“And a sword will pierce through your own soul also.” -- Luke 2:35
I have a tradition of watching Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ every year, usually on Good Friday. However, this year I decided to watch it on Ash Wednesday to prepare me for Lent. Every time I watch it, something new stands out to me.
This year, I noticed with particular clarity how Mary follows Jesus throughout every step of His Passion and, more specifically, the effect it has on Our Lord. Whether it be His arrest, scourging, or His walk towards Calvary, every time He locked eyes with Mary, His energy was replenished and His courage renewed.
Granted, this is from a film, but it isn’t that difficult to imagine. The love that Christ had for His mother is beyond anything we can conceptualize. I’ve always found this—and her—to be somewhat mysterious and always a little bit beyond my reach of understanding. But I think reflecting on her title of “Our Lady of Sorrows” can encourage us to suffer well, especially during this Lenten season.
Mary, perfectly united with the will of her Son, was always completely open to His grace and His love. Along with this perfect unity, however, came the most intense and acute suffering ever suffered after Christ Himself. It is said by many saints, including St. Ephrem, St. Ambrose, St. Bridget of Sweden, and St. Alphonsus Liguori, that Mary suffered an interior, emotional crucifixion during the Passion of her son. Additionally, due to her sinless nature, the intensity of her suffering during Christ’s Passion was beyond anything we can imagine. St. Bernardine of Siena once said, “the grief of Mary was so great that, were it divided amongst all men, it would suffice to cause their immediate death.”
This suffering of Our Lady of Sorrows, so beautifully depicted in the film, is ironically comforting. Mary is the ultimate example of not only how to suffer, but also how it can glorify God if fully embraced. She shows us that even through our suffering we can fulfill the will of God. One can argue that much of her life—beginning with the prophecy of Simeon and continuing through the laying of Christ in the tomb—was lived in some degree of suffering, especially knowing what would befall her Son. But because she was completely devoted to the fulfillment of the will of God, her suffering was redeemed in and through the glory of the resurrection of Christ.
The film depiction of Christ looking to His mother is also something we can learn from this Lent. Mary can be a source of strength and encouragement as we continue to do works of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving throughout these forty days. Mary suffered quietly and faithfully. She stood with her Son at the cross until the end, knowing in faith that his Passion and death would fulfill God’s plan and bring salvation to mankind.
What can we take from this? Our Lady of Sorrows shows us that suffering well--that is, directed in union with God’s will-- can glorify Him and help us along the path to our salvation. This Lent, as I meditate on her walk with Christ toward Calvary, I am refreshed in the knowledge that our suffering doesn’t need to have a bitter end. If unified with Christ it can, and will, be redeemed in and through Him in eternal life.
How can we make our walk through the desert and toward Calvary this Lent look more like Mary’s?
When I was younger, one of my favorite things to do was to read about the lives of the saints. My family had tons of little books geared towards children with a one-page summary of the saint’s life, what they are patron of, and a little prayer to them. For me, it was fascinating to see the many different paths to holiness that God has given us as examples to follow. There is no one way to live out a life centered on Christ.
Saint Bridget of Sweden is one of these saints whom I find fascinating. She lived in Sweden in the 14th century, was born into a wealthy family, and was a daughter of a governor. She was married at age 14 and gave birth to eight children (Fun fact: one of her daughters is a saint as well – St. Catherine of Sweden!)
After the death of her husband, Bridget set out to begin a religious community, which is now known as the Order of the Most Holy Savior, or the Brigittines. The order was eventually confirmed by Pope Urban V, after the papacy made its return to Rome.
St. Bridget was a mystic, having her first vision, at age ten, of our Lord hanging on the cross. She continued to have visions throughout her life, including ones of Purgatory. In one of her visions, St. Bridget asked Jesus how many blows he suffered, to which he responded, “I received 5480 blows upon My Body. If you wish to honor them in some way, recite fifteen Our Fathers and fifteen Hail Mary’s with the following Prayers, which I Myself shall teach you, for an entire year. When the year is finished, you will have honored each of My Wounds.” These prayers, also known as the “Fifteen O’s,” became widely recited during the Middle Ages, promising indulgences as well as the release of souls from Purgatory among other graces.
St. Bridget died at the age of 69 and was canonized just 19 years after her death by Pope Boniface IX. She is co-patroness of Europe, along with St. Catherine of Siena and St. Teresa of the Cross.
It is so rare and beautiful to be able to look to a saint who was a wife, mother, and religious sister. Regardless of her state in life, St. Bridget kept her eyes fixed on Christ crucified, and lived her vocation for Him.
“O Lord, make haste and illumine the night. Say to my soul that nothing happens without You permitting it, and that nothing of what You permit is without comfort. O Jesus, Son of God, You Who were silent in the presence of Your accusers, restrain my tongue until I find what I should say and how to say it. Show me the way and make me ready to follow it. It is dangerous to delay, yet perilous to go forward. Answer my petition and show me the way. As the wounded go to the doctor in search of aid, so do I come to You. O Lord, give Your peace to my heart. Amen.” – St. Bridget of Sweden