Daily Reflection
September 15th, 2003
Dennis Hamm, S.J.
Theology Department
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Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows
Hebrews 5:7-9
Psalm 31:2-3, 3-4, 5-6, 15-16, 20
John 19:25-27,
or Luke 2:33-35

This feast is about the suffering of Mary, but the first reading reminds us that her sufferings are tied to the sufferings of Jesus. And the point is not to make us sad about sufferings of others long ago and far away. The point is to get us to meditate and honor the sufferings of Jesus and Mary to help us deal with our own griefs.

The passage from Hebrews is a stark reminder that we are to take seriously Jesus’ humanity: “In the days when he was in the flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” 

That recalls Jesus’ painful struggle expressed in his prayer in the garden of Gethsemane. He wasn’t faking it. He put himself in solidarity with all humanity by facing a frightening kind of death, one that he was physically capable of escaping by running and hiding. His divine nature did not buffer him from the natural human fear that the situation provoked. And how can the author of Hebrews dare to speak of the Son of God learning obedience and becoming perfect? Wasn’t he perfect already? Well, the best interpretation I have heard is that he was perfected as mediator by suffering; that is, his human suffering put him in fuller solidarity with us, enabling the divine Son to be the perfect go-between (like the high priest of Jewish temple worship).

How does an adult learn to face and endure suffering? Isn’t it usually because of something deep we picked up from parents, especially the mothers with whom we spent so much of time in the early years?  And so we have a feast day celebrating Our Lady of Sorrows. In Luke’s Gospel, we hear the old man Simeon say to Mary, when she brings the baby Jesus to the temple, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34-35) Sure enough, Mary gets a taste of that suffering that will come from Jesus’ special mission when, as a twelve-year-old, Jesus “gets lost” in Jerusalem, and she and Joseph find him dialoguing with the temple scholars. When Mary expresses her understandable concern, she hears her son say, “Didn’t you know I must be about my Father’s business?”  How is a mother to respond to a statement like that? Then followed the challenges of being a refugee in Egypt,  then starting over in the new community of Nazareth, and, after some 30 quiet years, seeing her son take up the prophetic ways of her nephew John (the Baptizer), ways that took that wild man to an early death by beheading in Herod’s prison.  Her worst fears were confirmed when Jesus himself was arrested by the Romans, who saw fit to give him their worst death penalty, the kind reserved for non-citizens (slaves mainly), crucifixion.

When Jesus looks down from the cross and says to Mary, “Woman, behold, your son,” and then to the disciple whom he loved, “Son, behold, your mother,” this is more than filial piety.  On a deeper level, this is a statement about Christian community. Remember, how in another of Mary’s troubling moments, when she and the brothers thought Jesus was out of his mind and sought to bring him home, she heard him say, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act upon it.” Well, here, as he dies on the cross, Jesus acknowledges that Mary is the model of those who hear and act upon the word of God, and the “disciple whom Jesus loved” is acknowledged as Jesus’ brother for the same reason.

Today, we honor Our Lady of Sorrows because she showed us how responding to the word of God can take us into puzzlements and griefs we do not understand, and how being faithful in those sorrows leads into the fullness of life with God and with one another. Our Lady of Sorrows stands at the beginning of Christian community and shows us the way to the joy of the resurrection.


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