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Am I suffering because I didn’t pray with enough faith?

Then the disciples approached Jesus in private and asked, “Why could we not drive [the demon] out?”

He said to them, “Because of your lack of faith. Amen I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to the mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

-Matthew 17:19-20

Prayer and faith are two challenging areas in the life of a Christian, but they can be especially difficult during times of suffering. Verses like the one above say that if we have faith – even in an amount as small as the grain of a mustard seed – we can do seemingly impossible things.

So when we are in the midst of a trial, we turn to God in prayer, asking for help. Sometimes, a sobbed “help” is all we can muster, but we hope that God hears the desperation in our hearts and will come to our aid. Sometimes that mustard seed is all we have.

But there are times when we ask, we beg, we plead, and our circumstances do not change. In the midst of our suffering, it can feel like our prayers are going unheard, or it can leave us wondering if perhaps our faith is just not enough for God to answer us.

Photo by sue anna joe from FreeImages

Four days after she was born, our premature daughter needed to be airlifted to a higher-level NICU because she was having breathing difficulties. The doctor came to my hospital room to explain to me that for some reason that he could not understand, her carbon dioxide levels were reaching dangerously high levels and weren’t coming down. He told me that a helicopter would be there within the hour.

I called my husband, made my way down to the NICU, and sat by her isolette bedside in my wheelchair, crying the wordless prayers for help that by this point on our journey with this pregnancy had become so commonplace. As the helicopter landed outside, my husband arrived and quickly baptized our tiny daughter with a bottle of sterile water as we cried together and asked God to help her. One of the members of the medical team came to talk to us and spoke soberly, explaining that they would do all that was within their power to take good care of our baby girl, but that he did not feel completely confident that she could survive the seven-minute flight. As we watched them wheel her out, we clung to each other, tried to keep each other from unraveling, and realized like never before that all of this was completely in God’s hands.

But at the time, that realization alone did not comfort my aching heart. I wanted more.

In the weeks that followed, my husband drove us back and forth to the farther NICU until I was able to drive by myself. It was springtime in Pennsylvania and the weather changed rapidly between downpours and sunshine all week, every day held the perfect conditions to see a rainbow.

Photo by Pawel Jagodzinski from FreeImages

Only I didn’t see a single one.

I would find myself making little deals in my head with God in the car. “Okay,” I’d think. “If I see a rainbow, that means that Brigid is going to be fine.” And then I’d crane my neck all over looking for one, all the while reasoning with myself that seeing a rainbow or not does not determine her outcome. I’d feel ashamed of my silliness and realize that I was testing God and looking for a sign. I didn’t feel confident entrusting our daughter to God’s will and wanted reassurances that He was with us in our suffering. But God didn’t owe me a sign; He had already told me enough about Himself in his Word, and through the work of Christ for me to have faith in this situation, regardless of the weather.

The reality is that it’s not faith that our situation will turn out the way we hope that we are called to have. It wasn’t faith that our Brigid would live in which He was calling me to pray. If that were the case, my faith would be shattered, because six weeks later I watched her die.

Instead, it’s faith in God’s goodness. It’s faith in the fact that His ways are not our ways. That all things work together for the good of those who love Him. It’s faith that God is sovereign and trustworthy. Faith that He knows us and loves us and sees us. Faith that we’re still in the palm of His hand.

God wants us to rest in Him.

When everything around us is crumbling and falling apart, when the storm of suffering comes and destroys everything that we have come to lean on, when the rug of our security is pulled out from under us, when we feel like we are barely hanging on, tossed to and fro by the waves of life, we can still rest in Him, our firm foundation.

This is the peace that passes understanding, constant even in the midst of the chaos. It’s an internal peace that anchors us to God’s goodness and love.

He knows that following Him involves taking up our crosses, but He has gone before us and shown us how to do it. He reminds us that there is more to the story than we can see in the midst of our pain, but that He sees beyond and all the way to the end.

So if you are in the middle of a trial, if it feels that your prayers are falling on deaf ears and your faith is lacking, if you are not seeing the mountains move and wondering if you must not even be able to muster the mustard seed, consider the prayer of our Lord when He was in the Garden of Gethsemane:

He took along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to feel sorrow and distress. Then he said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch with me.”

He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me, yet, not as I will, but as you will.”

-Matthew 26:37-39

The cup of suffering and death did not pass from Jesus, though it would have been possible for God to have redeemed us in a different manner. But this was not because Jesus did not pray with enough faith. Rather, Jesus entrusted himself to God’s will.

Sometimes, people pray and God does work a miracle. Illness is healed, relationships are restored, a way made where there is no way. Sometimes this is the will of God, and it can be hard to accept that His will for us may be different.

Our situation may not be noticeably altered as a result of our prayer, but some of our suffering may be alleviated when the mountain that is thrown into the sea is the mountain of all of our fear, anxiety, worry, and doubt. When we pray with faith that God is in control, this is the mountain that is movable.

Our Savior reminds us that the cross of suffering, entrusted to the will of God, brings redemption. This is how we are called to pray during difficult times.

Not our will, but Yours be done.

Edited 2/18 because somehow I omitted an entire paragraph.

Photo by Jesper Noer from FreeImages

The Seventh Sword of Sorrow – The Burial of Jesus

They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. John 19:40-42

This last sword is Our Lady’s final farewell to her beloved Son.

As she accompanies His lifeless body to the tomb and watches as it is anointed with oils and spices, and wrapped in burial cloth, surely she must have recalled the swaddling clothes she wrapped Him in as an infant, the cleaning and care of His body she lovingly performed for years in his youth.

She is undone as they close the tomb and she must leave Him there.

“Oh my beloved Son,” St. Alphonsus Liguori writes on Mary’s behalf, “am I not going to see you any more? Receive, then my last farewell, as I gaze upon you for the last time, the last farewell of your devoted mother. Receive my heart, which I bury with you.” (The Glories of Mary)

Indeed, Our Lady revealed in a vision to St. Bridget of Sweden, “I can truly say that when my Son was buried, there were two hearts laid in one tomb.”

Carl Heinrich Bloch, The Burial (1873)

Any mother who has buried her child has felt the same thing – this hollowed-out emptiness and the void where their precious loved one used to be. But Our Lady felt it with much more intensity, as her bond with her Child was perfect. He was her Son, her Savior, the one she loved with perfect love and Who loved her the same way in return. She was so desolate and sorrowful after His burial that, St. Bernard says, “she moved many to tears,” and those who saw her could not help weeping with her.

As we place ourselves at Mary’s side during this reflection, may we weep alongside her. With St. Bonaventure, let us say, “O my sweet Lady, I am the one to weep. You are innocent, I am guilty.” It was our sins that caused the death of Our Lord, and our sins have caused her grief.

But out of this great sorrow comes the redemption for our sins. With it comes the hope of seeing our own loved ones again who have died with faith in Christ. If Our Lady had not undergone this Good Friday, we would never have our own Easter Sunday. Indeed, death is conquered, our sins have been paid for, and Jesus has made it possible for us to be with Him and His Mother in heaven one day.


Following Mary’s Example

How can we endure our own Good Fridays – those times when the things we love the most are taken away from us?

Let’s look at what Mary did:

She died to herself. Mary endured this tremendous heartache, allowing herself to be completely used by God for his purposes, out of love. Her love for God, her love for her Son, and her love for us fueled her great sacrifice and willingness to undergo such tremendous suffering. She did not consider her own wants, but completely surrendered to God’s will.

Caravaggio, The Entombment of Christ (c. 1603)

As a result, however, she has been elevated to the highest place of any person in history. She is the Queen of Heaven and Earth.

The more completely we abandon ourselves to God’s will, the more certain is our path to holiness. This is what Christ meant when He said to His disciples, “Whosoever shall seek to save his life, shall lose it: and whosoever shall lose it, shall preserve it.” (Luke 17:33)

Jesus gave himself for us, and in doing so He showed us that the pathway to heaven is complete surrender to the will of God. “Not my will, but yours,” he prayed to His Father in the garden of Gethsemane.

Mary did this same thing when she offered her fiat: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.”

We live to serve God, and when we serve Him so completely that our own will is not a factor, we live our lives with an eternal perspective, thereby securing eternal life for our souls.

For this slight weight of affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen, but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” – 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

Jesus and his mother Mary are the perfect examples for us to follow when our lives are touched by suffering. They not only model this absolute surrender, but they desire to give us the grace that we need to follow their example. When we ask for and receive the grace necessary to take up our crosses, we are able to see that God is always holding us in His loving hands and using all of our trials for our good and for His glory.


Reflect

  • Are there areas that you still need to surrender to the will of God? Have you said to Him, “You can have this or this, Lord, but not these things. Not my children, my spouse, my home?” Can you turn those areas over to Him as well and allow Him to use them however he sees fit? Can you abandon yourself completely to Him?
  • Have you asked the Blessed Mother for the grace needed to endure the trials and sufferings in your life? As the Mediatrix of All Graces, Mary desires to help us to follow her example and abandon ourselves to God. She understands how hard it is and wants us to ask her for help.

Pray

God, help me to surrender all that I am and all that I have to your perfect will. You desire us to hold back nothing from you, but that is not easy to do. Please show us how loving and trustworthy You are, and that the more we give ourselves to You, the more you give Yourself to us.

Our Lady of Sorrows, thank you for modeling this abandonment to the divine will of God so perfectly for us. Please give me the grace needed to follow your example. Help me to remember that the glory that awaited you in heaven far surpassed your sufferings. May this hope of eternal glory allow my present suffering to feel light and momentary.

Amen.


This is the seventh 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.

To read the fifth post, click here.

To read the sixth post, click here.

You can meditate further on Our Lady’s Sorrows by praying the Rosary of the Seven Sorrows. Find beautiful, handmade Seven Sorrows Rosary bracelets for sale in my shop.

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.

The Sixth Sword of Sorrow – Receiving the Body of Jesus Taken Down from the Cross

After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. John 19:38

Can you begin to comprehend the grief of a mother who bears in her arms the lifeless body of her beloved child?

It is precisely this Sword of Sorrow that the Blessed Mother used to connect with me, as I came to know her. I have the moments spent cradling my own lifeless daughter etched permanently in my mind as such a heavy and sorrowful memory. It was through this memory that I was able to put myself in her place, and she showed me that she was not someone who was distant and unrelatable, as I had once thought her to be. Rather, she was a loving and compassionate mother who had also lost her precious child.

During that too-short time spent with my daughter, there was so much sadness, but also so much love as I kissed her face and held her hands. I watched as they went from pink and warm to porcelain white and cold. She was my baby – flesh of my flesh – and as I held her, I had to come to terms with the fact that God’s plan for her was not what my plan had been. I was forced to relinquish my will and resign myself to His divine will.

I can imagine that Mary had a this experience to a much greater extent as she embraced her only Son. The body she had cradled and cared for when he was young, was now not only dead, but bruised, slashed, and disfigured. It might horrify anyone who looked upon it, except, of course, for this mother. She only saw her child and she loved him more than anyone else could. “‘Oh, how many swords,’ says St. Bonaventure, ‘pierced that poor mother’s soul’ when she received the body of her son from the cross!” (The Glories of Mary)

The Pieta, 1876 – William-Adolphe Bouguereau

As she received the body of Jesus at the foot of the cross, she would see his torn flesh, the wounds from the thorns in his head, the gaping holes in his hands and feet. Her loving embrace would be the consummation of the sacrifice that began with the offertory of her fiat so many years before – “may it be done unto me according to your word.” As she held him in her arms, her suffering mirrored her Son’s: as he had been emptied of life, emptied of blood, so her heart was emptied of all consolation.

The expression of pain and sorrow on Mary’s face in this painting of The Pieta by William-Adolphe Bouguereau is so poignant, likely because Bouguereau himself was a parent whose own child had died. But one need not have endured this most painful experience to be able to empathize with our Blessed Mother and in this moment and relate our own sufferings to hers.

There are many things we grieve in this life. Mary desires to give us the grace to offer our own personal fiat, allowing God to use us as His servants, in whatever way He sees fit, to carry out His plan.


Following Mary’s Example

How can we grieve the loss of things we love and accept God’s will?

Let’s look at what Mary did:

She acknowledged her pain and offered it to God. Venerable Bernardine de Bustis describes this scene at the foot of the cross: “O my dear son see how desolate I am! Look at me and comfort me. But you can no longer look at me. Say only one word and comfort me. But you cannot speak any more, for you are dead. O cruel thorns, O cruel nails, O merciless spear, how could you possibly torture your Creator? But why do I speak of thorns and nails? It is you, O sinners, who have treated my son so cruelly!”

Crucifix at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, AL

Sometimes we imagine Mary, hands clasped; sad, yet stoic; pious yet unperturbed. In a similar way we see the sanitized version of Jesus frequently depicted on the cross – his nakedness covered, barely bleeding, seeming almost in peaceful slumber instead of painful death. But these unrealistic versions deny the humanity of both Jesus and Mary.

As Christians we can tend to equate holy suffering with stoic acceptance, as though we aren’t trusting God if we find His will for us to be painful and difficult to accept. After all, don’t the Fruits of the Spirit include peace, patience, and joy? Does this mean that we are not holy if we feel pain, sadness, heartache, even anger over the loss of something or someone we loved?

Not at all!

God made us with emotions. He does not wish us to deny them or force them down, maintaining an outward appearance of happiness while we are suffering inside. Rather, we see countless examples of holy men and women in the Bible expressing their pain and grief.

Here are a few:

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all day long?” – Psalm 13:1

For my sighing comes like my bread, and my groanings are poured out like water. Truly the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest; but trouble comes.” – Job 3:26

Jesus wept.” – John 11:35

No, we are not wrong for expressing our pain when we are suffering. But we follow Mary’s example when we offer that pain to God as part of our own fiat and trust that though His will for us may be painful, He is still good. We follow after our Blessed Lord when we can say with Him in the garden of Gethsemane: “My soul is anxious, even unto death,” and then go on to say, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.”


Reflect

  • What desires have you had to surrender to the will of God? Can you give up those wishes and accept what He has for you? What dreams have you cradled and then had to let go and surrender to God’s will? Can you feel this pain with Our Lady as she cradles her Son and then has to let Him go into the tomb?
  • What relationships have died, leaving you full of heartache? So many of us are grieving the death of a loved one, but sometimes it is a fractured relationship that we grieve. Either way, the pain can feel overwhelming. Can we trust Our Lady to meet us in this pain? She understands it, and she desires to give us more mercies than we can ever realize.

Pray

God, your will is perfect, but sometimes following it causes us heartache. Thank you that you do not expect us to be stoic or robotic in our acceptance of your will. Rather you understand our feelings and know that our path to heaven may be a painful one because you have gone before us on this road. Help us to say with Jesus, “not what I want, but what You want.”

Our Lady of Sorrows, you understand better than anyone that acceptance of God’s will sometimes causes us intense pain. Please help us to offer that pain on behalf of your Son and make our acceptance of His will our own personal fiat. Help us to say with you, “I am the servant of the Lord, may it be done to me according to your word.”

Amen.


This is the sixth 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.

To read the fifth post, click here.

You can meditate further on Our Lady’s Sorrows by praying the Rosary of the Seven Sorrows. Find beautiful, handmade Seven Sorrows Rosary bracelets for sale in my shop.

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.

The Fifth Sword of Sorrow – The Death of Jesus

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?

Reflect

  • 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.

Pray

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.

Amen.


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.

You can meditate further on Our Lady’s Sorrows by praying the Rosary of the Seven Sorrows. Find beautiful, handmade Seven Sorrows Rosary bracelets for sale in my shop.

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.

The Fourth Sword of Sorrow – Meeting Jesus on the Road to Calvary

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)

William Bouguereau – Christ Meeting His Mother on the Way to Calvary

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.

Reflect

  • 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?

Pray

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.

Amen.


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.

You can meditate further on Our Lady’s Sorrows by praying the Rosary of the Seven Sorrows. Find beautiful, handmade Seven Sorrows Rosary bracelets for sale in my shop.

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.

The Third Sword of Sorrow – The Loss of Jesus for Three Days in Jerusalem

After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Luke 2:46-50

St. Alphonsus Liguori calls this “one of the greatest sorrows that Mary had to endure in all her life.” The reason is that, just as someone who becomes blind later in life feels sorrow over the loss of his sight more acutely than one who has been blind from birth, so Our Lady, having spent so much time in the divine presence of Our Lord, felt severe deprivation while being separated from him during this incident.

During all of the other sorrows, Mary had Jesus with her, his presence offering her consolation in her pain. But for this one, she did not. The separation was painful for her, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Any mother who has lost a child in a crowded place – a grocery store, an amusement park – will tell you that, even though it may have just been for a short time, those moments were some of the most intense and frightening moments in her life. We can easily put ourselves in the place of Our Lady in this story to imagine the fear and anxiety that she felt while searching three days for her Child.

But I suspect that another element that made this sorrow so difficult is revealed in the last sentence of the scripture passage above: “But they did not understand what he said to them.”        

Sometimes, we undergo suffering that does not seem to us to have a purpose. We may be left with many unanswered questions about our painful experiences, and the greatest one may simply be “why?” Why did I have to go through that? What was the reason for it?

The other sorrows that Mary experienced had a purpose that was evident – they had to flee to Egypt because Herod wanted to kill Jesus, for example – but the reason for this particular sword of sorrow is not clear, even when Jesus offered them an explanation. Of course, Mary felt relief upon finding her Son safe in the temple, and we meditate on this joy as one of the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary, but the reason for the sorrow is never fully understood, and was likely one of the many things that Our Lady pondered in her heart.

The fact is that while we are on this earth, we only know in part and understand in part. Like looking at the back of a tapestry, when we look at the things that happen in our lives, it may not be clear that there is a purpose for them. But one day, we will understand in full, as St. Paul tells us (1 Corinthians 13:12). We will see the side of the tapestry that God sees, and will recognize that He has made something beautiful out of our messy, complicated lives. Only then will we understand the purpose for each experience we have had.

This poem by Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch Christian who helped Jews to escape from the Nazis during the Holocaust, explains it so well:

My life is but a weaving
Between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colors
He weaveth steadily.

Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow;
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside.

Not ’til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unroll the canvas
And reveal the reason why.

The dark threads are as needful
In the weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned

He knows, He loves, He cares;
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice to Him.

In addition to demonstrating that when it comes to our suffering we may be left with unanswered questions, this sword of sorrow reminds us that there are times in the life of a Christian when the Lord may feel far away from us. Sometimes this is a result of our own sin that separates us from God’s grace, but other times, especially as we mature in our faith, God allows us to undergo times of desolation. It may feel like no one is on the other end of our prayers, or going to church may leave us feeling unsatisfied, like we are merely “going through the motions.” Some Saints have referred to this time as a dark night of the soul.

Fr. Chad Ripperger, in his sermon on Our Lady of Sorrows, explains that God sometimes tests our virtue by stripping us of our consolations, and that this is necessary to our spiritual advancement so that we do not become attached to the consolations themselves, but instead continue to press into relationship out of love for Him and not for the good feelings we receive.


Following Mary’s Example

What are we to do when it seems that our suffering has no clear purpose, or when God feels far away from us?

Let’s look at what Mary did:

She continued to seek after Him.  Even though she felt desolation at being separated from Jesus, Mary did not give up her search for him. She did not allow that sorrow to overtake her, but she pressed on until she found Him again.

Likewise, when we encounter a time of desolation – a time when God feels distant and we don’t experience the good feelings that come from spending time in prayer or reading the scriptures – it does not mean that we should give up these things. God will not withhold them from us forever. We should continue to press into a relationship with Him out of love for Him and not for the feelings themselves. He is worthy of our love and will reward our efforts.

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13

She was patient in her suffering. We are told that she and Joseph felt great anxiety as they searched for Jesus, but we also know that Mary demonstrated perfect virtue as an example for us. St. Alphonsus Liguori tells says, “Since Our Lord gave us the Blessed Virgin Mary as a model of perfection, it was necessary for her to be burdened with sorrows so that we may admire her heroic patience and endeavor to imitate it.” (The Glories of Mary)

Fr. Ripperger explains further that what Mary demonstrated was longevity of soul – that is, the endurance of something bad and patience in awaiting the good. It was an unflappable faith in God that allowed her to maintain this patience during her suffering, and her desire is to give us the grace to do the same in the face of our own sufferings.

Reflect

  • Have you ever felt like you were merely “going through the motions” when it came to your faith in God? Did it seem that He was not listening to your prayers, not meeting you in church, hiding His face from you? 
  • Were you able to press on in spite of this desolation and find once again the comforts that He offers in relationship with Himself? Does knowing that sometimes He withholds these consolations to help us to mature spiritually encourage you to press on?
  • Is it comforting to know that even Our Blessed Mother and dear St. Joseph did not understand the reason for some of the sufferings they endured?

Pray

God, though sometimes you feel far away, remind me that you are found by those who seek you with all their hearts. Please help me to grow by pursuing a relationship with you, not for the good feelings it may bring me, but because you are worthy of my love. Remind me that you run out to meet the prodigal and go after the lost sheep. You always desire to be in relationship with me.

Our Lady of Sorrows, thank you for enduring suffering so that we may have a perfect example to follow. Please give us the grace we need to be patient in our sufferings. Help us to trust God as you did when we don’t understand the reason for our pain.  

Amen.


This is the third post in a series on the Seven Sorrows of Mary. To read the first post, click here.

To read the second post, click here.

You can meditate further on Our Lady’s Sorrows by praying the Rosary of the Seven Sorrows. Find beautiful, handmade Seven Sorrows Rosary bracelets for sale in my shop.

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.

The Second Sword of Sorrow – The Flight to Egypt

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Matthew 2:13

So soon after Simeon’s prophecy did Mary come to understand just what life as the mother of Jesus would be like! We know from Luke’s gospel that Mary and Joseph “returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth” (Lk. 2:39) after having presented him in the temple for naming and circumcision. But rather than settle down into a quiet life of raising their baby boy surrounded by the support of family and friends, Mary and Joseph instead would need to gather their child and their few belongings and set out on a long and difficult journey.

It was a matter of life and death.

Even as an infant, Jesus was despised, and the angel told them to go to Egypt so that they would be outside of the jurisdiction of the jealous King Herod.

The distance from Nazareth to Egypt is about 400 miles, and it would have taken the young family up to thirty days. Thirty days of traveling through harsh terrain with a brand new baby! St. Bonaventure wonders, “How did they get their food? Where did they stop for the night?” And St. Alphonsus Liguori goes on to say, “They probably were satisfied with a hard piece of bread, either brought along by Joseph or begged as alms. The only place that they could have slept along the road (especially through two hundred miles of desert where there were no houses or inns) was on the sand or under a tree, in the open air and exposed to the dangers of robbers and wild animals with which Egypt abounded.” (from The Glories of Mary)  Once they arrived in Egypt, they would have lived a life of poverty and hard work to support themselves and care for their child, but they endured these hardships for eight years out of love for him.            

The Repose of the Holy Family During the Flight to Egypt, by Orazio GENTILESCHI 

If I were the one writing the Holy Family’s story, in my limited human understanding, I might have thought it best to make their lives as easy as possible, knowing the difficulty that would be coming at the end in Christ’s Passion. “Since you are going to have to endure so much,” I might think, “I will make your lives before then pleasant so that it is easier for you to endure what lies ahead.”

But, thankfully, God’s ways are not our ways, and as St. James tells us, it is not ease and comfort that help us to persevere, but trials and the testing of our faith. This is why he encourages us to “consider it all joy” whenever we face these things. (James 1:2) 

It is interesting to recall that, thousands of years earlier, when God called Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt to the promised land, they would have experienced a similarly difficult journey through the desert. Just as God provided the manna, the water, and the quail for them on their journey, he surely provided enough for the Holy Family during this time, but the Israelites responded to his supernatural provision, protection, and guidance with grumbling and complaining, quarreling and testing the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord in our midst or not?” (Ex. 17:7)            

Have you experienced a time in your life when you were brought into the wilderness – a place so far out of your comfort zone that you needed to rely completely on him every step of the way? It may have been through the loss of a job that left you wondering how your bills were going to be paid or how you were going to feed your family. Perhaps you are experiencing the discomfort that comes from taking a stand for your faith, or weariness along the path that is your vocation – like you can barely put one foot in front of the other. Can’t you imagine the Holy Family experiencing these things along their journey? Often the Lord brings these kinds of experiences to us, and it can be tempting to grumble and complain, as the Israelites did, when we are faced with such hardships. We may view our sufferings as an affliction or wonder to ourselves, “Is the Lord with me or not?” 

But it is precisely these types of experiences that force us to rely on God and to trust in his care for us. When our illusion of control is shattered, we must relinquish that control to the only One who held it all along. It is only then that we can “lean not on our own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5), but lean fully on him and allow him to uphold us.

We are not in the wilderness alone.


Following Mary’s Example

What are we to do when we encounter the kind of suffering in our lives that calls us out of our comfort and thrusts us into the unknown?

Let’s look at what Mary did:

She prioritized her love of Christ above all else.  Even when she was forced to give up her physical comforts, even when it meant difficulty and hardship, Mary’s love of Christ came first. She clung to him and maintained great faith that God would provide for their needs if she obeyed him. 

This earth is not our home; we are only pilgrims here. We should not cling to earthly comforts for security, for they are fleeting. As Jesus reminds us, “Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven…for where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” (Matthew 6:19) Mary’s treasure was Jesus; nothing else mattered.

She embraced her suffering. Joseph and Mary did not hesitate to endure the difficulty of travel and living in Egypt because they knew it was what God was calling them to do. They got up right away and began their journey. Sometimes God calls us to experience something that will bring suffering in our lives as well. Our Lady of Kibeho said, “No one reaches heaven without suffering.”

Our Lord said, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24) We must all be willing to suffer for Christ’s sake, trusting that God’s will for us is perfect. So many graces come through suffering. Let’s not run from it but embrace it with faith in God’s plan for our lives, as Our Lady did.

Reflect

  • Has God called you into a desert place? Has there been a time when your comforts – physical or emotional – were stripped away? 
  • What did he teach you about himself during this time? Did you feel closer to him or farther away? Did you experience his provision?
  • In hindsight, can you see growth in yourself for having gone through this difficult time?

Pray

God, I thank you that when I am in the desert, I am not there alone. Help me to remember that you are with me and you love me. Let me not be like the Israelites, doubting your presence and your goodness. Please help me to see that you are my provider and that you are working all things together for my good – even difficult things.

Our Lady of Sorrows, please give us the grace to endure our sufferings with the faith that you demonstrated. Pray for us to be willing to relinquish our earthly comforts, to take up our own crosses out of love for your precious Son, and so to be united with him in heaven someday. 

Amen

This is the second post in a series on the Seven Sorrows of Mary. To read the first post, click here.

You can meditate further on Our Lady’s sorrows by praying the Rosary of the Seven Sorrows. Find beautiful, handmade Seven Sorrows Rosary bracelets for sale in my shop.

The First Sword of Sorrow – The Prophecy of Simeon

The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” Luke 2:34-35

At the time of Jesus’ birth, the Jewish people were awaiting the coming of the Messiah about whom the Scriptures had prophesied. But the prophecies seem to present two different descriptions of who this Messiah would be. Some passages, such as Isaiah 53, describe him as a suffering servant, rejected by the people and led as a lamb to the slaughter, while other verses, such as Isaiah 11, describe a Messiah who will come to rule the earth and bring with him world peace.

“To reconcile these two very different portrayals of the Messiah, there grew a belief among the rabbis that they were waiting for two Messiahs. One they called Mashiach ben David, and He would be the Son of King David who would rule and reign. The other they called Mashiach ben Joseph, the Son of Joseph. This Messiah ben Joseph would suffer and be rejected by his own like Joseph was rejected by his brothers. At the time of Yeshua’s coming, Israel longed for the conquering Messiah. Because of Rome’s oppression and their expectation that God would send the Deliverer, they were looking for Messiah ben David,” explains messianic Rabbi Jonathan Bernis of Jewish Voice.

What they could not have known, of course, is that this same Messiah would be coming twice – first to suffer and then to reign!

When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary at the time of the Annunciation, he said to her, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:31-33)

We meditate on the joy that Mary experienced at the Annunciation in the joyful mysteries of the rosary. Surely, she imagined that she was carrying the much hoped-for Messiah who would rule his people and bring with him promised peace.

Mary carried that joy with her when she visited her cousin, Elizabeth. She proclaims in her Magnificat, “He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy, according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” (Luke 1:51-55)

A Light to the Gentiles by Greg Olsen

Her joy continued when the time came to present Jesus in the temple, as was customary to do with a firstborn son. She was amazed when Simeon recognized the infant Jesus as the Messiah he had been waiting to see, took him into his arms, and said of him, “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)

But the Blessed Mother revealed to Saint Matilda that when Simeon went on to tell her that Jesus was destined to be a sign that will be contradicted and that a sword would pierce her soul, “all her joy was changed into sorrow.” It was then that she realized that Jesus would be the suffering Messiah and understood all that this implied: the rejection, opposition, and painful death that awaited him. This first sword of sorrow pierced her heart at that moment as she became aware that her whole life with him would be spent in preparation for this bitter end.

Can you imagine the heaviness of this realization? Perhaps you have experienced a time when you thought that everything was going well and suddenly something devastating and unexpected happened. It hits you like a crushing blow – a diagnosis, an assault, a betrayal, an accident, a job loss. Everything changes. Can you remember the way you felt when it happened, almost like you were right back in that moment?

These types of jarring experiences weigh heavy on our minds and consume our thoughts. They threaten our sense of security and can cause us emotional trauma. The Bible doesn’t talk about what happened to Mary and Joseph after they left the temple that day. But we can certainly imagine their worry; they were human. We may feel anxiety that comes from not knowing how our situation will play out, but it is fathomable that knowing may be even worse. We can imagine the pain Mary felt knowing for certain what lay ahead, that the little child she lovingly cared for would die in the most cruel way.  The only thing she did not know was when.

Ah, my son, I clasp you in my arms, because you are so dear to me. But the more I love you, the more you become a source of sorrow to me when I think of all that you will have to suffer,” Saint Alphonsus Liguori writes in The Glories of Mary, in contemplating this sword of sorrow.  Our Lady told Saint Bridget of Sweden, “My eyes filled with tears, and my heart was tortured with grief.” Surely, this was just the first step on the road of suffering that lay ahead for Mary; the closer they drew to the time of Jesus’ Passion, the more pain filled her heart.

But in spite of this sorrow and sadness, in spite of the weight of the news that she carried home from the temple with her that day and bore in her heart and mind every day as she raised her Son, Mary loved and devoted herself to Jesus and her faith in God sustained her through her pain. 


Following Mary’s Example

What can we do when life takes a sudden unexpected turn and, like Mary, all our joy turns to sorrow? 

Let’s look at what Mary did:

She maintained her humility in relation to God.  After Simeon’s prophecy Mary and Joseph fulfilled the prescriptions of the law of the Lord. (Luke 2:39) Mary did not abandon her faith because something unexpected happened. Instead, she continued to follow God’s precepts in her Jewish faith to complete the dedication of Jesus.  Mary had already said she was the handmaid of the Lord. She did not change her offering of herself in that way because it meant that she would endure suffering. In a similar way, sudden and unexpected suffering should not cause us to abandon our faith. Rather, we should remain humble by offering ourselves as living sacrifices for God to use in the way that he sees fit as our own personal fiat.  Entrusting Him with these things is a spiritual act of worship: we are saying of Him that he is worthy of our trust.

She trusted God’s word.  It is in Mary’s character to retain what she sees and hears and to ponder these things in her heart. Simeon’s words were not the only thing that Mary had been told about the infant Jesus. God had already sent an angel to Mary to tell her that Jesus would “be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Shepherds, prompted by a host of angels, came to visit him upon his birth. A star shone in the sky guiding magi from afar to come and pay him homage as he lay in the manger. Although Simeon’s prophecy brought her pain, she had had several other extraordinary experiences and had heard from God’s very own messenger that the story would be triumphant. These served to strengthen her faith and to sustain her when she felt afraid. 

Likewise, our trials should be weighed in light of what God has already revealed to us about Himself in His Word: 

  • that He is good (Psalm 34:8)
  • that His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8)
  • that all things work together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28)
  • that He is trustworthy (Proverbs 3:5) 
  • that we are known by Him (Jeremiah 1:5)
  • that we are seen by Him (Psalm 139:7-12)
  • that we are loved by Him (Luke 12:7)

Reflect

  • Can you recall a time when you experienced suffering that came suddenly and unexpectedly?  Perhaps you are experiencing this right now.
  • What fears did/do you have in relation to this situation? 
  • What has God revealed about himself in His Word to sustain your faith in this time of uncertainty?

Pray

God, when the unexpected happens and I feel afraid, please remind me that nothing is a surprise to You; You are always in control. Help me to remember that You know even the number of hairs on my head. Help me to cling to You with childlike faith.

Our Lady of Sorrows, you maintained your submission to the will of God as His handmaid, even when it meant that your heart would be pierced with sorrow. Help us to follow your example and to submit ourselves in humility, even in the midst of our own suffering, trusting in God’s goodness and love for us and in the promises that He has already given us.

Amen.

The Gift of Lent

I did not grow up with the practice of Lent.

I spent most of my life as a Protestant, my family having left the Catholic Church shortly after I made my First Communion. The message that I got about Lent and other penitential practices that Catholics did was that they were trying to earn their way into heaven. We didn’t “need” that, we Protestants. We knew that Jesus’ sacrifice was the only sacrifice that was needed – once and for all – and our life could be free and easy as a result of his finished work.

Only life isn’t easy, is it?

Life is full of sorrows and sufferings, and if you haven’t experienced this aspect of life yet, you only need to wait a bit longer. It’s coming.

Our culture is not generally good at suffering. We live in a time of relative peace and prosperity. The vast majority of us enjoy comforts that nobles and kings of a few centuries ago could only have dreamed about. Nevermind heat and toilets – what about streaming television, grocery pick-up, and online shopping? Instant gratification is the new normal.

But is this a good thing?

Those practices of self-denial I mentioned above, which used to be a much larger part of the Christian life, have largely fallen by the wayside. Temperance, simplicity, chastity, and fasting have been replaced with self-indulgence. Those things were unnecessary now, I thought. But there was not much about my life as a Protestant that prepared me for trials and suffering. “Everything is permissible,” the Corinthians believed, but St. Paul reminds them, “not everything is beneficial.” (1 Corinthians 10:23) It seemed to me that the “freedom” that we had to ignore the penitential rules that Catholics practiced may not have been beneficial.

So how does Lent help us with suffering?

Self-denial is a muscle that needs to be strengthened, and Lent is our gym.

We know that we will face trouble and persecution in this world. Our Lord told us this. (John 16:33) But this world is not our home. All that we do here on earth is meant to bring glory to God so that we may enjoy life with him in our permanent home – heaven. We are not here to live a life of comfort and ease. Lent reminds us of this and prepares us to face more difficult sufferings by helping us to die to ourselves.

Life is like a race, St. Paul said.

“Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Just as a runner prepares for a race with practice, so Lent gives us an opportunity to practice suffering. As a runner subjects his body to the strain of pushing himself beyond what is comfortable in order to build up his endurance, so we practice self-denial even when it is unpleasant so that we may build up our perseverance for the sufferings of this life. And when real danger comes, it will be the runner who has been training who will better be able to outrun his foe. Likewise, we who have practiced some self-denial of our own choosing will be better prepared to lay down our comfort, our possessions, our relationships, our very lives for Christ if necessary, for the prize of eternity. (Matthew 19:29)

If you are new to the practice of Lent, don’t worry. It’s okay if you don’t do it perfectly. When I returned to the Catholic faith, there were many years that I would be halfway into a ham sandwich before I realized it was Ash Wednesday and we were not supposed to eat meat. It did not come naturally to me and I did not have a plan.

Lent lasts from Ash Wednesday to Easter, with the option to relax our fasts on Sundays. It lasts for 40 days, just as Christ spent 40 days in the desert after his baptism in preparation for what lay before him. There are three elements to Lent that we practice: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Let’s look at some ways we can incorporate these elements into our daily lives during this period so that we may strengthen our self-denial muscles.

Prayer

If you don’t already have a habit of daily prayer, now is a good time to start! Try to carve out a few minutes at the start of your day to thank God for all that you have and to ask for his help. Sometimes the demands of our day can overwhelm us. We can feel that we are spread too thin and unable to manage all that we need to do with a limited budget, limited time, and limited energy. But we do not have to do it alone! God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:19) Recognize that you are weak. Take time each morning to offer your smallness to him. Ask him what you can do to best serve him. Offer him yourself and ask him to use you for his glory. Spending time in his presence in this way humbles us and reminds us that we are not God. This is the beginning of wisdom. (Proverbs 9:10)

If you do currently pray, consider adding in some more prayer time, asking other people how you might intercede for them, or praying for our church leaders, government leaders, and people who are most in need of God’s mercy.

Fasting

True fasting from food, as it was originally intended, has numerous health and spiritual benefits. If you are interested in a plan to incorporate this type of fasting into your Lenten practice, I highly recommend a book called Eat, Fast, Feast by Jay Richards. There is no question fasting is difficult; it is a self-denial that has some accompanying physical discomfort. But there is a direct correlation between fasting and spiritual warfare. (Matthew 17:21) Fasting is a practice of subjecting our flesh to our will and not giving over to our fleshly desires. This is something that has benefits in so many areas of our lives, from enduring ridicule for our faith to withstanding sexual temptations. The devil hates when we deny ourselves.

During Lent, Catholics are currently required to fast on only two days – Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. On these days, only one full meal is allowed, with the option to also have two very small meals that do not, together, make a full meal. Additionally, we refrain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays during Lent. This may sound difficult, but the book I mentioned above lays out a six-week plan to follow that transitions from not fasting at all to being able to go several days without food. It is a helpful guide since it is just about as long as Lent. I have found fasting to be an incredibly strong weapon against other temptations in my own life.

If you are unable to fast from food, consider fasting from something else that you enjoy – television, shopping, alcohol, social media. These things bring temporary comfort, but not lasting joy. Taking a break from them reminds us of this fact.

Almsgiving

In essence, almsgiving is helping others. After loving God, the second greatest commandment is loving others. We do this when we help them. Make a meal for someone who is sick, volunteer at a local soup kitchen, donate to a crisis pregnancy center, send an encouraging note to someone who is struggling. Sometimes we are so absorbed with our own lives that we fail to see the needs of those around us. It takes practice to see ways that we can practically help others, but meeting people’s physical needs is how Jesus showed that he was capable of meeting their spiritual needs. We are the hands and feet of Jesus on earth right now; helping others out of love is a way of pointing them to the love of God.

Consider these words of St. Paul to the Hebrews:

“We will show mercy to the poor and not miss an opportunity to do acts of kindness for others, for these are the true sacrifices that delight God’s heart.” (Hebrews 13:16)

Lent is a gift to us.

When we take advantage of the opportunities that Lent provides us to practice self-denial, we are disciplining and training ourselves to be prepared to face the difficulties of this life. In this way, we are more prepared to “count it all joy” when we face trials, knowing that the testing of our faith is what develops perseverance. (James 1:2) It is the deep, eternal joy – like the joy set before Christ that allowed him to endure the cross – that enables us to endure the suffering that we do in this life. Dying to ourselves means throwing off the temporary comforts that the world offers us so that we can live more fully for Christ.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way as to take the prize. Everyone who competes in the games trains with strict discipline. They do it for a crown that is perishable, but we do it for a crown that is imperishable. Therefore I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight like I am beating the air. No, I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

Have you found Lent to be a helpful practice in your life?

The Brown Scapular

Becoming invested in the brown scapular was just one step of the journey of my relationship with Our Blessed Mother. My husband has worn a scapular for most of his life, but for a long time, I did not understand the point of it – or of many of the sacramentals that I have come to appreciate in the years since my conversion to Catholicism in 2005. I recognized that wearing a piece of brown cloth on a string around your neck was not a “get out of hell free card,” but when I asked about it, it seemed to me that that was exactly what people were saying it was.

It was not until my own relationship with Our Lady began to develop on a more personal level after the death of our twin daughters that I began to understand the use of tools like the rosary and the brown scapular as signs to remind us of different aspects of our faith. I love the way that Kendra Tierney describes the history and wearing of the brown scapular on her website, Catholic All Year:

…the wearing of the brown scapular is understood to be an outward sign of an inward faith, and a desire to imitate and share in Carmelite spirituality, according to one’s state of life. If one lives a devout life, then yes, one is sure to be saved, but the brown scapular is a REMINDER of that, not the cause of it.

https://catholicallyear.com/blog/the-brown-scapular-and-other-sacramentals-using-them-losing-them-not-confusing-them/

My own family was invested in the brown scapular in October of last year, and we have been wearing scapulars that we bought from Etsy since then.

To be honest, I found the scapulars to be itchy. Somewhat large rectangles of wool that fall right in the center of the chest and between the shoulder blades (places that tend to be extra-sensitive anyway), the scapulars we have been wearing have been rather irritating, and I just assumed that we were supposed to be offering that little bit of irritation up for the benefits of that small act of mortification. In short, I was treating my scapular like a hair shirt and assumed that was part of participating in this particular sacramental.

But I was wrong!

The brown scapular is not meant to be a penitential irritant! And I have finally found one that is not only very comfortable to wear, but is especially beautiful as well.

Scapulars.com has a goal of investing a billion people in the brown scapular so that they may participate in the blessings of this special devotion, and to this end, they sent me a scapular to try in exchange for an honest review. After having worn this one for over a week now, I have to say that it is much more comfortable than any other scapular I have worn (and I’ve worn scapulars from three different makers since our investment a year ago because the first one broke). In addition to being comfortable, their scapulars are very durable, and come with a 7-year guarantee against breaking.

I chose the cream and rose Pietà for myself, and I just love it. The brown wool on the back is made from soft merino, so it does not irritate or itch. As you can see from the photo, the scapulars are beautifully made, and each side has pockets for your favorite medals. The blocks of fabric are smaller than those on the other scapulars I’ve worn, and each order comes with a card containing the prayers of investment for you to bring to your priest so that you may be invested in the brown scapular if you are not already.

Scapulars.com offers discounts for large families, and for each scapular you purchase, they give one to an elderly person as part of their mission. And this week only (Cyber Week 2020), you can get 10% off all scapulars with the code CYBER10 and 20% off of orders of 10 or more!

If you are looking for a wonderful Catholic Christmas gift this year, or a gift for someone who may be making their First Communion or Confirmation, check out the beautiful scapulars at Scapulars.com!

Praying With Our Lady of Sorrows: Meditations for Grieving Mothers

I have written here about Our Lady of Sorrows and how she has affected me as a grieving mother. It was through this title that I really felt that Our Blessed Mother made herself known to me in a very personal way. It has deepened my relationship with her tremendously.

Out of that devotion has come a small prayer booklet that I have written especially for grieving mothers.

The booklet is a guide to praying the rosary of Our Lady of Sorrows with meditations on each sword of sorrow, specifically written for women who have lost children through miscarriage, stillbirth, or the death of a child of any age. It’s something I wish I had had when we experienced the losses of our own children.

It’s my hope that priests, bereavement counselors, and other people wishing to offer support for grieving mothers would share this book with them. I pray that it would bring comfort to their grieving hearts to know that the Mother of Our Lord desires to meet them in this terrible pain and give them the grace to endure it.

You can order the book on Amazon here. The kindle version will be released on the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, September 15th. I will be praying the chaplet with the accompanying meditations from the book live on my Facebook page that evening at 8 pm if you would like to join me there.

For information about ordering bulk quantities (25+) for your parish or organization, please contact me directly.