Sorrowful Mother is sign of hope, solace
by Archbishop John C. Nienstedt
Recently, I read the following article written by a friend of mine, Father Louis Cameli of the Archdiocese of Chicago. His reflection on Our Mother, Mary, under her title of Our Lady of Sorrow, seems an appropriate one at this particular moment in the church’s history. I hope it offers some food for thought or, better, prayer:
“Ten or 20 years ago, it would have been unthinkable or, at least, improbable to consider writing about Mary as the mother of sorrows. Devotion to Mary under that title and in Roman Catholic circles had its heyday in the ‘40s and ‘50s.
“Time has passed and given us larger perspectives. The flood of peppy and overly optimistic postconciliar spiritualities failed to satisfy people, precisely because they did not and could not engage people on the level of suffering.
“There is a vast quantity of suffering in the world. It extends from deeply personal and hidden domains through social patterns and global realities. It even reaches a cosmic dimension. These abstract levels of suffering are marked out very specifically by sorrowing mothers. In some particular and powerful way a large quantity of human suffering coalesces in the hearts of mothers. . . .
“Even before a theology of suffering was elaborated, the images of a young and suffering mother bearing a child in a hostile world, and an older mother standing before the cross of her Son as He was dying, captivated generations of believers. The embodiment in art and poetry and music of the “Mater dolorosa” (sorrowful Mother) suggests that priority needs to be given to the primary experience which is both imaginative and affective.”
Father Cameli then makes a very important distinction that is also helpful for us in these days:
“If we are to trace the biblical witness to Mary’s sufferings, her experience of sorrow, a fundamental distinction is necessary. We are following the experience of someone whose title is sorrowful mother, not depressed mother. In the Gospels as documents of faith, we have Mary’s experience of suffering presented in a context of faith, hope and love. Were the Gospels to chronicle her pain simply in a context of sadness, perhaps anger, a lack of resolution, and ultimately without perceived hope, then she would not emerge as a pained, sorrowing yet faith-filled person but rather as depressed person.”
Father Cameli then shares four characteristics of the biblical witness of Mary’s sufferings. He characterizes her approach as one of struggle, presence, expansion and surrender:
“1) Struggle — Mary’s first response to suffering is struggle. Because of an excessively passive piety in the past, we may be surprised that struggle can be named the first response to suffering. Mary’s ‘yes’ is not mere acquiescence but active engagement in the unfolding of salvation. Mary’s response to suffering by way of struggle becomes clear in the Magnificat (Luke, chapter 2). Here we find suffering, struggle, hope, courage and anticipation.
“2) Presence — As she shares in the sufferings of her Son, Mary accompanies Him, does not ‘do’ anything. Hers is an active and engaged presence that includes: knowing, understanding, accepting and loving.
“3) Expansion — A significant response of Mary to suffering is an expansion of consciousness and of concern. The Gospel narratives are quite clear about this. At the cross, in John’s Gospel, she faces the greatest loss. Precisely at that moment, she expands her embrace and receives the beloved disciple and, symbolically, all other disciples as their mother. In the face of her most intense suffering, she expands the arena of her concern.
“4) Surrender — Mary’s surrender is a surrender to God. Psychologically, that means not clinging to her control over matters or outcomes. . . .
“How can Mary be the sorrowful mother if she has been gloriously assumed in heaven? Recall the image of the Risen Lord Who continues to bear the wounds of His passion. He is glorified and wounded still. For the mystery is one: death and resurrection. Similarly, Mary is both “virgo assumpta” (virgin assumed into heaven) and “mater dolorosa” (sorrowful mother). Her sufferings and sorrows have shaped her glory. She is a ‘sign of sure hope and solace for the pilgrim people of God.’ ”
God bless you!
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