One of the opportunities I have as Assistant Director of Certification for Ecclesial Ministry and Service at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), is to record video reflections on the readings of the Scriptures proclaimed at daily Mass. I do so as part of larger group of colleagues at the Conference, along with lay and ordained leaders from around the country. I am grateful for the opportunity to reflect on the meaning of the readings for the life of faith today and to share them here, along with the written text of the reflections. To view these video reflections for past and upcoming celebrations of the Eucharist, visit the USCCB website.
Reflections on the Word | Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows | Saturday, September 15, 2018
“At the cross her station keeping / stood the mournful mother weeping / close to Jesus to the last.” “O sweet mother! Font of love, touch my spirit from above, make my heart with yours accord.”
Those verses come from the optional ‘interlude’ in today’s Scripture readings – a musical Sequence known in Latin as the Stabat Mater. This famous 13th century hymn identifies very strongly with the sorrows of Mary, but also with her strength as a woman of faith.
As we celebrate the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, a title of Blessed Mary, our Mother, it may at first seem an odd thing to us – specifically remembering the unimaginable sorrow that Mary bore in her heart at the suffering and death of her beloved Son Jesus, on the cross.
Yet today’s readings remind us that, even in her sorrow, Mary, ever the model disciple for all of us, teaches us how to find grace and strength, even in our own sorrows, woundedness and deep losses.
The Gospel options for today’s readings both highlight Mary’s motherhood and how being the Mother of Jesus, the Mother of God, was no easy or serene path for her.
In the passage from the Gospel of Luke, taken from the very beginning of Jesus’ life, the prophet Simeon speaks to her and to Joseph about the mission and purpose of their Child’s life: Jesus as a prophet of God’s Kingdom will be opposed and persecuted. Simeon said that a sword would pierce Mary’s heart and through the sorrow she would experience –witnessing the unjust death of her only Son – and through the work of God done in Jesus, the inner thoughts of evil hearts will be laid bare and overcome by God’s love.
The Gospel of John shows how the sorrowful prophecy of Simeon was fulfilled, as Jesus is dying on the cross while his mother and the beloved disciple watch.
In a final act of love to his mother, Jesus does not leave her alone but in the care of his beloved disciple. This act of Jesus is not merely showing sympathy for his mother, but ensured that she, as a widow – since Joseph had likely died earlier in Jesus life – and someone who was already vulnerable in that society to falling through the cracks, would not be left without care for her needs. This last act of Jesus towards his mother was an act ensuring she would not be abandoned and would not be crushed in her sorrow.
This passage is often interpreted as Christ giving Mary to the church, symbolized by the beloved disciple. But Mary not only was brought into the care of that early disciples, but was, as Acts 2 tell us, herself part of the birth of the church at Pentecost, continuing the ministry of her risen Son in the power of the Holy Spirit, who was always with her and continues to guide the life of the whole People of God.
Mary, who was grieved by a sorrow that few of us can imagine, was strengthened by the power of God in her life, and also by those who were with her during her sorrows. Her profound sorrow did not break her down but instead opened her to be a deep well of compassion for others.
Indeed, the earliest name of this memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows was “Our Lady of Compassion.”
It is the same message St. Paul speaks to the Corinthians in our first reading, reminding us in plain language of how sensible it is for the community of the church, which partakes in the one bread and the one cup of Eucharist – sharing the life of Christ – should be united with Christ and his example and avoid ways of thinking and acting that set people against one another. The psalmist in our Responsorial Psalm also knew the deep sorrow of loss, but having experienced God’s redeeming love in a powerful way, offers thanksgiving for God’s unexpected and undeserved salvation.
The sorrows of Mary are very much like the deep sorrows we all endure, though the unique pain of being the mother of a murdered child reminds us of how close she is to the hearts of those mothers and fathers throughout the world who have lost beloved children, who have experienced the particular pain of miscarriage, who have witnessed their children abused or mistreated – yes, sometimes even in our own churches – or those mothers who have endured the horrific loss of their children to war or violence, even on our own streets and in our own neighborhoods and homes.
As we pray today, we might remember those close to us, especially mothers, who have endured such losses, and ask for the intercession of Mary, Our Lady of Compassion, in their lives and ours, as we place our sorrow with hers. In so doing, we can ask God that the sorrows which we all must endure might become the places in our hearts where we, like Mary, are broken open with compassion so that we, like the psalmist, can offer a “sacrifice of praise.”
God give you peace!