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Beacon Of Light… Our Lady Of Sorrows

September 13, 2022 Frontpage No Comments


(Editor’s Note: Fr. Richard D. Breton Jr. is a priest of the Diocese of Norwich, Conn.)

  • + + Today, September 15, the Church celebrates the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows. Some people think, having celebrated the Feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross yesterday, that today’s memorial celebrates the encounter that happens at the foot of the Cross. The encounter between Mary, the disciple John and Jesus, is only one part of the day’s celebration.
    In fact, the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, commemorates the Seven Sorrowful moments in the life of the Blessed Mother. So often, we only think of this during Lent when we pray the Stations of the Cross and meditate on the fourth and thirteenth stations. Our Lenten observance, most often, includes the singing of the Stabat Mater, the Medieval Latin hymn that depicts Mary’s deep sorrow of the suffering of Jesus. These moments are important for us to reflect upon in understanding the life of the Blessed Mother, but also in living our own lives of faith.
    The first sorrow is the Prophecy of Simeon, These seven sorrows were foretold by Simeon in the Temple when he encountered the Holy Family at the Presentation of Jesus. We find this account in the infancy narratives of the Gospel of Luke:
    “Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon….He came in the Spirit into the Temple; and when the parents brought in the Child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to Him, he took Him into his arms and blessed God, saying….‘Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel’….The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about Him; and Simeon blessed them and said….‘Behold, 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’” (Luke 2:25-3).
    Imagine how the Blessed Mother’s encounter with Simeon must have shaken her to the core. As she brings her new Child Jesus to the Temple, as was the custom for the Jewish people, Mary hears this frightening news that her “heart would be pierced by a sword.” Mary, as she did in the Annunciation, accepts this revelation and holds it close to her heart. This prophecy of Simeon reminds me of the often unfortunate news parents receive regarding their child’s health. Doctors often have to be the bearer of difficult news in explaining a health diagnosis that may include life-threatening or serious outcomes. Like Mary, parents have to trust in the Lord to guide them through this ordeal.
    The second sorrow Mary would face, was the direct result of the tyranny of King Herod as he ordered the death of all male children aged two or younger. This is recorded in the Gospel of St. Matthew: “When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and His Mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill Him.’ So he got up, took the child and His Mother during the night, and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son’” (Matt. 2:13-15).
    In this situation, both Mary and Joseph had total trust in the message of the angel, the same way that they trusted the messages received by the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation. This sorrow of Mary can be equated to how immigrants feel as they journey from their homeland to a new nation. I’m often amazed at how generations of families immigrated to this country from other continents in order to find a better life. Imagine the fear they must have felt as they made the journey; the same fear the Holy Family felt escaping the clutches of King Herod.
    The third sorrow occurred in Jerusalem at the Temple. This is recorded in St. Luke’s Gospel: “When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking He was in their company, they traveled on for a day. . . . After three days they found Him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them, and asking them questions. Everyone who heard Him was amazed at His understanding and His answers.
    “When His parents saw Him, they were astonished. His Mother said to Him, ‘Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.’ ‘Why were you searching for me?’ He asked, ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what He was saying to them” (Luke 2:41-50). Imagine how frantic Mary and Joseph must have been. We know Jesus wasn’t really lost, He was doing the Father’s work: to teach and to preach. But what about when a parent loses a child, or a child loses a parent, the anxiety and agony can be deafening. I’m reminded of a time my parents took my siblings and me to Walt Disney World as children. As we were enjoying the day, we stopped to sit on a bench to rest, near Space Mountain. I wasn’t paying attention to what my family was doing, but soon I saw my mom and dad walking back and forth frantically, as if they were looking for something. After a few moments, they came running over to me on the bench we had just been sitting on. They said they thought they had lost me and were looking for me. My response was priceless. I told them I wasn’t lost, “I saw you and dad walking back and forth in front of me.” Needless to say, it wasn’t as funny at the time as it is now.
    The fourth sorrow occurred during the final moments of our Lord’s life. As Jesus was condemned to death, and accepted the cross, He journeys along the “Via Dolorosa” on the way to Calvary. Covered in sweat and blood, and in agony from the pain His body was undergoing, the eyes of Jesus and Mary meet, and you can see the love. Have you ever considered the final gaze between a dying person and their loved ones? Or even more disturbing, of the final gaze of a person dying with no one by his side. So often we forget how powerful this moment is. As Mary gazed into the eyes of her Son, she saw the pain and agony He was going through and felt it in her heart.
    Over the years, my priestly ministry has brought me to encounter several moments like this. I recall a mother having to say goodbye to her young child because his cancer had come back with a vengeance. She had to recognize the inevitable, and at the same time, try to make the final moments of her son’s life as peaceful as possible. The mother, like Mary, had to watch the plot of death unfold before her eyes.
    The fifth sorrow Mary had to embrace was at the foot of the cross. This is recorded for us in the Gospel of St. John: “Near the cross of Jesus stood His Mother, His Mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw His Mother there, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home” (John 19:25-30). At the foot of the Cross, Mary watched as Jesus breathed His last.
    How many parents, and countless others, have watched a loved one take his final breath knowing there was nothing they could do? They see the life that was loved so much slip away, as the loved one begins his journey to eternal life. Oftentimes if you look closely, you can see a “spark of light” as the loved one passes. I believe this to be the soul leaving the body on the journey heavenward.
    The sixth sorrow Mary endured occurred when she received the body of her lifeless Son, Jesus. The cries and tears, the shouts of disbelief, and yet this sorrow is reminiscent of the lamentations found in the Psalms. It is here the Blessed Mother would have prayed Psalm 130. This psalm is one of ascents. Its purpose allows the prayer to cry from the depths of their hearts invoking the Lord’s mercy. “Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; Lord, hear my voice” (Psalm 130). This cry for the Lord comes from the depths of a grieving soul. When anyone loses a loved one, especially a parent losing a child, there is a plea for help. For Jesus the Passion and agonizing death is over; for Mary the grief has just begun. In a similar way, the death of a person sick for many months or years can be seen somewhat as a relief, although the grief exists.
    The seventh, and final sorrow of Mary, is the placing of the body of Jesus in the tomb. This is recorded in Sacred Scripture in the Gospel of St. John, in 19:40-42: “Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.” Placing the body of Jesus in the tomb seems so finite. In the same way that a parent places their child in the grave. The finality of the tomb, however, is transformed into the joy of the Resurrection.
    These seven sorrows of Mary can find their way into our lives, where we can all experience them at some point. May we reflect on the sorrows of Mary and our own lives!
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