THE SEVEN SORROWS OF MARY
Yesterday we celebrated the passion and death of the Lord. The last words of Jesus on the cross were “it is finished, it is accomplished”. Jesus accepted what the father sent him to do. And so he could say “it is finished”. However, it continues because of whom Jesus left behind. And he left behind his mother and his disciples.
During the course of our meditation this morning, when all over the world is Holy Saturday, we will spend this time with Mary by going through the mysteries of her life as mother of Jesus, as mother of God and see what fruit we can draw from the manner in which she responded. There are so many things that one could say about Mary but for our reflection this morning I will take, what is commonly called the 7 sorrows, the 7 dolours of our Blessed Mother.
The first of these is the prophecy of Simeon, Lk 2:34-35 - Jesus is brought by Mary and his foster father to the temple to be presented to God, to be gifted to God, to be handed over to God. And even as he is presented, Simeon who was waiting for the Lord’s kingdom realizes that it has come in this child. And his response on encountering Jesus is to address his mother, He speaks to Mary and tells her in prophecy that Jesus will be a sign that is accepted, and rejected, a sign that will frighten those who are corrupt and dishonest, a sign that will wake people up from their slumber and a sign that will be rejected and killed. And even as he says that, he brings Mary into salvation history when he speaks of a sword piercing Mary’s heart as well. Mary will be a collaborator with her son in achieving salvation history. And through this prophecy of Simeon brings to our attention the fact that just because God has favoured her, just because God has chosen her, just because God has given her the privilege and honour of being the mother of Jesus does not necessarily mean that everything will be smooth sailing. As a matter of fact it means she would have more difficulties than others who were not chosen. So often in our lives we might tend to lose hope, we might tend to think God is not on our side, we might tend to think that God is punishing us and we might ask “where is God in all of this?” If we reflect on the prophecy of Simeon addressed to Mary we will realize God is constantly present. So let the first sorrow of Mary be an inspiration for us that no matter how many trials we may have to undergo, no matter how many swords pierce our own hearts, we will look to Mary for consolation and strength.
The second sorrow is traditionally narrated as the flight into Egypt Mt. 2:13-15. It speaks you might say of displacement, it speaks you might say of uprootedness, it speaks you might say of change and transformation, it speaks you might say of Mary and Joseph’s world being turned upside down; it speaks of instability, it speaks of the fact that they are unable to make their home in one particular place, and have to constantly to be like pilgrims moving from one place to another. Many of us are fortunate to be living in the same place for a number of years, many of us are fortunate to have stable homes, many of us are fortunate to live in countries in which the political situation is stable and there is no threat of a war; and yet I want you to reflect on the instability of your life, of sometimes your own life is turned upside down and upheavals in your heart, when you are having marital discord for example, when your children go astray for example, when your parents don’t understand you for example, when in the community of religious you feel that you are isolated and alone, when as the Superior of the community or as the Parish Priest as in a parish, you feel that the parishioners, the members of your community don’t understand you, then you go through these upheavals, there’s unprootedness I would like you to bring to mind the flight into Egypt, and you will see and reflect on how Mary and Joseph were so obedient to God’s word because they knew that God’s plan for them was better than the plan they would have for themselves. The flight into Egypt is a sign that God is in charge. So no matter how many upheavals there may be in your life, no matter how many times you might be uprooted in your hear, keep in mind that at these times the Lord is with you.
The third sorrow is commonly called the finding in the temple Lk 2:41-52 and even though it seems that it was Mary who found Jesus, my own interpretation is Jesus was never lost. It was Mary who was lost without Jesus, because the answer, the response of Jesus to his mother “Why did you look for me, you ought to know where I can be found. I can be found doing my Father’s business,” Mary was, at least in the beginning, looking in the wrong place and then she realized that Jesus is found when we do God’s will. And that is why in the gospel of Luke; Mary is portrayed right from the time of the Annunciation in Lk 1:26-38, till the end of the gospel, as a woman who constantly does God’s will. She learnt, you might say, from that incident of finding in the temple that if she had to be a disciple of her son, she to constantly do God’s will. And so I ask you where are you looking for Jesus? If you are looking for him only in the tabernacle, if you are looking for him only in the church, if you are looking for him only in holy places, you are looking for a very, very, limited places because the Lord in the words of Teilhard de Chardin, the Cosmic Christ, the Lord is now the Risen Christ, the Lord must now be found in all things, in all persons, in all situations. And primarily, as the Lord tells us in Mt 7:21-28, the Lord can be found when you do God’s will.
The fourth sorrow of Our Lady which is not really narrated by the scriptures is Mary encounters Jesus carrying his cross. Even though none of the scriptures speak about Jesus meeting his mother on the way to Calvary or Golgotha, tradition is clear about this encounter because the Gospel of Luke tells us Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem on his way to Jerusalem. So surely he would have met his mother. What kind of an encounter do you think it would have been? Do you think that Mary would have been feeling sorry for herself; do you think she would have been feeling sorry for er son, do you think she would want to reach out to Jesus and wipe his battered face? Do you think that she would want to help Jesus carry the cross? What kind of an encounter would this have been? I invite you to spend a few moments reliving this scene, seeing in your mind’s eye the Mother and Son. I would like to think that they would each be consoling the other. I would like to think that they would each be strengthening the other; I would like to think that they would each be reaching out to the other rather than being concerned about their sorrow. And so this encounter might be summarized in one word ‘selflessness’. It might be termed as a reaching out. When you reach out even when you’re sad and you feel the whole world is conspiring against you, when you reach out in sympathy and empathy to someone else, when you avoid making yourself the focus and saying ‘Oh, look at me, how I’m suffering for my sins and for the sins of the others”. When you avoid doing that and look outside of yourself then you are being like Mary focusing on Jesus, and focusing on others.
The fifth sorrow is Jesus dies on the cross Jn 19:25-27 narrates this scene where Mary and the beloved disciple are standing at the foot of Jesus’ cross. And Jesus, before his last breath in the Gospel of John hands over his mother to the beloved disciple and hands over the disciple to his mother. Who then is the beloved disciple? The beloved disciple is anyone who loves Jesus. So if you love Jesus you cannot but take Mary into your home, if you love Jesus you cannot but honour his mother and ours. If you love Jesus, you cannot but make Mary an integral part of your life. As a matter of fact in the Gospel of John this is how Church is described. The Spirit of Jesus (which he breathes before his death), the beloved disciple (anyone who loves Jesus) and the mother of Jesus. These three elements make up church. These three are what church is all about in the Gospel of John. So today let us realize that we cannot really have a full church, the church of the Lord unless his mother is in that church as well. I am fond of saying that if Mary had to say NO we would never have had Jesus, and you would not even be listening to this talk of mine. So the fact that you are listening to the talk has its origin in Mary. And once again I repeat the beautiful words of the Memorare “It was never know that anyone who fled to her protection was left unaided.” And proof of that is again in the scriptures where the mind of Jesus has changed because of the intervention of Mary at Cana, Jn 2:1-12.
The sixth sorrow is Jesus is handed over to his mother, the pieta of Michael Angelo. And if you can google this, put down ‘pieta’, you will get a number of images of this beautiful scene, you will a number of images of this beautiful scene portrayed. So beautifully by Michael Angelo and so many artists after and before him of Jesus lying dead in the lap of his mother. And Mary is not a woman who’s going to shed tears for herself; Mary is not a woman who’s going to shed tears for her son, Mary is a woman who’s going to continue the mission because she knows that her son has done all that was required of him and that she is to do all that is required of her. And that brings me once again to how so many of us unfortunately cry at the death of a loved one as if the person is never going to rise again, how many of us cry at the death of loved one for years after the person has gone simply because we do not believe in the Resurrection. If you are one of those who is crying for a dead parent, or a dead relative, or a dead friend, then I need your you to understand that our God is not a God of the dead, but a God of the living. And so today is not a day when you shed tears. Today is a day when you give thanks that God did through your parent, through your friend, through your relative who is now living with God all the beautiful things. And now you have to let go, now we have to leave it in the hands of God, now you have to believe that the person is in a much, much better place and situation than ever before.
And the last sorrow is when Jesus is laid in the tomb. Even as we stand watching them lay Jesus in the tomb, let us stand with Mary and us stand with confidence, let stand with courage, let us stand with trust and faith and hope.
Let us remain quiet and as we see the stone being rolled to close the tomb, let us together recite the Hail and Holy Mary. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you, blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen