Some 2000 years ago a young woman gave her yes to God. With that yes came great joy, because when you truly follow God’s will for your life you are inevitably joyful – not to be confused with the modern notion of happiness. That yes, however, came with a price-tag of great suffering.
Mary has a servant’s heart. As a young woman, newly pregnant, she walked 80-90 miles to help her aging cousin Elizabeth. Not an easy task while pregnant. She then had to undertake her own long journey to Bethlehem with Joseph, at which point she was heavily pregnant, and they were unable to secure a room. They found shelter in a stable. By today’s standards that would be tragic, but that hardship was tempered with joy because that stable became the birthplace of Jesus!
When you look at Mary’s life overall, those physical trials can seem trivial since it was not long after Jesus’ birth that the first of her Sorrows came to pass. In Luke 2: 22-35, we read about the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple and Simeon’s prophecy. He foretold that Mary’s soul would be pierced by a sword, saying, “Behold this child is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted; and thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed.”
Simeon’s prophecy was the first of the Seven Sorrows that are a traditional devotion to Mary. The traditional Sorrows are: Presentation in the Temple, Flight into Egypt, Loss of Jesus for three days, Way to Calvary, Crucifixion, Descent from the Cross, and Burial of Jesus. Given my own experience with loss, I can see another facet of sorrow that would have come hand-in-hand for Mary during the flight into Egypt: Herod’s order to slaughter the children we know as the Holy Innocents. While the flight into Egypt and the difficulties of starting over in a country where they had no friends and didn’t speak the language would have been difficult, the lives of those children, slaughtered because her Son was born, would weigh heavily on her. When they were finally able return to Nazareth, the lack of children within a year or two of Jesus’ age would be painfully obvious.
We don’t hear much about their lives until the next Sorrow- Losing the Child Jesus at the Temple. How they must have panicked when they realized that Jesus was not in the group with which they were travelling. Again, this suffering was tempered by the joy of finding him, but I’m sure any parent can attest that that moment of sheer terror never completely leaves you. This Sorrow is the last of the ‘easy’ trials. In a few years Mary’s world will be turned upside down.
In a short period of time, Mary would experience the pain and loss that make her the most excellent intercessor for women, especially those who have lost children or who have had to deal with the diagnosis of an incurable disease that will affect their child’s entire life.
Mary would have heard Pilate’s sentence: scourging, crown of thorns, and finally crucifixion. I’m sure that those words, that moment, burned into her brain, just as hearing the doctor say my daughter’s heart was slowly giving out is a moment I cannot forget.
While she may not have been present for the actual scourging and crowning of thorns, we know that Jesus met with her on the Road to Calvary and she would’ve seen the damage done to his body – suffering from which she couldn’t protect Him. How difficult it is for a mother to see her child suffer – and how much more so when the innocent suffers for the misdeeds of others.
Mary was at the foot of the Cross where she would’ve been witness to the cruelty of the soldiers and the jeering crowd. It was from that vantage point that she watched her baby die. I was blessed in that I was able to hold my daughter, to sing to her as she left us, but, Mary did not even have that comfort. She could do nothing but watch helplessly.
The sixth Sorrow is the Descent from the Cross. Mary was finally able to hold Jesus in her arms and say her goodbyes. She must have wept bitterly.
The final Sorrow in many ways is the hardest to handle: the Burial of Jesus. There is a finality to burial that is difficult to bear. You can no longer hope that there’s been a mistake…you know you will never see your living child again in this world, and Heaven is a long way from your mind when you are saying that final goodbye to your baby.
For Mary, all of her Sorrows were tempered and balanced by joy. The sad stable became the joyous location of our Savior’s birth. She lost and then found Jesus in the Temple. Even the sorrow of the crucifixion and burial are swiftly followed by the Resurrection.
I have had many dark moments in the days since my daughter died. Today would’ve been my daughter’s second birthday; Memorial Day will mark two years since she left us. Mary has been my constant companion on this journey even when I’m not aware of it. I realized while writing this that the due date for my current pregnancy is the Feast of the Sorrows of Mary, September 15th. Mary is uniquely qualified to walk with us mothers through our joys and sorrows. Her mission is always to bring us to her Son, Jesus, and by uniting our sorrows with hers, we are transported to the foot of the Cross.
The Blessed Virgin Mary grants seven graces to the souls who honor her daily by meditating on her tears and sorrows. This devotion was passed on by St. Bridget.
The Seven Graces:
- I will grant peace to their families.
- They will be enlightened about the divine mysteries.
- I will console them in their pains and I will accompany them in their work.
- I will give them as much as they ask for as long as it does not oppose the adorable will of my divine Son or the sanctification of their souls.
- I will defend them in their spiritual battles with the infernal enemy and I will protect them at every instant of their lives.
- I will visibly help them at the moment of their death, they will see the face of their Mother.
- I have obtained (This Grace) from my divine Son, that those who propagate this devotion to my tears and dolors, will be taken directly from this earthly life to eternal happiness since all their sins will be forgiven and my Son and I will be their eternal consolation and joy.
The Seven Sorrows:
- The prophecy of Simeon. (St. Luke 2: 34, 35)
- The flight into Egypt. (St. Matthew 2:13,14)
- The loss of the Child Jesus in the temple. (St. Luke 2: 43-45)
- The meeting of Jesus and Mary on the Way of the Cross.
- The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus.
- The taking down of the Body of Jesus from the Cross.
- The burial of Jesus.
(Say one Hail Mary while meditating on each Sorrow)
The Hail Mary: Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen