During this month of September, the month of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary, let us ask of our good Lord to give us a true contrition for our sins and fervent gratitude for His great Goodness! This Sunday, I share with you a teaching on devotion to Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows. I encourage you to reflect over this message a few times this week:
Our Lady of Sorrows: The Church reminds us of the special union that Mary shared in the Sacrifice of her Son on Calvary. The Christian faithful have long meditated upon this momentous scene as it is recorded by the four Evangelists.
During the fourteenth century a Sequence for the Holy Mass, Stabat Mater Dolorosa, came into popular use in some countries. In 1814, Pope Pius VII extended the devotion to the whole Church. In 1912, St. Pius X decreed that the feast would be celebrated on September 15. The Blessed Virgin exemplifies for us the co-redemptive meaning of our own pains and sufferings.
The suffering of Mary is united to Christ’s suffering: O sweet Mother, font of love, Touch my spirit from above, Make my heart with yours accord. Make me feel as you have felt, Make my soul to glow and melt, With the love of Christ, my Lord. (Sequence of the Holy Mass, Hymn, Stabat Mater)
Jesus wanted to associate His Mother with the work of redemption and make her a participant in His Supreme Sacrifice. As we celebrate the co-redemptive suffering of Mary today the Church invites us to offer our many little difficulties and voluntary mortifications for the salvation of souls. Through union with the Lord‘s work of redemption Mary underwent the torments of any good mother who sees her Son in the throes of death, but in addition her pain had the salvific quality of Christ‘s own Passion. She who is full of grace and the most pure handmaid of the Lord offers up all of her actions in intimate union with her Son. Their value, therefore, is virtually without limit.
We will never entirely comprehend Mary‘s immense love for Jesus which is the cause of her great suffering. The Liturgy applies the words of the prophet Jeremiah to the sorrowful Virgin as to Christ Himself: All you who pass by the way, look and see, was there ever a sorrow to compare with my sorrow. (Lam. 1:12) The anguish of Our Lady is greater on account of her eminent holiness. Her love for her Son allows her to endure His sufferings as though they were her own: ‗When the soldiers strike the Body of Christ, it is as if Mary is subjected to every blow. When they pierce His head with thorns, Our Lady feels their sharp penetration. When the same men offer Him gall and vinegar, the Blessed Mother tastes all the bitterness. As they spread His Body on the Cross, Mary is torn from within. (A. Tanquerey, The Divinization of Suffering, p. 108) The more a person loves, the more he or she identifies with the pain of the beloved. A brother‟s death is more upsetting than a pet‟s. A son‟s dying is more trying than a friend‟s. To get a grasp of Mary‟s grief at the crucifixion we need somehow to appreciate the great extent of her love for her Son. (St. Alphonsus Liguori, The Glories of Mary, 2, 9)
Christ‘s agony is greatest in Gethsemane. On account of His profound sensitivity to the malice of sin, that night also meant untold moral suffering. Sin is an offence against God, a wicked affront to His infinite holiness and the cause of the Passion. It is much more serious than a mere transgression. The Virgin realized this more than any other creature. On account of her own awareness of the enormous evil of sin, Mary was plunged in bitter grief on beholding its horrible consequences for her Son. Every one of us contributes in some way toward increasing the suffering of Christ. For this reason, we should rejoice to be able to meditate slowly on sin‟s impact on the loving Hearts of Jesus and Mary. We will then accept our share in their suffering and make reparation gladly. (A. Tanquerey, op. cit., p. 110)
The co-redemption of Our Lady: The Lord wanted to show us through Mary and Joseph, the creatures He most loved, the close relationship happiness and redemptive efficacy have with the Cross. Even though Our Lady‘s entire life leads up to Calvary at her Son‘s side, there is a special moment when her participation in the sufferings of Jesus the Messiah is revealed with particular clarity. We remember how Mary comes with Joseph to the temple to offer sacrifice for a legal impurity that did not oblige her and to entrust her Son to the Most High. In the immolation of her Son Mary glimpses the grandeur of His final redemptive act. God also wants to reveal to her the depth of His sacrifice to come and her own particular role in it. Moved by the Holy Spirit, the just man Simeon tells Mary: Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel and for a sign that shall be contradicted. And your own soul a sword shall pierce, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. (Luke 2:34-35)
These prophetic words to Mary clearly announce that her life will be intimately associated with the redemptive work of her Son. John Paul II comments: Simeon‟s words seem like a „Second Annunciation‟ to Mary for they tell her of the historical circumstances in which the Son is to accomplish His mission, namely in misunderstanding and sorrow… They also reveal that she will have to live her Obedience of Faith in suffering at the Savior‟s side and that her Motherhood will be mysterious and sorrowful. (John Paul II, Encylical, Redemptoris Mater, 25 March 1987)
Even though the Blessed Virgin had perhaps already moved into a modest home in Bethlehem with the Child Jesus and Joseph, the Lord does not spare His own Mother the confusion of a precipitous flight into Egypt. She was probably happy in her life centered upon Jesus when called upon to gather the family‘s modest belongings and undertake the hasty journey. Neither does God spare her exile in a strange land where she would have to begin family life anew. Once established in Nazareth again, Mary is suddenly disconcerted over the disappearance of the twelve year-old Jesus who has been missing in Jerusalem for several days. We see again here how God permits the Blessed Mother to undergo such unsettling trials.
During the Lord‘s public ministry Mary hears false rumors and calumnies regarding her Son. She is surely aware of the various plots of the Jews against Jesus. Closer to the consummation of His redemptive mission, reports arrive, one by one, concerning the events taking place during the night of the Passion. She hears the shouts calling for His death the next morning, and experiences His abandonment by the disciples, in union with Him. Our Lady meets her Son on the slope leading up to Calvary. Who can comprehend the agony engulfing the Blessed Virgin‘s heart at this juncture? She stands there and sees how they nail Him to the Cross. Horrible insults and the prolonged torment of the crucifixion follow.
O, how sad and sore distressed, Was that Mother highly blessed, Of the sole begotten One. Christ above in torments hangs, She beneath beholds the pangs, Of her dying, glorious Son. (Sequence of the Mass, Hymn, Stabat Mater)
As we consider the active role our own sins play in the sorrow of our Mother, we ask her today to help us share in her suffering through profound contrition for all sin. With her help may we be more generous in making reparation for our own offenses against God and the ones committed in the world every day.
Sanctifying our sufferings through recourse to the Blessed Virgin, Comforter of the Afflicted: Today‘s feast is an occasion for us to accept all the adversity we encounter as personal purification, and to co-redeem with Christ. Mary our Mother teaches us not to complain in the midst of trials as we know she never would. She encourages us to unite our sufferings to the sacrifice of her Son, and so offer them as spiritual gifts for the benefit of our family, the Church, and all humanity. The suffering we have at hand to sanctify often consists in small daily reverses. Extended periods of waiting, sudden changes of plans, and projects that do not turn out as we expected are all common examples. At times setbacks come in the form of reduced circumstances. Perhaps at a given moment we even lack necessities such as a job to support our family. Practicing the virtue of detachment well during such moments will be a great means for us to imitate and unite ourselves to Christ. Mary is there when her Son is stripped even of His tunic. She well knew this garment he wore, since she had sewn it with her own hands. With her as our model we will find consolation and the energy to strive forward with peace and serenity.
Sickness may knock at our door. In such an event we will ask for the grace to welcome the illness as a Divine caress and we will give thanks for the gift of health we did not entirely appreciate before. In whatever form sickness assails us, even if it should involve psychological disturbance, it can be the touchstone of our love for God, an occasion for renewing our confidence in Him and for growing more rapidly in the theological virtues. We can grow in Faith, because we can learn to better perceive the provident hand of our Father God at work both in sickness and in health. Our Hope can be strengthened, since we entrust ourselves more into the Lord‘s hands when we are most in need. Charity has a chance to grow too, because we can offer our situation with exemplary joy because we realize that God permits it for our greater good.
The particular circumstances are frequently the most trying dimension of sickness. Perhaps its unexpected duration, our own helplessness or the dependence on others it engenders is the most difficult part of all. Maybe the distress due to solitude or the impossibility of fulfilling our duties of state is most taxing. A priest, for example, may not be able to continue his works of apostolate. A religious may be unable to follow the rule. The mother of a family might be prevented from looking after her children. Any of these situations, or a combination of them, would go against our nature and would be hard to bear. But despite any such sufferings, after using all the necessary means for recovering our health we must join the saints in saying: Lord, I accept all of these circumstances, whatever You want, whenever and however You so desire. (A. Tanquerey, op. cit., p. 168) We ask Jesus for an increase of love, and tell Him slowly and with complete abandonment as we have perhaps so often told Him in a variety of situations: Is this what You want Lord?... Then it is what I want too. (cf. J. Escriva, The Way, 762)
A mother always understands her children and consoles them in their troubles, and Mary is our spiritual Mother. When our responsibilities become too heavy for our limited strength we have recourse to her and implore from her help and relief. She continues to be the loving consoler in the many physical and moral sufferings that afflict and torment humanity. She knows our sorrows well, because she too suffered from the time of Bethlehem until Calvary: „And a sword will pierce your own soul too‟ (Luke 2:35). From Jesus on the Cross she has the specific mission only and always to love us in order to save us. Mary consoles us above all by pointing out to us Christ Crucified and paradise. O Consoling Mother, comfort us all, make us understand that the secret of happiness lies in goodness and in always faithfully following your Son Jesus. (John Paul II, Address, 13, April 1980) He always knows the best way for each one of us to follow Him.‖ (From: In Conversation with God)
Through the intercession of Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, St. Joseph, and St. Columbkill, may God grant us the grace to offer our sufferings in union with the suffering our Lord on the Cross! In Christ through Mary, Fr. Kasel
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