact prayed: “Not what I want, but what you want” (Luke 22:42). He behaved like a perfect son, overcoming that temptation which had hoped to lead him to revolt, to be rebellious. He was heard in his victory over fear of death, a victory in which we ourselves share.
His prayer was answered in the resurrection, which is the fullness of life: “Therefore God also exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name…” (Phil 2:9). Not our way but God’s way of answering our prayer, an answer which does not immediately respond to what we would wish to see happen, this way of hearing, of answering is clearly God’s way of doing. And Jesus who experienced it firsthand, will help us in the prayers we offer in our time of need to remain open to the will of the Father.
The Mystery of Gethsemane and the Mystery of La Salette
What do the mystery of Gethsemane and the mystery of La Salette have in common? On her mountain Mary manifested her suffering, her tears, she offered her invocations and pleas and her concerns for us.
In the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross Jesus experienced the sorrow, the fear, the deep-down human reluctance and resistance to God’s way that his brothers and sisters do; he translated this struggle with this diabolical temptation by means of insistent prayers, with very loud cries and tears, offering them for us, and for our sake he conquered.
Mary prayed and triumphed for us, and she welcomes us on this mountain (of La Salette) by weeping right along with us, sharing in our anguish and wishes that we, too, should share in the prayers and tears of all humanity.
...in this Eucharist we offer the sufferings, the supplications, the tears, the trials of the whole human family, by joining with Mary. And, as we offer the body and blood of Jesus, our high priest, let us tell him that we are sure that one day death and all tears will be vanquished. We speak to the Lord Jesus our certainty that, as of now, the fear – of death and of tears – has been conquered, because he has conquered and overcome all our woes in the dreadfulness and horror of his own death and in his resurrection.
(Originally published as “Avec Une Violente Clameur et des Larmes (With Loud Cries and Tears)” in Maria Soffre Ancora (Mary Still Suffers), article translated from the French by Fr. Donald Paradis, M.S.)