Yesterday the Church celebrated the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, which in many ways is reminiscent of Good Friday. Good Friday takes place within the Easter Triduum and is a memorial that anticipates the Resurrection, whereas yesterday’s feast reminds us that it is through the Cross that Our Lord conquered sin and death and achieved the salvation of the world. Without his death on the Cross, there is no salvation, no forgiveness of sins, and no Resurrection. Since our hope is found in the Cross, we give due honor to this instrument of salvation for the sake of Christ. However, today’s feast of Our Lady of Sorrows reminds us of the intimate connection between Our Lord and his Blessed Mother. As the Mother and Model of the Church as well as the perfect disciple of Christ, Mary stayed with her Son throughout his life and did not abandon him at the hour of his suffering and death.
Today’s feast serves to accentuate the humanity of Jesus. When we look at Jesus’ Passion and Death through the eyes of Our Lady, we gain a much different perspective than seeing Christ through our own eyes or even through the eyes of anyone else standing at the foot of the Cross. Whereas other people present at the crucifixion of Jesus saw a man, perhaps a good man (depending on their perspective), being unjustly treated by his fellow Jews and by the Roman soldiers, Our Lady sees her only beloved Son. The presence of Mary at the foot of the Cross reminds us that the event of the Crucifixion and Death of Christ was not simply an item to be checked off a divine “to-do list,” but an earth-shattering event that entirely altered the course of humanity. Our compassionate Mother is juxtaposed against a cruel and uncaring world that is often all too eager to see the suffering of others and simply walk on by. When we look upon Our Sorrowful Mother, we are forced to come to terms with the vileness and ugliness of sin in our own hearts and to make a choice: either continue along the road of sin that leads to destruction or to resolve to turn away from our selfish ways and to take pity on Our Lady’s suffering, to allow the Lord to form a new heart within us and to have compassion for those who suffer. Our Lady teaches us how to love and to show compassion, not only for her Son, but for all those who suffer, for the least of Christ’s brethren.
“Our Lady teaches us how to love and to show compassion, not only for her Son, but for all those who suffer, for the least of Christ’s brethren.”
In the Office of Readings for today’s feast, St. Bernard writes beautifully about this quality of compassion and love that is found in Our Lady. He says, “Do not be surprised, brothers, that Mary is said to be a martyr in spirit. Let him be surprised who does not remember the words of Paul, that one of the greatest crimes of the Gentiles was that they were without love. That was far from the heart of Mary; let it be far from her servants.” In other words, those of us who are servants of Our blessed Mother should be filled with love and compassion, not only for Christ in his suffering, but also for the suffering of others. The very word “compassion” comes from two Latin words meaning literally “to suffer with.” When we see the sufferings of others, it is not Christlike nor is it Marylike to simply ignore them, walk on by, minimize their suffering, justify it in our minds, tell them to simply get over it, tell them to lift themselves up by their bootstraps, or to kick them while they’re down. Some people might think this is “tough love.” While there is a time and a place to take a firmer approach to love, being firm should never be an excuse for lacking compassion.
Imagine Mary hearing Jesus crying out from the Cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” and saying to her Son, “Oh Son, just suck it up. Everybody has to suffer something in life.” It’s horrendous to even think that Our Lady would say such a thing. Instead, she remains silent at the foot of the Cross, knowing that there is nothing she can do for her Son. She feels entirely helpless and powerless, yet she does what is within her power; she stays with him and suffers with him. She allows herself to feel his pain, which unites her heart with his even more closely and profoundly in love. She feels every strike of the nails penetrating his flesh and can feel the fatigue of her Son as he hangs upon the Cross. If there was anything she could do to alleviate even a little bit of his suffering, she would do it. But simply her compassionate presence at the foot of the Cross was enough for her to unite herself with her Son and give him at least the smallest consolation.
Thus, Our Lady of Sorrows teaches us how we all might be more compassionate with our brothers and sisters who are suffering, even those who are not Catholic or are not practicing the Faith. Sometimes, there are things we can do to alleviate the sufferings of others through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. At other times, there is nothing we can say or do but simply be there with the person and suffer with them in silence. If we open our hearts to Our Lord and Our Lady and allow ourselves to have compassion for their sufferings, then we should be able to show compassion for the sufferings of others. This will enable us to have a more profound encounter with the love that flows from the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts of Jesus and Mary. After all, it is through the love of Jesus and Mary that the door to heaven has been opened and the grace of mercy and redemption has been poured out upon the world. By loving God, Our blessed Mother, and our neighbor, we too become conduits of this saving grace, especially for those who are most in need of God’s mercy.
– Fr. Matthew Mary, MFVA