When the angel told Mary that she was to conceive and bear a son and give him the name Jesus, she asked the angel “‘How can this be since I do not know man? “The angel answered her: ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; hence the holy offspring to be born will be called Son of God.'” (Lk 1:35-35)
In the gospel of John we read “Seeing his mother there with the disciple whom He loved, Jesus said to His mother, ‘Woman, there is your son.’ In turn He said to the disciple, ‘There is your mother.’ From that hour onward the disciple took her into his care. “And a little further on we read, “Then He bowed His head anddelivered over His spirit.” (Jn 19: 26-24, 30)
I would like to reflect on Mary as “Our Lady of Sorrows”, patroness of the Congregation of Holy Cross and briefly explore her role in the life of Holy Cross and, potentially, in the life of every Catholic.
When Mary was asked to become the Mother of God, she was told that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and her offspring would be called the Son of God. At the foot of the cross, Jesus gave Mary to us as our mother through His beloved disciple. This gesture on the part of Jesus is uniquely symbolic in that Mary become the Mother of Jesus through the Holy Spirit and became our mother when Jesus delivered over His Spirit on the cross.
We live our relationship with Jesus through the experiences of Mary His Mother. She gives flesh, life, and meaning to the words of her son. She is the Mother of Jesus, and our mother, sharing her sorrows with us giving depth and meaning to the life of her son. Our gifted tie to Mary is through her suffering, beginning at the Annunciation, defined through the Passion and Death of her Son and continuing through her compassionate presence in the life of each of us called to be the children of God.
Blessed Basil Anthony Mary Moreau, C.S.C., the founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross had a deep devotion to Mary and added her name to his Christian name when he pronounced his vows as a religious. He found the unique mystery of Mary’s compassion the center of his devotion to her and placed the Congregation under the patronage of Our Lady of the Cross, Our Lady of Sorrows. His life was to parallel Mary’s sufferings in many ways as he was rejected by his own confreres in the Congregation.
Father Edward Sorin, C.S.C., the founder of the University of Notre Dame, during one of his times of struggle nearing despair in establishing this new foundation wrote, “I am blind, and Mary offers me a mother’s loving hand to guide me through this pathless wilderness to the gate of heaven. Weak and exhausted from so many falls and wounds, she raises me and promises to support me, through all the obstacles and hardships, upon the saving arm of her divine charity.”
Both of these priests discovered in their lives how powerless they were to accomplish what they perceived to be God’s Will and Vision both for them and for the community of brothers and priests they were charged to lead. Both also realized their individual need and the need of Holy Cross and Notre Dame to turn to Mary the Mother of God, Our Lady of Sorrows, whose unique experience walking the journey, here on earth, with her Son, Jesus was the only true insight and explanation for His constant unwavering compassion for all who choose to follow in his footsteps of rejection, pain and suffering, and to find all of these as gifts from a merciful and loving God.
It was Mary’s compassion that attracted Fr. Moreau, something he found as both mystery and grace filled opportunity. His own life would parallel, in some small way, the path of uncertainty and outright rejection that Mary found in walking with her Son and he too would be required to emulate Mary in her compassion for those who inflicted pain, showing understanding, forgiveness, and love. Mary’s example of living a joy filled life in the midst of misunderstanding and sorrow was to guide him on his journey with her Son.
Fr. Moreau in dedicating his band of followers to Mary as Our Lady of Sorrows was drawn to her Seven Dolors, the singular seven sorrows that Mary underwent as the Mother of Jesus. Devotion to Mary through the Seven Dolors has become an integral characteristic of all of the Holy Cross family.
The seven dolors define the life of Mary, but more importantly, are the guideposts for much of our understanding of the life of Jesus. Mary’s life, lived through the seven dolors, becomes a filter for our experiencing Jesus’ life. As we walk each of the dolors, Mary is our guide and teacher, relating her experiences with her Son that shed deep insight into the meaning of both His teachings and the events of His life.
In her compassion, Mary is suffering with Christ, her Son, and is suffering for the same reasons that He is suffering. Her suffering transcends the sorrow itself and her heart is pierced not because of wounds inflicted on her person, but rather because of the rejection of Jesus by those He came to lead and guide to His Father’s love, something foretold in the first dolor, “Simeon’s Prophecy” and continues through the seventh dolor as “Jesus is laid in the Sepulcher.”
In reflecting on Mary’s story, the events surrounding the seven dolors become mileposts that we can follow as we walk with Jesus in our lives.
When Mary took the child Jesus to the temple (First Dolor), Simeon told her that “a sword will pierce even your own soul–to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” How many are the hearts of those pierced whose countries are ravaged by war, hurricanes, and earthquakes? How many see terrible injustices perpetrated on so many innocent people? How many lives are destroyed through abortions, addictions? In such instances we turn to Mary for compassion, consolation, and guidance.
In the Second Dolor we find Mary and Joseph fleeing into Egypt to escape the king Herod who was searching for the Child Jesus to destroy Him. How many people today are displaced, driven from their countries, threatened and unwanted, rejected because of AIDS or other diseases and deformities? We can turn to Mary who was equally threatened, rejected, and despised and feared.
Jesus became separated from Mary and Joseph in the temple (Third Dolor) and we can imagine the anguish and panic that Mary felt at the prospect of the loss of Jesus, the Son of God whom God had entrusted to her care. Jesus response to his Mother “Why did you search for me? Did you not know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49) could only have increased the intensity of her desire to understand her Son, His life and His ultimate purpose here on earth and her increased bewilderment at her inability to do so.
How many times have we struggled with our faith, felt distanced from God and felt drawn to turn to Mary seeking to benefit from her similar experiences with her Son?
The Fourth Dolor, Mary meets Jesus carrying his cross, the Fifth Dolor, The Crucifixion, The Sixth Dolor Jesus is taken down from the Cross, and the Seventh Dolor, Jesus is laid in the Sepulcher bring us to the pinnacle of the experiences of Mary as the Mother of Jesus, a mother overwhelmed with sadness and grief beyond understanding.
Imagine Mary seeing Jesus struggling with the weight of the cross, buffeted by whips, scorned and seemingly totally rejected by all, her heart bleeding to help Him but powerless to do so. How many mothers, fathers, and families cry out in anguish at what is done to their children, the horrors of drugs, the deprivation of life on the streets, the abuses of all kinds and their powerlessness to change things and make a difference?
When Jesus was raised on the cross, Mary’s pierced heart and suffering were transformed with that of her son and her suffering transcended her own being and was united with her son in total compassion for all of those who perpetrated this hideous crime and for all of those for whom He had become a sacrificial lamb.
“Woman, there is your son.’ In turn He said to the disciple, ‘There is your motherthen He bowed His head and delivered over His Spirit.” It is difficult to even begin to imagine the pain and anguish in the heart of Mary as she stood at the foot of the cross and gazed upon her Son, the child of her womb, and yet her unwavering compassion focused her on the meaning of her son’s life and why He was willing to suffer and die for all those He came to lead to His Father through the dynamic of love, mercy, forgiveness, and understanding.
We now see Mary cradling her Son in her lap as she is given His lifeless body overwhelmed by the immensity of her loss. But even in her total numbness her gaze goes out to all those parents who would hold their lifeless children in their arms, the victims of early deaths by wars, disease, violence, accidents, and even despair.
The final sword thrust into her heart would be the indescribable loneliness, the bottomless void, as she watched her Son placed in the tomb, a rock sealing the entrance driving home the finality of His Passion and Death.
But Mary’s suffering was united to that of her Son, and the totality of her compassion was to suffer with her Son and for the very reasons that He suffered. She transcended her own pain, hurts, rejection, to look out to all of us for whom He suffered and to realize that we needed a mother to guide us, to console us, to be an advocate for us with her Son and His Father in heaven.
As we saw above Fr Edward Sorin shared “I am blind, and Mary offers me a mother’s loving hand to guide me through this pathless wilderness to the gate of heaven. Weak and exhausted from so many falls and wounds, she raises me and promises to support me, through all the obstacles and hardships, upon the saving arm of her divine charity.”
We too struggle with our own blindness at trying to understand what God’s Will is for us and where He is leading us and all those entrusted to us. At times we find ourselves fearing that we have lost our way and on the edge of depression and possibly even despair. But we turn to Mary as the Mother of God and our mother and a mother who has endured intense sufferings and can guide us along the path to Her Son because of her own experiences.
Looking back at Fr. Moreau’s dedication of Holy Cross to Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, we can appreciate her transformation from preoccupation with her own pain, suffering, and sorrows to the divinely inspired role of mother of all the children called by God through Jesus. She is the disciple of disciples, the teacher and mentor for all traversing the path to Jesus her Son. She is present to each one of us and to all of us cooperating with the Spirit to draw us into the mystery and teachings of Jesus and to an understanding of our relationship and journey to her compassionate heart as she teaches us to unite our lives, our sufferings to those of her Son and to grieve and suffer with Him, and to be consoled by Him through her advocacy as Mother of God, Our Lady of Sorrows.