Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. John 19:25-27
The cross of Jesus was where the words from Simeon’s prophecy would come true before Mary’s eyes. As her beloved Jesus suffered and died, the sword of suffering pierced her own soul, too.
It was her dry martyrdom.
“Picture her now,” says St. Alphonsus Liguori, “at the foot of the cross beside her dying son, and then ask yourself if there can ever be a sorrow like her sorrow. Remain for a while on Calvary and consider the fifth sword which transfixed the heart of Mary – the death of Jesus.”
St. Jerome said, “Every torture inflicted on the body of Jesus was a wound in the heart of his mother.” Watching her son suffer and die but being unable to comfort him would have been a torment to her. Indeed, St. John Chrysostom said, “Anyone who had been present then on Mount Calvary would have seen two altars on which two great sacrifices were being offered: the one in the body of Jesus, the other in the heart of Mary.” (The Glories of Mary)
As a convert to Catholicism myself, I would have to agree with Professor and UCC Minister Mark Burrows when he said, in an article entitled The Invisible, Protestant Mary, “If you think about the death of Jesus, for Protestants, Mary is almost completely invisible.” It seems almost unfathomable to me now, not only as a Catholic, but as a mother who has also witnessed her child’s death.
How could I have missed the Blessed Mother there?
“But,” Burrows goes on, “there is this dramatic story of her watching her son suffer and die. Is there anything more powerful? What more dramatic way is there to connect with the story of human loss and sorrow than through the sorrow of a parent who has lost a child? Mary was there. In Mary’s pain, we are exposed to the depth of Jesus’ passion – from birth to death to resurrection. Mary is the one eyewitness who was there for all of it.”
Is there any doubt that Our Lady understands the sorrow that befalls us in this life?
Mary knows firsthand that the cross is the way to salvation. She knows that we are all given crosses to endure that are meant to lead us to heaven. Can there be any question that as a good and loving mother, she wants to help us to endure them well?
But how does one suffer well?
Our priest gave a homily on the Feast of the Holy Family that encouraged us to look to this Family as our perfect example of the love and sacrifice that are part of family life. In doing so, he compared that Family to the penmanship guides that are hanging in elementary classrooms. Will students ever be able to write with the perfect letter formation depicted on those guides on the wall, he asked? In reality, it’s unlikely. But they should not be removed simply because they are too perfect to achieve; rather, they should serve as the goal. They are what our little writers should be striving for. They’re the ideal. Likewise, he said, the Holy Family serves as our goal in family life.
Following this logic, it seems that Our Lady serves as the most perfect example to us of suffering well because she endured the most horrific suffering in the most virtuous way.
Mary possessed and lived all of the virtues perfectly – obedience, patience, long-suffering, humility, justice, piety, prudence, fortitude. She is a beautiful example to us in all of these.
But the three theological virtues – that is, the virtues that have God as their object – are the ones that are most evident in this scene at the cross of Christ. The death of Jesus is where the Blessed Mother perfectly demonstrated for us suffering with faith, hope, and love.
How can we compare our sufferings to Mary’s? It may seem that this sword of sorrow is so devastatingly painful that almost nothing we will experience could compare to it.
But it is precisely for that reason that we should hold all of our sufferings, no matter how small, up to hers and look to Mary as the example for suffering them well. In doing so, we take up our own crosses and follow Our Blessed Lord on the narrow path to heaven.
“Unless there is a Good Friday in your life, there can be no Easter Sunday.” – Venerable Fulton J. Sheen
Following Mary’s Example
How can we take up the crosses God has for us and suffer well?
Let’s look at what Mary did:
She demonstrated faith in God. Faith is the theological virtue by which we believe all that God has revealed, or made known, to us.
Christ revealed to Mary and his disciples that he would suffer and die, and Mary believed him. He said that he would rise again on the third day, and she believed him. This faith sustained her through even her most painful suffering.
God has revealed so many things to us about Himself in His Word. Jesus has told us that in this world we will have trouble, but that he has overcome this world. He gave us the beatitudes so that we can know how to live a blessed life no matter what circumstances we face. He tells us about the priorities we should have here on earth, about laying down our lives, and about his return.
Do we believe him?
She demonstrated hope in God. Hope is the theological virtue which makes us trust in God and His promise of eternal life to those who love and obey HIm.
Mary had hope that Jesus was accomplishing everything that was needed for us to reach heaven. She hoped even at the moment of Jesus’ death, never doubting that all that she was experiencing was God’s plan for the salvation of the world.
Can we have hope that the sufferings we are experiencing in this life are meant to help us to grow in holiness?
She demonstrated love of God. Love, or charity, is the theological virtue by which we love God and love our neighbor for the sake of God. Love for others means wanting only what is good for them.
Though witnessing his suffering caused her great pain, Mary did not leave Jesus’ side out of love for him. And while she was there, in her heart, St. Alphonsus Liguori tells us, “she was incessantly offering the life of her Son for our salvation.”
She wanted our good, and she knew that Jesus’ sacrifice was the means to this end, so she united her suffering to his out of love for us. Just as a mother endures the pain of childbirth to bring the child she loves into the world, “we know that by the merits of her sorrows,” St. Alphonsus says, “she cooperated in our birth to the life of grace.”
Jesus revealed to St. Bridget of Sweden, “My Mother Mary, because of her compassion and love, was made the mother of all in heaven and on earth.”
Can we unite our own sacrifices and sufferings to Jesus’ out of love for him as our Blessed Mother did?
- Do our lives reflect the faith we have in God? Though we may be tempted to despair during difficult times, remembering all the things He has revealed to us about Himself can fortify us against this temptation and help us to trust fully in Him no matter what our circumstances. What has He revealed in his Word that can help you to trust in Him?
- Do we suffer with hope? When our pain seems crushing, can we hope that God is using it to accomplish His purposes in our lives and the lives of those around us? If we look back on difficult experiences in our past, can we see ways in which God used them for our good?
- Jesus says, “If you love me, obey my commandments.” (John 14:15) Sometimes we may be persecuted and suffer simply for obeying Him. We may be ridiculed for our adherence to what the world may consider ‘outdated’ rules. Can we unite that suffering to His and endure it out of love for Him? Look at a crucifix and ask Jesus to show you what small sacrifices you can make to serve others out of love for Him.
God, please help us to grow in faith, hope, and love of you. Please send your Holy Spirit to us to comfort us in times of suffering and to remind us of all that Jesus suffered for us. When we are tempted to complain or even to despair, please console us and sustain us with your loving presence.
Our Lady of Sorrows, you know the pain and suffering that this life can hold. Because you have endured great suffering with such great virtue, you have been made Queen of Heaven and Earth. Thank you for being such an example to us of suffering well. Please give us the grace that we need to practice and grow in virtue so that we, too, may suffer well and one day receive our reward with you and your Son in heaven.
This is the fifth 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.
To read the fourth 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.