I came to know and love the Blessed Mother because she took me in her embrace and tended to my suffering heart at a time when I desperately needed some mothering. A wakeful and fussy baby provided me the opportunity to sit up in the quiet, feeling acutely alone and recognizing my need for something even my attentive husband and far-away mother could not provide . . . I needed another woman who could sit with me, listen with empathy, and offer the comforting consolation of her experienced understanding, someone who could truly see my suffering and aggressively usher in the grace I so desperately needed. Who I needed was the Blessed Mother. I taught myself to pray the Rosary during those nighttime wakings, and thus began my relationship with the mother of Jesus who has held my hand and mothered me ever since.
Today the Church celebrates Our Blessed Mother in its devotion to her as Our Lady of Sorrows. This medieval devotion captures and acknowledges the paradoxical truth that by living through intense human sufferings, we are most able to profoundly experience divine joy. Mothers can easily identify with Our Lady of Sorrows, as the very fabric of motherhood is woven with strands of suffering. Upon accepting the call to motherhood, a new vulnerability to suffering presents itself in the life of a woman. Infertility, miscarriage, morning sickness, varicose veins, labor and delivery, nighttime feedings, childhood illnesses, educational challenges, mistakes, sibling conflicts, personal sacrifices, sending a child to kindergarten and letting go at high school graduation . . . these are just some of the ways a woman can suffer as a mother. Add to this perhaps the most challenging suffering for a mother to endure—that which she experiences when her child suffers—and it could seem that motherhood is just too difficult of an undertaking.
Our Blessed Mother shows us otherwise. Since Jesus and Mary were both fully human, they each suffered greatly, and in doing so, they showed us the transformative power of God’s grace when suffering is freely offered as loving sacrifice for the good of another. Ultimately, Mary’s acceptance of the Christ Child and the suffering required of her as his mother made possible the incarnation, and the suffering of Christ’s passion and death brought about the joy of the resurrection and our salvation.
Our Lady of Sorrows puts a relatable, very human face on her experience as the mother of Our Lord. She traveled to another city via donkey when she was full-term in her pregnancy, but that is not even included in the litany of her seven sorrows! One can easily imagine how troubling it would be, upon presenting a child in the temple, a day one would expect only well-wishes, for a respected elder to give a prophecy about the intense sufferings that child would bring. One can understand the suffering of a new mother needing to flee to another country for her child’s safety since many mothers still must do this all over the world. Most mothers can relate to the horror of losing a child in public for a brief time, but could only imagine losing a child in a different city for three days. Gratefully, most women do not understand what it would be to encounter her child who had been sentenced to death and tortured as he carried his own cross to his execution, or watch him be crucified, or witness him die for the sins of others. Some of us may bury our child, but Our Blessed Mother, Our Lady of Sorrows experienced all of these things.
Jesus generously shares his mother with us and entrusted us to her care from the cross. This woman, his mother, our mother, the Blessed Mother of the Annunciation, and the Sorrowful Mother of the Pieta, understands whatever suffering our personal fiat brings and is miraculously equipped to be a real and present comforter.
Today, let us open our hearts to receiving her knowing, maternal love. Let us open our hands, pray the Rosary, and let Our Lord’s Mother, the Mother of all Mothers, love us and teach us to love. Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us.