I wish sometimes that the Mater Dolorosa were foreign to me. I wish I didn’t know about the Seven Swords that pierced Mary’s heart. I wish I’d never heard of the Servite Rosary, or the Litany of Our Lady of Sorrows. I wish I didn’t need them, depend on them, cling to them. I wish Mary’s sorrow wasn’t my sorrow, and that I could have found Her Immaculate Heart any other way.
I wish my 12-year-old son were still alive.
Not quite a year ago, we lost our middle child: our giggly, snuggly, sweet, smart, handsome 12-year-old boy. It was an unexpected and tragic accident that took him to his homecoming, and we were woefully unprepared for his departure. Is any parent ever ready to bury a child? The first few months after his passing all blur together. I functioned hour by hour, and I’m thankful for the soft fog that swallowed my waking thoughts and dulled my dreaming at night.
As I started to emerge from that fog, a friend invited me to a local meeting of Miles Christi, a faith-sharing group. We meet together bi-weekly to break Scripture and learn more about our faith. The founders of the order have a special devotion to the Mater Dolorosa. It was the first I’d heard of it, in the 23 years since my conversion. The friend who hosts our gatherings has a beautiful icon of the Mater Dolorosa installed in her home. We knelt together, a handful of women and mothers, to pray the devotion together.
In those moments, praying this devotion to Mary’s Seven Sorrows together, we all wept. I grieved for my son. My friends grieved for me. And together, Mary took us on a journey through her Son’s life, His suffering, and Her pain. We were reminded, as the prayers passed our lips and the beads slipped through our fingers, that Our Blessed Mother knows pain. She knows our suffering, She knows our sorrow, and She knows our despair.
As mothers, we are called to a life of sacrifice, and it’s something we usually do willingly. But to sacrifice a son? I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t willing. And I didn’t want to embrace the suffocating squeeze of grief. But in the rhythm of the prayers, in the meditations on the darkest parts of Mary’s journey, I found comfort. I found peace. I found acceptance and validation. Mary, the Mother of God, understands my grief and She is able to walk with me through this journey.
At the end of the devotion, we pray the Litany to Our Lady of Sorrows. It begins in such a tragic place, asking our Sighing, Afflicted, Forsaken and Desolate Mother to pray for us. She meets us where we are, in all our ugliness and messiness. By the end of the litany, we ask the Haven of the Shipwrecked and the Treasure of the Faithful to pray for us. Her suffering is her triumph; she emerges the Joy of all Saints.
The seven sorrows that pierced Our Mother’s heart did not break her. Her suffering was acute … but her healing is complete. In Her, I can embrace hope. I can know that although I walk through the valley of the shadow of death now, I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. I know that my son waits for me, just as Christ waited for His Mother. I know that Mary’s sorrow strengthened her, and brought her that much closer to Her Precious son.
This isn’t the journey I wished for, or asked for, or ever, ever anticipated. I’m sure Mary had no idea that Simeon’s prophecy would mean she would endure the suffering and death of her beloved Son. But Mary did survive. I have no doubt that after her Son’s resurrection, her joy was nearly complete. When she was finally assumed into heaven and reunited with her Son, the clenching in her heart released. She held her boy once again, and assumed her rightful place as the Queen of Heaven.
I know my crown awaits me.
Who in your life is struggling right now? Consider offering the Chaplet of Our Lady of Sorrows. She understands.
Copyright Dawn Wright, 2015
Photo: Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons (1609- 1685)