“…and you yourself a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
Sometimes we come across people who have a special quality – an ability to listen deeply; a sense of peace in their lives; a deep compassion that shows itself quietly. Their sense of faith and trust in God is palpable and they are the people we might turn to instinctively when we need help. Often we discover later that these remarkable people are ones who have suffered great loss and have found some meaning for their lives in it.
That’s what today’s Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows is all about. The Church offers us this centuries-old tradition of turning to Mary with our misery and grief, and seeing her as someone, like us, who has suffered greatly.
We all have pain and suffering in our lives. Even the most privileged of us have to deal with this very human experience. We face the death of a beloved family member, especially devastating when it is a child. Part of life is our own aging and diminishment and a growing awareness of our physical and mental frailty or the worries we have about our children, our grandchildren and other family members. The profound disappointments of life – the state of our marriages; the realilty of the youthful life dreams we once had; or perhaps disappointment in the decisions made by our children – are part of the experience of so many of us. Sometimes there is the anxiety of waiting for the results of medical tests and the unknown changes to us and our family if the results are bad.
Beyond the scope of our own personal world, we see poverty and racial strife in our own cities, mistrust and conflict among our national leaders and a world torn by war, religious divisions and a terrible mistreatment of women and children.
How do we live with this, share this experience or make sense of it? When Simeon met Mary and Joseph in the Temple and saw the infant Jesus, he knew that Jesus was “destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel,” but Simeon also was predicting that Jesus’ life would cause Mary tremendous sorrow. She had the pain and emptiness as her son left their home and town for the unknown life of a teacher. Not only did she probably miss his presence, but she had to open her heart and ask God to help her let go. She knew her son needed to leave and fulfill his call, but she did not always understand it. Her confidence in him was clear as she paved the way for her son’s first miracle at the wedding in Cana. “Do as he tells you,” is all she whispered to the servants.
She saw him move out farther into the region, accompanied by an unimportant group of ragtag followers that puzzled some. She listened as Jesus became more outspoken against the religious authorities. Her stomach had a knot that was hard to ignore as she heard the growing grumblings against him from those who were threatened. Finally, she was there as he was arrested, humiliated, and executed. This was her own son, once her cherished little boy, now the beloved man with whom she had such a deep bond of love and faith. She watched as he was spit on and tortured and finally endured the crucifixion. While other followers ran, Mary stood there at the foot of the cross, looking up at her son’s agonizingly slow death.
Mary is a woman who has suffered deeply in life. This is a very real and very human Mary, who understands our losses and tragedies.
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