“If I knew losing my husband would bring such pain, I would never have got married,” my friend sighed in utter desolation.
In the last three years, it has fallen to me to offer support to a number of newly widowed friends. In their raw pain, suffering reveals a new depth. Widows see only a void ahead of them, and all activities seem meaningless. My attempts at consolation sound hollow.
I prayed for these my special friends as they were too angry or too numb to pray themselves. My thoughts turned to Our Lady. I wondered why Joseph died early. Our Lady would need his support and consolation at the Passion and Death of her Son. Had he lived, she would not be alone at the foot of the Cross, watching her Son in agony for three hours, breaking her heart over His cry, “Father, why have you forsaken me!” Joseph’s arms were not there to support her when she swooned. Before he died, Christ gave her St. John to look after her. But Joseph had been special. He was the faithful husband who had supported her throughout her years in being the Mother of God: in Bethlehem, in Egypt and in Nazareth. Now surely in Jerusalem, he should be standing by her side. Did Christ not want His mother to be comforted?
Joseph’s early death must be part of God’s design for our Redemption. God does not do anything in vain. The seven swords that pierced Mary’s heart included the wound of losing Joseph and being alone at the foot of the Cross. Mary’s sorrow as a widow is intended for our Salvation.
God’s Mother was a widow. Widowhood thus gained a new meaning. It can never simply be an unfortunate deprivation, an accidental void, an emptiness with no hope of fulfilment, merely to be tolerated.
In willing His mother to suffer the sorrow of being a widow, God has sanctified this state of life. Henceforth, all widows shall know that their pain has been borne by the Mother of God.
Almost all women have to go through widowhood, and some live in this state longer than any other period in their lives. I write down the following thoughts in an attempt to gain some insight into this painful role for women.
“Below, I am imagining a conversation between Mary and Jesus about some of the events that are going to befall them, including the likely death of Joseph…..
Mama, I want to talk to you about things soon to come so that you will be prepared and give your assent. It is about Papa. But first I want to tell you again that I am deeply grateful to Papa and you for giving me this loving home. Growing up in our deep love for each other has made me very happy. But soon we will have to lose Papa. Yes, Mama, I can see that what I am saying distresses you greatly, and you are wondering why this has to happen. You cannot imagine our family without him. He has been our constant companion and unfailing support since before I was born, since he was informed in his dream of my Father’s plan for man’s salvation. His faithful loving presence strengthened your Fiat, reassured you on the way to Bethlehem, protected you during the dangerous flight to Egypt and throughout the following years. But it is time for him to leave us. He has completed his work with great devotion, and now he will go to my Father’s house to enjoy eternal happiness.
I will miss him terribly. He was so much part of my life, carried me on his shoulder when I was small, taught me the Hebrew script so that I could read the Words of God my Father, showed me how to use the lathe and helped me to plane the first plank of wood to make you a tray, bound my hand if I carelessly allowed a nail to pierce it. Oh, a nail will pierce my hand again, and both hands too, and also my feet. And this will be done to me with great malice. Papa will not be there to bind my wounds. You look puzzled, Mama. But the time will come when you will understand these things.
Soon I will have to leave home to begin my mission, to proclaim to all Israel the Good News that the Kingdom of God my Father has come. I will travel throughout Galilee, Judea, Samaria and the coastal regions, and beyond the Jordon, to save my people from sin, to urge them to repent, to give them a new Commandment. I will reveal my Father to them. If they know me, they will know the Father for no one knows the Father except the Son. If they believe that the one true God has sent me, they will love me and I will be in them as my Father is in me. You will have to come with me to teach the people to love me. They will find it easy to love me through you, as you are the most beautiful, most tender, and most loving mother.
I will choose disciples and teach them all the things they need to know to spread the Kingdom of God and they will bring this Good News to East and West and pass it down to all ages. It will take a long time for them to understand my message for the Salvation of man. Many things will take place which they will not comprehend. The poor and the sick and the oppressed and the imprisoned will love me and follow me but I will be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes. You must accompany my disciples to give them courage, a courage born of Faith. You can do this single-mindedly, Mama, as Papa will be in heaven. My disciples need you with them to strengthen their faith, to respond to my Message with love and to follow me faithfully even without understanding. This will be true for all generations to come: you shall lead them to me.
The time will come when I have to suffer greatly. Your Son will be handed over to sinners and will be mocked and insulted and spat upon, “despised and rejected by men” and will be killed. Most of my followers will abandon me, and one of my disciples will betray me. Grief will fill the hearts of my disciples, and their Faith will be shaken. They will be scattered and dispersed, like sheep without a shepherd. It is my Father’s wish that you will there to suffer with me for the salvation of my people. Papa heard what Simeon told you, that your heart will be pierced with seven swords. No, Mama, do not be afraid. Do not look so bewildered and do not cry. Even though Papa will not be by your side, you will not be alone. My Father will give you enough strength to follow me to the end of the road, to my final Supreme Sacrifice. Yes, Mama, I am very frightened too and my soul will be “sorrowful unto death”. But I must do my Father’s will, and you will be there to do it together with me. If I feel totally crushed and unable to continue, I will turn to look at you. When our eyes meet, I will get new strength to struggle on, in obedience to my Father. It is best that Papa should go to heaven first and that you walk the Way with me alone, till my work is accomplished, mankind is redeemed and my Father is glorified.
Before I die, oh, please do not cry, Mama, but listen carefully to my words, as my heart is also breaking. As I was just saying, before I die, I will make you the Mother of all my people, all those who will believe that my Father has sent me to bring all men to Him. They will be your children, as I am your Son. Can you see that you will first have to let go of Papa so that you can give your whole heart, and your whole being to the Church which will be born of my Blood as I die? My Church will be my new Mystical Body, and you will be her mother.
After my Death, my disciples will all be frightened and confused and even in despair. But Mama you will not waver as our two hearts have always beaten as one. You will watch over my infant Church and nurture her as you once nursed me. But you will not have to wait in grief and fright very long as I will return to my Father in heaven and ask Him to send my Spirit to comfort and strengthen and guide my Church, for all eternity. The gates of hell shall not prevail against her. You will wait with my disciples for the coming of the Spirit and see them filled with the Fire of Love. You will see them perform great things in my name. As you are my own Mother forever, you will be the Mother of my Church till the end of time. What I am saying to you now will take time for you to comprehend fully. But I know you will keep my words in your heart and ponder over them as you so often do, with total trust in my Father. When the time comes, you will see all these things fulfilled.
At this difficult time during my Mission, my Passion and my Death, you will want Papa there to comfort you. You wonder why my Father takes from you this precious human support at your hour of need. Your willingness to surrender to my Father’s will, and to suffer for my sake, will bring down special graces to all widows in all times to come. For they too will wonder why. But they will remember that I, the only Son of their Eternal God, has asked this sacrifice of His own beloved Mother. So, they will place their trust in my Father’s love and Wisdom. And in their darkness and emptiness, in their sorrow and uncertainty and confusion, they will run to you for comfort and refuge. For the sake of their filial trust in you, I will grant all widows, through you my brave Mama, special courage to bear their loss with great fortitude. They will unite their sorrow with yours. In your silent tears, I will hear their cry. For the sake of your pain and desolation, I will give them repose in green pastures and revive their drooping spirits. I will fill their emptiness with my Divine Love. I will be their Light in their darkness. In my love, their lives will be renewed and be fruitful.
My dear Mama, I am asking you to suffer this additional sorrow to give widows the true meaning of their new state in life, which for many of them could stretch over many long years. You will be their source of strength and the channel of special graces. Your loss of Papa is my Father’s way to sanctify these women.
Mama, you are dearest to my heart. You are the ever pure maiden, the Ever Virgin. And you are my Mother. Women, whether virgin or mother, will see themselves in you and call you blessed. And now, they will also honour you as the Blessed Widow. You are the “Perfection and fullness of all womankind”.
When Jesus had finished, Mary looked at her Son and asked softly, “Where is Papa?” And Jesus answered very gently, “He felt particularly tired this afternoon and I have helped him to lie down in bed.” Mary understood and walked with her Son to the bedside of Joseph. Upon the two united sorrowful hearts, a deep peace descends. And Mary whispered, “Let it be done according to thy Will”. And Joseph became the patron of a good death.
Rose Yin-chee Goodstadt was a pioneer in developing Hong Kong’s social services, especially those serving the elderly and disabled. Currently, she focuses on Ireland’s “new” Catholics from China and their spiritual wellbeing.