Our Mother of Sorrows

Written on: September 19, 2018

Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, September 15

It seems like we have had a lot to be sorrowful about in recent days:

  • Some may be mourning the heat and humidity;
  • Some may be lamenting the public discourse that seems so disheartening and disturbing;
  • Some may be dealing with the loss of a loved one;
  • Some may be struggling to let go of a hurt, a job, a residence, a friend;
  • Some are dealing with fires, hurricanes, flooding ;
  • Some are dealing with painful memories of abuse, violence, lost reputations;
  • Some may be dealing with health issues and loss of mobility.

Our world, our county our church is hurting terribly these days! It can be depressing and debilitating. So how do we bring all these things to prayer?

We have the perfect role model in Mary! How did she deal with the sorrows in her life? By the time this feast became publicly celebrated, seven sorrows were identified with Mary:

  • When Simeon told her at the presentation of her precious son that he would be sign of contradiction in Israel and a sword would pierce her own heart;
  • When she had to flee into Egypt after just giving birth to protect her son from Harod’s slaughter of the innocents;
  • When Jesus was missing in Jerusalem and later found in the Temple;
  • When she saw Jesus on the road headed toward Golgotha, beaten, with a crown made out of thorns and carrying a large cross;
  • When she stood at the food of the cross watching her son die;
  • When her lifeless son was laid in her arms after being taken down from the cross;
  • When he was laid to rest in the tomb;

There is nothing really written about how she dealt with all these sorrows except that she took them to heart and pondered them.

There seems to be at least a few possible ways to take things to heart. I mention only two:

  • To obsess about them and drive yourself crazy running around the same conversations and thoughts over and over again;
  • Or to truly take them to heart and discover what is meant to be learned from these situations and to grow from them. Then to choose to move forward with the wisdom gained from the pondering.

I suspect Mary did the appropriate amount of grieving that would surely have gripped her heart and spirit. She was a Mother, after all, who loved much and she was also human like us. Jesus witnessed some of her sorrows and how she dealt with them with dignity and grace… and he witnessed her willingness to continue to live in a godly manner for her whole life.

However, Mary seemed to have had an amazing capacity to name her grief, claim it and celebrate the learnings from it.

She allowed her suffering to open spaces within her to make ever more room for God. Could this be attributed to life-long practice of pondering things in her heart? It’s not too surprising then that Jesus learned to be obedient and faithful because of the witness of his dear Mother and the support of his Heavenly Father.

In the gospel from today, Jesus entrusted Mary and John to each other and gave us a model for what church should look like:

  • We are called to love, support and build up the community, welcoming the lost and forsaken and to treat everyone with the respect befitting a child of God;
  • We are called to face adversity and to confront it with justice and compassion;
  • We are called to welcome all to the feast of the Eucharist.

Jesus wants us, his church, to embrace each other with loving care and generosity, by welcoming all who come to this precious feast of remembrance, the Eucharist. All those who are hurting, lost or confused, ought to feel welcome here. And we, members of the church, have a responsibility to help create that welcoming spirit wherever we are.

Mary may have lived in the “silence and obscurity of ordinariness,” according to Carol Houselander, but it was not a life that is unattainable to us, for she was human as we are. Her pattern of pondering did not separate her from others but brought her closer to them, for she found Christ in all of them. She stayed with difficult feelings and experiences until they were transformed by grace and wisdom.

She learned to withdraw so that she could go forward. She did not stay pondering in her room. She went out to others, gently calming situations, offering sympathy, sharing her wisdom and simply being a loving presence to those around her. I honestly do not think she could have stood peacefully at the foot of her son’s cross without recognizing a higher purpose was operative there.

Frances Weller, a noted psychotherapist, “on navigating our losses” wrote that

The work of the mature person is to carry grief in one hand and gratitude in the other and to be stretched large by each of them. How much sorrow can I hold? That’s how much gratitude I can give. If I carry only grief, I’ll bend toward cynicism and despair. If I have only gratitude, I’ll become saccharine and won’t develop much compassion for other people’s suffering. Grief keeps the heart fluid and soft, which makes compassion possible.

Mary seemed to know a bit about this need for balance between sorrow and gratitude. She was stretched large by her sorrows and grew in gratitude for her many blessings. We would do well to imitate her gracious reception of both realities.

Sister Mary Elizabeth Looby currently ministers as a Spiritual Director. She has been a teacher, principal and pastoral associate, as well as a member of leadership and a formatter. Sister Mary Elizabeth enjoys people and spicy Thai food.

3 thoughts on “Our Mother of Sorrows

  1. Ellen Caamano says:

    What a blessing to find your website and this beautiful piece (of great comfort and peace!). Thank you so much!!!

  2. Mary Pfeiffer says:

    This was a beautiful and powerful piece…like Blessed Mother Mary I have much to ponder from reading this. Thank you Sister for sharing this; may God continue to bless you with wisdom and the gift to write so wonderfully.

  3. Ellie wall says:

    Your piece is very beautifully written and really goes to the heart of the matter. It’s interesting I just prayed to Mary to help me go through some sadness in my life due to my husband’s illness because of what she went through..

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