When I was first introduced to the Congregation of Holy Cross as a student at Saint Mary’s College at Notre Dame, I was confused why their patron is Our Lady of Sorrows. I see myself as a cheerleader for my loved ones and try to bring joy to everything I do in life. Studying psychology and theology taught me more about the depths of joy and the paradox of holding joy and sorrow simultaneously. Joy and sorrow are not analogous to happiness and sadness. So, I can still bring joy even when accompanying others in sorrow.
In the first letter from St. Paul to the Corinthians, we learn that faith, hope, and love are the three things that will last forever. We cannot have one without the other two. We have hope because we have faith and love.
As a Christ-centered marriage and family therapist, I have a couple of images of the sorrowful mother in my office so my clients are reminded that they are not alone in their suffering. The Church provides a way to reflect on the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady. In each of these arrows that pierce her heart, she is either holding, searching for, or gazing at Jesus.
The Seven Sorrows of Mary:
At the Wedding at Cana, Jesus told his beloved mother that if he began his public works, their humble life together as a family would never be the same. He would no longer be just her son but recognized as the Savior of all. She would no longer be just his mother but the mother of all. She consented to this road of suffering because she trusted God and meant her words at the Annunciation, “may it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
Imagine Mary at the foot of the Cross. She was full of sorrow watching her son take his last breaths. What kind of mother would she be if she was not sad watching her son suffer? In her tears, she believed (“Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Luke 1:45) in the God she knew so intimately and loved with a heart that was not tarnished by sin. So, if it is okay for her to be full of sorrow, it is okay for each of us, too. We must be cognizant that our sorrow does not turn us away from the Cross in despair, but rather leads us toward the Cross in hope.
We do not venerate the Cross because it is a torture device, but rather an instrument of salvation. Good Friday is not the end of the story, and Easter Sunday cannot exist without Good Friday. St. Paul wrote to the Romans that “all things work for good for those who love God.” (Romans 8:28) God does not waste anything and does not leave us alone in our sorrow. As Catholics, we believe in redemptive suffering; we can offer our suffering for the redemption of the souls of others. Mary is the first and greatest disciple and her intercession is incredibly efficacious. In my life and the lives of the clients I journey with, I have witnessed that the greatest transformation comes from seasons of sorrow. It is in those most challenging moments that Jesus and Our Sorrowful Mother embrace us with such tenderness and empathy.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)
Mother Teresa so beautifully says that, “Pain and suffering have come into your life, but remember pain, sorrow, suffering are but the kiss of Jesus - a sign that you have come so close to Him that He can kiss you.”
As you carry your crosses this week, may you see it just as a piece of the puzzle that God is building in your story. Jesus is not defined by the Cross; He overcame it. You are not defined by your crosses, either. St. John Paul the Great says, “we are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song.” In tragic circumstances, look for the heroes. In times of darkness, look for the light.
I think of a hymn written by Steve Warner that is often sung on the campuses of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College. The refrain is:
“Cross of our hope, and tree of our salvation,
Sown in our land, and spread near and far,
Life-giving fruit, our portion and our promise,
Ave Crux! Spes Unica!”
**This image is from: https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/study-of-the-pieta-127796**