A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are surely coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ Luke 23:27-29
Have you ever accompanied a loved one through their suffering? Whether it is a physical illness, the pain of addiction, or an emotional trauma, bearing witness to the suffering of another is a very difficult thing to do, and the closer the relationship we have with them, the more painful it is. It causes suffering in ourselves, too, but out of love for them, it is a suffering we choose to undergo.
To understand the intensity of the suffering this sword caused our Blessed Mother, we must first understand how much love she had for her Son.
As a mother who has watched my own child suffer and die, I can attest that there is nothing more difficult in all the world. But despite how painful it was, I wanted to be beside her at every moment, comforting her and telling her how much I loved her. I would have given anything – my own life – to have been able to take her place and prevent her suffering. Any loving mother would do the same.
My love for my child was an imperfect one, however, marred by my own sin and selfishness. I am limited in my capacity for love by my own fallen nature.
Mary did not have these imperfections, and therefore her love for her Son was even greater. St. Alphonsus Liguori says, “What mother ever loved her son as much as Mary loved Jesus? He was her only son, a most loving and most lovable son. He was at the same time her son and her God.” Saint Lawrence Giustiniani says that “the more tenderly she loved, the more deeply she was wounded.” (The Glories of Mary)
How intense must Our Lady’s suffering have been, when she encountered her beloved Son on this sorrowful path to his own death. She revealed to Saint Bridget of Sweden that as she walked with John along the path that Jesus took, she “knew from the footsteps of [her] son that he had already passed by, for the ground was stained with his blood.” And when she finally saw Him, “so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of mortals,” (Isaiah 52:14) how much pain must have filled her heart. I imagine that she, too, would have given anything to have been able to take his place.
Our Lady said to Saint Bridget that “love had made her heart and the heart of her son one.” Out of this perfect compassion, both Jesus and Mary would have agonized upon seeing each other as she witnessed his pain, he saw her sorrow, and she knew that seeing her suffering caused him more heartache. (Fr. Chad Ripperger, Our Lady of Sorrows) In fact, we meditate on the pain that Jesus had in seeing his mother at the Fourth Station of the Cross.
It is important, when pondering this and all of the sorrows of Jesus and our Blessed Mother, to recognize that it was out of love for us that they consented to undergo this suffering. It was our sin that caused their pain, but that pain redeemed us from the hold of sin. As we meditate on this sorrow, we should allow it to move our hearts with both gratitude and contrition.
Let us allow that contrition to motivate us to pursue holiness and repent from our sin. “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17) In this season of Lent, may it cause us to joyfully offer our own penances and sacrifices out of gratitude and love for the sufferings that Jesus and Mary endured for our sake.
And, moved by this gratitude, may we be prompted to find ways to help others who are suffering, so that our love for God overflows into love for our neighbors.
Following Mary’s Example
How can we better accompany others through difficult times and suffering?
Let’s look at what Mary did:
She willingly bore witness to Jesus’ suffering. Mary knew that watching Jesus suffer would be painful for her, but out of love for him, she wanted to accompany him through his Passion. Saint Bernardine said that “If all the sorrows of the world were fused into one, they would not equal the sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”
Whether we do it literally or figuratively, walking alongside someone who is suffering can be difficult or even painful for us, too, but it is one of the most helpful things we can offer them. Better than offering platitudes or looking for silver linings, we should “weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15)
Our presence is a present to people who are in pain.
There is so much suffering in the world, that sometimes it can feel overwhelming. But we are not able (nor are we meant) to help everyone. Instead, God has put each of us in a specific location at a specific time. Who are the people around us – in our circle of friends or in our communities – who need support? Who is ill? Who is grieving? Who is a single parent? Who is lonely? If we are unable to be with them physically, we can offer our support through phone calls, messages, cards, meals, and prayers.
She resigned herself to God’s will. Mary knew that Jesus’ suffering and death were part of God’s plan. She knew it because of the prophecies written about the Suffering Servant, because of the words of Simeon, and because of Christ’s own words. She revealed to St. Bridget that “as the time of Our Lord’s Passion approached, her eyes continually filled with tears whenever she thought of losing her Jesus.” She knew what was in store for him and the anticipation of it pained her even before she actually witnessed it.
Sometimes, we are unable to alleviate the suffering of those we love. Our accompaniment, our prayers, our own love for them does not alter the path that God – who is ultimately in control – has for them. While it is difficult to accept that suffering – our own and that of others – can be part of the plan God has for our lives, we know that this is often the case, and we can trust, as Our Lady did, that His will is perfect, even when it is painful.
- Are there people in your life who are going through difficult times? Have you made yourself available to them as someone who can accompany them in their pain? Is there a practical way you can help them, or can you reach out to them with a message to let them know that they are on your heart and in your prayers?
- Have you attended or meditated on the Stations of the Cross this Lent, spiritually accompanying Jesus in his suffering as Mary did? Are you allowing yourself to be moved with contrition by meditating on the sorrows and sufferings of Jesus and Mary? It is out of love for you that they underwent these things. “He died not for men, but for each man. If each man had been the only man made, He would have done no less.” (C.S. Lewis)
- Are you struggling to surrender your own sufferings and those of your loved ones to the perfect, holy will of God?
Lord, thank you so much for enduring the pain of the cross to pay the penalty for my sin. Please soften my heart and give me true contrition for my sins so that I might repent and sin no more. Fill me with your love and help me to grow in charity by giving me opportunities to show love to the people in my life who are suffering right now.
Our Lady of Sorrows, your perfect love for your Son meant that you, too, suffered greatly during his Passion. In doing so, however, you provided us with a model of accompanying others in their hardships. Give us the grace we need to love others well and to entrust our own suffering and that of our loved ones to God’s holy will.
This is the fourth post in a series on the Seven Sorrows of Mary.
To read the first post, click here.
To read the second post, click here.
To read the third post, click here.
St. Alphonsus Liguori’s book, The Glories of Mary, has reflections written by this devoted Saint for Our Lady’s feast days, her sorrows, her virtues, and so much more. It is a wonderful resource for considering the beautiful example that our Blessed Mother is to us. It is available on Amazon Kindle right now for only 99 cents! You can find it at this affiliate link. I highly recommend it.