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)
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!”
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.”
- 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.
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.”
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.
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.