“And a sword will pierce through your own soul also, that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.”Luke 2:35
Suffering is such an interesting concept. It seems that even for faithful Catholics, many of our actions result from our subconscious trying to escape pain and discomfort. Sure, we want to serve Jesus, be good stewards of what has been given to us, come into a deeper relationship with the Lord through prayer, and serve our neighbors with love and generosity.
But I’d bet that many times we look for ways in which we can do these things without suffering too much ourselves. It is easy to give out of our excess rather than emulate the poor widow who gave out of her poverty (see Luke 21:4).
In the book Making Sense Out of Suffering, Peter Kreeft provides keen insight to the vast number of responses to human suffering. He points out that all religions on earth seem to try to overcome, defeat, or rid the world of suffering. Even Buddhism has at its roots an intention to detach oneself from everything—after all, if you don’t have any attachments, how could anything make you suffer?
For Our Salvation
Christianity is the only religion to take the problem of suffering and apply it somewhere, instead of just trying to get rid of it. Christ does not come to rid the world of temporal suffering, but instead, to elevate suffering. He takes the weapons of the adversary and uses them for good. Suffering came into the world through man’s disobedience to God with the participation of a woman. So too, the Son of Man is obedient in suffering, with the participation of a woman—Mary—to restore our relationship to God. We are thus baptized into Christ’s death so that we may rise with him again in life (see Romans 6:3) and become children and “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:17).
As we become more united to Christ, the more we grow in the school of love, which is the school of the Cross and also the school of Mercy. No one was more transformed by this reality than the Blessed Virgin, the Mother of Sorrows, the Mother of Mercy herself. Mary lived this compassion (suffering with) her entire life, conforming herself to the Sacred Heart of her son as a participation in his saving mission for all mankind. Mary’s suffering had a purpose: for the revelation of the thoughts of many hearts and for our salvation.
Mary’s fiat did not end during the Annunciation, but she stood as Mother, offering her only son at Calvary, living the reality that Abraham was asked to do with Isaac. She willingly consented to her son’s suffering, standing at his foot at the Cross. It is here that she is given to us as our mother and we are given to her as children.
Mary’s objective here is simple: she desires that through the suffering of her son, all would be brought into God’s love, transformed and redeemed. Mary’s suffering in union with her son obtains for us further grace to receive our own forgiveness of sins through him. Dr. Janet Puppo remarks in her book Suffering Makes You Beautiful:
“Because of Mary’s unequivocal participation in the suffering of Her Son, and His saving mission, She reserved the privileged place of gathering all peoples into the redeeming and merciful love of Christ. As Mother of Mercy, She loves in the merciful love of Her Son. The heart of the Mother becomes the conduit for the merciful love of the heart of Jesus.”
Mary’s heart was pierced with a sword, it ached during the flight into Egypt, she feared the loss of her Child at the temple, her heart wept with Christ on the way of the Cross, it endured his Passion and Crucifixion, it felt the lance as his Sacred Heart was pierced, and embraced his sacred body before it was buried. Mary’s suffering was intentional out of love for her son and for us.
A Caring Heart of a Mother
St. Jerome said:
“Even while living in the world, the heart of Mary was so filled with motherly tenderness and compassion for men that no-one ever suffered so much for their own pains, as Mary suffered for the pains of her children.”
Dr. Janet Puppo also remarks:
“At the foot of the Cross, Mary comes to know, more than any creature, the mystery of suffering love. It is the sword spoken of by Simeon. It is the fullness of fiat, ‘May it be done to me according to your word’ (Luke 1:38).”
Mary’s main objective may have been to bring all of her children to everlasting peace as they behold their God in the Beatific Vision, but she also has at heart and mind all the necessities of daily life. This suffering Mother saw the need of a bride and bridegroom out of wine for their guests and implored her son to come to their aid. Let us never forget that Our Blessed Mother suffers so that she may be for us the Mother of Mercy. She will come to our aid in all things, large and small. She cares for your spiritual wellbeing as well as your temporal.
The Seven Sorrows of Mary
As Jesus said to St. Faustina, we will greatly profit and advance in holiness through meditation on his Passion. Similarly, on the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, we have an opportunity to meditate on the suffering love of Our Mother. A lovely way to honor our Mother would be the Chaplet of the Seven Sorrows of Mary. The Chaplet of the Seven Sorrows is much like the Rosary, but consists of seven Hail Marys for each of the seven Sorrows:
- The Prophecy of Simeon
- The flight into Egypt
- The loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple
- Mary’s meeting Jesus on the Way of the Cross
- The Crucifixion and death of Jesus
- The piercing of Christ’s side with the lance
- The burial of Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea
An instruction of the Chaplet may be found here.
Mary provides for us Catholics the reminder that suffering is redemptive. We unite ourselves and our sufferings with Mary to Jesus’ on the Cross. In this suffering, we are united more to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and grow in our imitation of him. In this we know that we will be glorified with him in the resurrection.
Mary at the Cross
We are left to ponder this beautiful mystery in the words of the prayer by Romanus the Melodist on Mary at the Cross:
“My Lord … if you suffer, if you die, will you come back to me? If you heal Adam, and Eve with him, shall I see you again? For my fear is that from the tomb you may hasten to heaven, my Child, and I, searching to see you, shall weep and cry out, ‘Where is my Son, my God?’
“He answered, ‘Take courage, mother, for you shall be the first to see me risen from the tomb; I shall come to show you from what suffering I liberated Adam and how much I sweat for his sake. I shall reveal it to my friends and show them the tokens in my hands. And then, mother, you shall see Eve living as before, and you shall cry out for joy: ‘He saved my parents, my Son, my God.”
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Joshua Mazrin is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in theology. He is currently working on a PhD in systematic theology at Ave Maria University. He also serves as Director of Evangelization for the Catholic Diocese of Venice in Florida and is a member of the Catholic Speakers Organization.
Featured painting, Our Lady of Sorrows in Lisbon, Museum Nacional de Arte Antiga, Quentin Metsys, sourced from Wikimedia Commons
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