The Picture of Perfect Empathy: Mary at the Cross

By shakko (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By shakko (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

May is the month when we honor our Blessed Mother; and it is also a time for spring flowers, nice weather, Mother’s Day, anticipation of summer vacation, and other joy-filled things. So as we crown Mary it is easy to think of her in a happy, lighthearted way. Images may come to mind of her with the baby Jesus or simply with a peaceful smile on her face.

However, in honoring Mary this month, we should also remember the image of her at the foot of the cross – the suffering image of a Mother’s grief at her Son’s pain. Why is it important to remember this image? Because, while there are many wonderful events and joyful moments in life, pain and suffering still daily wound our hearts and our world. Christ in His generosity shared with us His mother, a mother who really knows us in our pain, and can therefore love us with total empathy.

What do I mean by that? Well, one of the most profound aspects of relationships, and our communication within those relationships, is the ability to empathize with one another–to see others in all of their humanness and seek to understand them. When we interact with the full humanness of another we have no possible alternative response than to empathize with their pain or hardship. We cannot look the other way or merely offer sympathies or stereotypical responses. This way of “knowing” another offers profound comfort to wounded humanity.

Martin Buber, a 20th century Jewish religious philosopher, believed that to truly know another human being we have to approach that individual as a whole person—a “Thou” rather than an “It”—experiencing the complexities of their emotions and experiences. Others are “whole” selves just as we are—the good and the bad, the triumphs and the failures, the hopes and the fears. When we approach our encounters with others in this way it makes it harder to categorize or stereotype others, and we certainly cannot objectify another person; we find ourselves needing to know them with an empathetic love. And this is really the primary call of Christianity—to respond to God’s empathic love for us and love others that way in return.

When I ponder the image of Mary at the foot of the cross, I suddenly realize the full impact of her love and intercession for us. We are completely “known” by both our Savior and our spiritual mother. Our relationships with Christ and with his mother collectively embody complete empathy. Think of it—no matter what pain you have experienced, either Jesus or Mary has experienced the same.

What is the worst pain or evil that has been inflicted on you personally? Whatever it is, Christ has experienced its equal in His passion and death. He empathizes; He knows you in that pain. And the only thing worse (to me) than such personal pain would be to witness such pain inflicted on the one(s) you love the most, as our Blessed Mother had to do. Have you lost a child? Have you walked with a spouse through a ravaging disease that finally ended that dear one’s life? Mary knows you in that pain. She watched her son be nailed to a cross and stood there until the end. She can intercede for you with empathy and such compassionate love.

In our personal pain, we can be consoled by the empathetic love of Christ, our savior who suffered the worst of human pain. In the acute pain of watching those we love suffer, we can be consoled by our Blessed Mother’s empathetic intercession. Christ knows my pain; Mary knows the ache of your human heart. We may never be satisfied as to why pain and suffering exist in our world, but we are not alone in it. Our hearts may be consoled and our wounds soothed by Jesus and Mary, who know our pain intimately.

The empathy of Christ and His Blessed Mother extends through us, beyond us. In offering a balm for our wounds, it enables us to empathetically love others in return. When we realize that we are known and are the recipients of such empathetic love, then we are able to empathize more fully with others. When we realize that we are loved by two people who have collectively experienced any pain that we ever will, then the overflow of that grace will move our hearts to love others that way as well.

© Copyright 2016 Jessica Ptomey


About Author

Jessica is a wife, mom, writer, Communications scholar, and adjunct professor. She blogs on topics that include: Christian living, Catholicism, and culture. As a Catholic convert and former Evangelical Protestant, Jessica promotes ecumenical dialogue between Protestants and Catholics in both her writing and academic scholarship. She lives in the DC suburbs with her husband and three sons. Follow her at


  1. I can relate to this, 3 years ago my 24 year old son was killed in a car crash. I was visiting family when he died. I have a profound love of the blessed mother. I know she knows my pain as a bereaved mother. I am in the legion of mary. I miss my son each day. I always turn to our lady when I need her intercession to Jesus.I found it very helpful.

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