On September 15th, the Church celebrates the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, a title given to Mary to recognize the suffering that she endured throughout her life on earth. When I think of Mary, I often imagine her as the Queen of Heaven, neatly and pristinely dressed in her comforting blue garments. While this is true now after her glorious Assumption into heaven, this was not always the case. It can be easy for us to forget the fact that Mary did not have a life free of pain. During her time on earth, Mary underwent great suffering even though she was chosen by God to bring Jesus into the world. Christian Tradition recognizes seven moments of suffering in her life, which are commonly referred to as the Seven Sorrows of Mary. Each of her sorrows is directly linked to events in Jesus’ life. If we are to be faithful disciples, we too will encounter our own crosses. Mary shows us how we can be faithful followers of Christ amid moments of darkness, despair, and pain. We can confidently and trustingly turn to Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, and ask for her intercession, as we experience suffering on our earthly journey to eternal life with God in heaven. Let’s turn to Our Lady of Sorrows and examine her first sorrow, the Prophesy of Simeon.
In an instant, a joyous moment takes an unexpected and dark turn. After presenting Jesus in the temple, Mary hears that her infant son will be “a sign that will be contradicted” and is told “you yourself a sword will pierce” (Luke 2:34, 35). St. Luke does not mention how Mary reacted to hearing this, but I can only imagine this left her devastated, heartbroken and overwhelmed with feelings of grief and worry. How could she not? Mary was asked to surrender herself and what she treasured most, letting go of them and turning them over to God. Mary accepts the sword, not for its own sake, but because this sword is on her path of discipleship.
As a person of faith experiencing the piercing effects of infertility, this experience of the sword is all too familiar. This sword has put the lifelong dream of becoming a mother or father into question. We have had to undergo countless medical scans, surgeries, blood draws and other treatments that can sometimes cause us to feel more like a medical experiment rather than a human person. The sword can work against the bonds of our marriages. We can sometimes hear the misleading and deceptive thoughts in our head telling us that we are not good, worthy or holy enough. The sword takes a toll on our lives, our marriages and our relationships with our families and coworkers, and of course, our relationship with God. The sword challenges our trust and our faithfulness to God. How are we to respond?
Like Mary, we are called to direct ourselves to God and have him as the center of our lives. Having God at our center does not mean that we are never angry at God or never ask Him difficult questions. We can do these while still trusting in God and knowing of the love that He has for each one of us as His beloved daughters and sons. The sword often calls us to surrender our dreams, and the control that we want to have over them, to God. Trustingly turning our lives over to God empties our hands so we can more closely cling to Him. We might not understand why God has allowed us to experience the sword, but we can trust that He will give us the graces we need to continue our lives as faithful Christians. With God’s help, we can discover that our lives and marriages have tremendous value and are greatly needed in the Church, society and world that desperately need reorienting to and re-centering on Christ.
Our Lady of Sorrows was a woman who knew suffering, and her suffering never stood on its own. Her suffering was always directly linked to Jesus’ life. We can trust that the pain and suffering that we experience are never far from Mary’s or Jesus’ suffering. We are not alone. We can turn to Mary, both as a model for us to follow and an intercessor in heaven. She can help us continue to seek God’s will when we experience the sword. She can help us follow Jesus so that we can unite our suffering to His, knowing that His experience of the Cross ultimately leads to the Resurrection.
Ed Dolphin, CSC is a seminarian in his third year of vows with the Congregation of Holy Cross who is doing his Field Education placement with Springs in the Desert. He has a devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows as the patroness of the Congregation of Holy Cross, who shows us that our own moments of suffering are never far from Christ’s experience of suffering.