In March/April 2014 I embarked on the novena of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows. What followed was an emotionally challenging several days which had me so depressed with the suffering of Mary and Jesus. Despite the heaviness of those days words poured out of me in reflection on each of the sorrows. And while it was a dark and depressing journey, to feel the angst that Mary must have felt, it was a worthwhile journey.
Praying the Rosary of the 7 Sorrows and meditating on them
The Seven Sorrows of Our Lady
- St. Simeon’s Prophecy
- The Flight into Egypt
- The Loss of Jesus in the Temple
- The Meeting of Mary and Jesus on the Way to Calvary
- The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus
- The Piercing of the Side of Jesus, and His Descent from the Cross
- The Burial of Jesus
- St. Simeon’s Prophecy
Luke 2:22-35 Mary is the handmaid of the Lord – Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” …Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
God sent his messenger Gabriel to Mary. Mary willingly accepted the call to be the Mother of God. Her expectations for her child must have been great, to know her son would be called “Son of the Most High”, one who would rule forever. Her expectations for herself must have been great, to know she was to bear the responsibility of being the Mother of God. What honor to be the mother of God’s son. Could she have known that the path was going to be as painful and challenging as it was?
What expectations she must have had for her life and Jesus’ life. Did she expect that it would be a guided and blessed journey? Or did she suspect that she would have to endure hardship and suffering? Was she confused when found herself giving birth in a stable and then visited by shepherds? Was she hopeful to see that from the beginning of his birth people knew who her son was?
And then, a mere forty days later, what a shock it must have been to hear the prophesy of Simeon – to learn that her child, while great and meant to serve the Lord, would suffer in this world. At first it sounded promising, “my eyes have seen your salvation, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” And then the shock of “this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.
- The Flight into Egypt
Matthew 2:13 The Flight to Egypt. 13* When they had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt,* and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.”14Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt.15* He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophetd might be fulfilled, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
Was Mary still trying to process what Simeon’s prophesy meant when she was made to flee to Egypt? How scared she must have been for Jesus, Joseph, and herself to flee at a moment’s notice and pray for protection and survival. As the caretaker of the Savior how much pressure she must have felt to keep Jesus safe. How fearful she must have been to find that Jesus was being persecuted from his infancy. She must have quickly come to realize that her life was going to be challenging and difficult to keep Jesus safe — Would she be able to keep him safe long enough for him to survive and serve his purpose? Was she confused why God would call on her to be the mother of his Son and then have him persecuted in such ways?
And woe to the hearts of many a mother, like that of Mary, but who were not so fortunate to have their sons spared. With Herod’s free will to do evil unto others many innocent lives suffered at his hands – for earthly desires of earthly rule filled his heart and caused him to commit great evil upon them.
To be forewarned; to listen. To be uprooted; to have to make life in a new land where you did not have connections. What trust in God she must have had and what trust in the calling of her Son. Jesus was too young to know what his life’s calling and purpose would be. The future of all souls rested on Mary’s shoulders for years until Jesus grew and he himself started to understand that he was the Son of God.
- The Loss of Jesus in the Temple
Luke 2:41 The Boy Jesus in the Temple. Each year his parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom.After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers.When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.”And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”But they did not understand what he said to them. He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advanced [in] wisdom and age and favor before God and man.
As the guardian of our Lord and Savior Mary was the parent with the utmost responsibility upon her shoulders. All parents bear the burden of keeping their child safe from harm, leading the child’s physical and spiritual growth, and doing their best to raise their child well. But what responsibility Mary had to know she was raising the Son of God! To know that Jesus was being persecuted from his infancy and ever fearful that he would be harmed before fulfilling God’s plans. So what suffering she must have felt in her heart to learn that she had been traveling for a day thinking that Jesus was with the group and cared for only to find that he had been left behind. Out her sight and protection, vulnerable to the world. Like all mothers she must have felt sick to her stomach with fear of what could have happened to her son, but unlike all mothers she knew that if something had happened she would have failed God.
And to know she could not make it back to Jerusalem to even search for him for a whole day, what a torturous day filled with fear it must have been. And then to search for an entire day in that city fearful and hopeful to find him. And what relief she must have felt to discover him in the temple.
How motherly of Mary to pose the question to Jesus about his actions rather than to scold him for staying behind. Did she not understand his response? That he must be in his Father’s house. Or did she understand it all too well? To have her 12 year old son preaching, and seeking God, seeking to educate others – how proud she must have been. But how it must have panged her heart to know that this would only bring her closer to feeling that sword thru her heart as had been prophesized.
As all mothers of teenagers must suffer thru the separation of their child realizing that they are independent beings, Mary experienced that suffering of separation. But unlike all other mothers she knew that his independence was going to lead her son and herself to great suffering. No doubt she wanted to shelter her son for as long as possible, to guard, to protect, to nurture. How fearful she must have been to see that her time to do this was limited. How grateful she must have felt to have him obey and come back with them. How relieved that he agreed to put on hold his desire to serve his higher purpose until he had a chance to mature and be better prepared to face the world that desperately needed him but would reject his message so violently.
- The Meeting of Mary and Jesus on the Way to Calvary
When Mary searched for Jesus along the path to Calvary what torment it must have been to press thru the crowd in the hopes that she would see her living son one more time, but not knowing if she would reach him. How brave she was to be in a crowd of such hatred toward her son. How strong her breaking heart must have been for her to withstand the pain of not only watching her son suffer but also for herself and having to surely endure the jeers herself.
What sadness to know that your son was meant to save them and all they did was condemn him. What torment to know his love was not appreciated in her most beautiful, precious son. For how could someone hear his message and hate?
And then you reach your son and you are powerless as a mother. You cannot embrace. You cannot pick up your son and make it better. He must endure what he must endure. You must endure what you must endure. What longing to comfort her tortured son she must have felt and all she was able to do was gaze upon him. What love must have been expressed in her eyes. And in His eyes. And what suffering.
If ever there was a time a mother was meant to embrace her beloved son that was the moment. But she was helpless to do so. The agony must have been complete. And despair, that surely was felt too.
In seeing your bloody, battered son there surely was lament. But was there comfort? She saw his face and suffering but to see your mother in such a moment can bring comfort in knowing she is there for you. She loves you no matter what the world may do to you.
She longed to save him from the crowd, to ease his physical suffering while he suffered for the crowd to ease their spiritual and eternal suffering. How could they not understand what her son was doing for them? Why must he do it for an ungrateful people? If only the crowd would have been able to believe without having to sentence him to death. Mary had to accept Jesus’ suffering and perhaps she found some comfort in knowing that he was serving a higher purpose, so how sad she must be to see that even today there are still those in the world that deny the sacrifice of her son.
Jesus died for them. He died for them and still many have unchanged hearts. He suffered, died, was buried and rose again on the third day to save their souls. All of those signs were to lead people to the Way and yet many still ignore that sacrifice.
- The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus & 6. The Piercing of the Side of Jesus, and His Descent from the Cross
As Mary watched her son be tormented, tortured, and ridiculed how the hole in her heart must have been ripping! That was her son up on that cross. He was up there for those who stood there inflicting the wounds, condemning him to death. She stood witness to her son’s crucifixion and felt his pains as completely as a mother could feel. Is there a difference between the pains suffered by Jesus and those suffered by Mary? How that sword did pierce her heart as it pierced Jesus’ side!
At the foot of the cross she stood, helpless to help a most beloved son. Condemned to watch her son suffer and die. After such physical torture was inflicted onto her son and such emotional torture inflicted onto her heart and soul did she pray for the suffering to end?
When a loved one must die it is hoped that they died in peace, without much pain, without much suffering. But there Mary stood, seeing the complete and total suffering her son was experiencing. There was no peace. For three hours she remained, a witness to the unthinkable terror that found itself a reality on that Good Friday. Did she pray for God to end the suffering? Did she long for her son’s death? What pain such prayers must have caused a mother! Mary wanted nothing more than to help her son, to comfort him, to protect him. And she found herself helpless except for prayers – but how unlike any other prayers she must have prayed for her son!
How courageous of Mary to stand and suffer with her son. Did she long for her own death along with his? A heart ripped and continually ripped as he hung on the cross. Jesus could clearly see how great his own suffering was grieving his mother. And in that suffering Jesus sought to comfort his mother: “Behold your mother.” he said to John; “Behold your son.” he said to Mary. Did this comfort Mary in some way? Perhaps it was not properly felt within the moment it was stated as she watched her Son on the cross. But after Jesus had died, and was fully gone did it ease Mary’s suffering then?
When Jesus cried out, “My God! My God! Why have you foresaken me!” did Mary’s heart shatter? If she was able to accept her son’s suffering and death because it was for God how pained she must have been to hear her son’s last words. They were the antithesis of comfort and consolation. If Mary had any hope that her son would be raised again on that third day did doubt enter?
Mary felt Jesus’ death as any mother would feel for a lost child. She lost him once, but he was found in the Temple. Now she lost him again, and witnessed him leave this world. At the moment of his death she lost him completely, she did not know that she would find him again, risen on that third day. Her pain was true and great and vast. As any mother would feel, Mary felt. A suffering beyond comprehension as her son breathed his last.
As Jesus’ dead body was placed in Mary’s arms there was no denying what had come to pass. A life of a mother’s worries for her son laid in her arms in lifeless form. She felt and touched him. Finally able to hold and comfort her son, but too late to do him any good. And to hold his body and look upon him, to fully know that her son was gone from this earth, must have moved her soul to the deepest depths of despair.
But in that moment of full realization and deepest pain did she find comfort knowing that her son was no longer suffering at the hands of all those who inflicted such unspeakable acts upon his body? Was she relieved that now she was the only one left to suffer and at least her son was at peace?
As Mary held Jesus in her arms she knew those were the last moments she would be with him on this earth. She knew she must release him from her arms never to embrace him again. What suffering she must have experienced as she held onto her son in those last moments.
- The Burial of Jesus
Is this it? Mary did not know for certain that her son would rise again on the third day. As he was placed in the tomb Mary suffered such sorrow as any mother who has to bury a child suffers. A mother is not supposed to bury her child. And a mother’s love is so complete how broken her heart must have been as the stone rolled in front, sealing Jesus inside, confirming his fate was real.
For two long days she grieved for her son. Fully experiencing his loss. Suffering greatly. His resurrection did not happen yet. She did not have the benefit of hindsight; for she could not see what not had yet occurred. She may have prayed. She may have trusted. She may have hoped. But until he rose again on that third day she did not fully know.
A mother’s purpose is to raise her child. To guard. To protect. To serve. Mary’s duty was great, the greatest of all. To bury Jesus left her without the purpose she had lived her life serving – to care for her son, the Son of God. Such great loss consumed her heart after such suffering. In that moment how great her grief must have been – complete and all consuming.