Friday, April 18, 2014

Two Mothers

   Friday of the Passion of the Lord   

On Tuesday, 
Balal was scheduled to die.

A citizen of Iran,
his homeland executes more criminals each year
than any other country on the planet except China.
(His would already be the 200th this year alone.)
He was convicted of murder,
having stabbed to death another man—Abdollah—
in a street brawl seven years ago.
No one has ever claimed he was innocent—
not even Balal.

Now, Iran does not execute criminals
like we do here in the West:
discreetly, in antiseptic conditions.
No, Iran executes the guilty in public by hanging.
A scaffold of rusty pipes was set up in an open square,
a curious crowd gathered ’round it.
A tattered noose was tossed over it
and, placed beneath it, was an old wooden chair.
Balal was escorted into this scene blindfolded.
He was made to stand atop the chair
and the rope was placed around his neck.

His victim’s parents were brought forward;
in Iran, they have the right by law 
to knock the chair away.
Still grieving over the killing of her 18-year-old son
(the second son she’s lost),
Abdollah’s mother slapped Balal across the face.
And then she did the unexpected:
with her husband’s help,
she removed the noose from Balal’s neck.
A right also granted her by law: she chose to spare his life.

She later said that she’d recently had a dream
in which Abdollah assured her
that both of her boys were in a good place.
He told her not to retaliate.
And so she forgave this man.
Which is when Balal’s mother came forward:
she embraced the sorrowful mother
of the man her own son had killed.
The two women sobbed in each other’s arms:
one because her son had been lost,
the other, because her son had been saved.

At the Cross her station keeping,
Stood the mournful Mother weeping,
Close to Jesus to the last.

Today, we stand beneath the gallows—
what more, we bow before them,
touch the wood and kiss it.
And here, we behold two mothers weeping:
the Blessed Mother, Mary,
because her Son has been lost,
and our Holy Mother, the Church,
because her children have been saved.
Mary weeps, because it his her own flesh and blood
hanging there upon the tree.
Sharing like none other in his suffering,
she is a sort of living martyr,
as was foretold when her Son was but a little boy:
“and you yourself a sword shall pierce” (Luke 2:35).

Is there one who would not weep,
Whelmed in miseries so deep,
Christ’s dear Mother to behold?

Saint Paul once wrote to the Romans:
“Only with difficulty does one die for a just man,
although perhaps even for a good man
one might find the courage to die. 
But God proves his love for us
in that while we were still sinners
Christ died for us” (5:7-8).
Mother Church looks though her tears
to witness the death of one which means life for the many,
the innocent offering himself to save the guilty,
the noble King who is sacrificed
for the sake of sin’s wretched slaves.

Just the night before—
after supper, while they remained at table—
Jesus had told his disciples that there can be no greater love
than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13).
But could he have been wrong about this?
Might not that love be still greater
which lays down it’s life for a stranger, or even an enemy,
and so—through the unsurpassed power
of compassion and forgiveness—
makes of them a friend?

Yes, we stand between two weeping mothers today—
we who had been justly sentenced for our crimes,
we who have been inexplicably pardoned,
we who live because Christ came for us to die.

Can the human heart refrain
From partaking in her pain,
In that Mother’s pain untold?

And yet, our tears are not purely shed out of sorrow.
Even now, on Calvary, they are tears of joy.
Out of the most wondrous love
poured forth from his Sacred Heart
together with his Precious Blood,
because of a mercy which could only be divine,
his life has been lost
that our life might be saved.