The Heavy Weight of Desolation

From The Tree of Life (1274)

What tongue can tell,

what intellect can grasp

the heavy weight of your desolation,

Blessed Virgin?

You were present at all these events,

standing close by and participating in them

in every way.

This blessed and most holy flesh –

which you so chastely conceived,

so sweetly nourished

and fed with your milk,

which you so often held on your lap,

and kissed with your lips –

you actually gazed upon

with your bodily eyes

now torn by the blows of the scourges,

now pierced by the points of the thorns,

now struck by the reed,

now beaten by hands and fists,

now pierced by nails and fixed to the wood of the cross,

and torn by its own eight as it hung there,

 now mocked in every day,

finally made to drink gall and vinegar.

But with the eye of your mind

you saw that divine soul

filled with gall of every form of bitterness,

now groaning in spirit,

now quaking with fear,

now wearied,

now in agony,

now in anxiety,

now in confusion,

now oppressed by sadness and sorrow

partly because of his most sensitive response to bodily pain,

partly because of his most fervent zeal

for the divine honor taken away by sin,

partly because of his pity poured out upon wretched me,

partly because of his compassion for you,

his most sweet mother,

as the sword pierced the depths of your heart,

when with devoted eyes

he looked upon you standing before him

and spoke to you these loving words:

“Woman, behold your son,”

in order to console in its trial your soul,

which he knew had been more deeply pierced

by a sword of compassion

than if you had suffered

in your own body.

St. Bonaventure (1218-1274), a Franciscan friar, was among the greatest theologians of his age. He became Minister General of the Franciscans in 1254, and reorganized the order, bringing greater stability to the movement and encouraging study and teaching. His Tree of Life is an undated treatise on the Life of Christ, setting him forth as a model for prayer and discipleship. Bonaventure was declared a doctor of the Church after his death and is commemorated on July 15.


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