Perhaps because of its lugubrious Old World overtones, devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows does not seem to have caught on among optimistic Americans. Nevertheless, each September 15, the Church invites us to contemplate the seven sorrows of Mary, which unite her to the passion of her Son.
Remembering the suffering of Our Lady isn’t meant to be morbid. It is the companion contemplation with today’s feast, the Exaltation of the Cross. Mary’s affliction surpasses that of any other woman, yes—but only because of the intensity of her union with Jesus, whom she exalted at every moment.
I’m certain Mary had many more than seven causes for sorrow in her life (I can think of seven complaints just about the trip to Bethlehem!), but seven has the symbolic meaning of plenitude or fullness: Mary bore it all and is thus a good companion for us in our sorrows.
1. Our Lady, Immune to Tactless Comments. Been on the receiving end of too many prophesies about your family size, how much it costs to educate a child, how life is over now that you have kids, how hellish the teen years will be? Or, childless, have you been told you’ll understand when you have children? Do your facebook friends routinely make irritating remarks about your politics or faith? Mary knows.
She endured the Prophecy of Simeon. Imagine presenting your child in Church for the first time and having a holy priest announce it as a heartbreak! (Just smile and say the baby’s beautiful, dude!)
2. Our Lady, Smiling at the Unexpected. Every family fleeing persecution; every military family subject to frequent transfer; anyone who’s abruptly lost his job or home; for every unanticipated dinner guest, every sudden flood, car failure or appliance breakdown: Mary endured the Flight into Egypt. She knows.
3. Our Lady of That Sinking Feeling. That pit in your stomach when you lose track of your kid in a public place? Your teen has run away from home? A relative with dementia keeps wandering off? Child forgot to phone his whereabouts after school? Mary lost The Child Jesus in the Temple. She knows what it’s like to feel your life is spiraling out of control.
4. Our Lady of Letting Them Go. The mixed pain and pride of seeing a child embrace his vocation and rise to be all he can be—knowing that you can’t spare him any of the blows his path in life will bring him? Mary experienced that when she met Christ on the way of the Cross.
5. Our Lady Unable to Trade Places. Watching a loved one suffer without being able to ameliorate the suffering? Longing with all your heart to switch places, to take your child’s suffering on yourself—but being helpless to offer anything but your solidarity and love? Knowing personally the disfigurement of sin because of what addiction or poor lifestyle choices are doing to a loved one? Mary is with you; she stood right by Jesus through the entire crucifixion.
6 & 7. Reflecting on the deposition and burial of Jesus, we can invoke Mary more traditionally as Comforter of the Afflicted for any wound for which our hearts need healing.
I like to meditate as well on the purity of her love. What would it be like to face the untimely and unjust death of a loved one without an iota of self-pity or remonstrance against God? With complete confidence in his wisdom and justice, and perfect hope in the promise of the Resurrection?
Here we come again to the connection between Mary’s sufferings and her son’s cross. In contemplating her sorrow, we enter into her love and learn how to lift up Christ in everything we do.
"And if I be lifted up," Christ tells us, "I will draw all people unto me."
Mother of Sorrows, pray for us.
[Note: a version of this essay appeared previously at www.faithandfamilylive.com]