Forty feet above street level on the façade of the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul stand two little-noticed figures. The 15-foot bronze statues of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary are tinted green with age but teach a poignant lesson for everyone today.
Last Friday, hundreds of police officers from up and down the eastern seaboard stood outside at attention facing the Cathedral as mourners left at the conclusion of the funeral Mass for Philadelphia Police Officer John Pawlowski – the seventh city cop since 2006 killed in the line of duty. Among them was Kim Pawlowski, wife of the slain officer and expectant mother of their child.
As the hundreds of officers saluted, none could fail to see the wrenching pain she bore as her husband’s flag-draped coffin was lowered down the Cathedral steps, past Cardinal Rigali and auxiliary bishops and priests, and into the hearse. Some may have noticed the statue of the Mary towering above.
It symbolizes the pain of a mother’s heart pierced like a sword by sorrow and sin. As Mary suffered by witnessing the death of her Son Jesus on the cross, so Kim Pawlowski bore the tears, anguish and anger of the community.
In the midst of this pain, Mary through her motherly love invites us to experience the consolation of her Son, Jesus. Those statues at the Archdiocese’s mother church show us that heartbreak need not end in desolation but can yield in transformation through the peace that only Jesus can give.
This week we begin the journey of Lent. With its discipline of fasting and the encouragement to give to those in need, Lent presents the opportunity for our own heartaches to be transformed by the saving power of Jesus. He invites us during this season to share more deeply His life of grace, especially by receiving the sacrament of reconciliation, by daily prayer and by frequent reception of the Eucharist at Mass.
The Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary stand not only as statues at a church, but as guides on our walk through Lent’s desert of austerity. During these 40 days we, too, may seek forgiveness for the times that we may have offended God by our sins.
The gifts of peace and mercy flowing from the sacred heart of Jesus extend not only to the Catholic community committed to intensive prayer during Lent but to all God’s people.