Do not leave the altar without first shedding tears of sorrow and love for Jesus, crucified for your eternal salvation. Our Lady of Sorrows will keep you company and inspire you. -St. Padre Pio
I met Our Lady of Sorrows on my first silent retreat. The retreat was led by priests of Miles Christi, who have a special devotion to her. Every time we prayed, we invoked her intercession: Mater Dolorosa, Cause of Our Joy, pray for us. And for one of our daily Rosaries, we prayed the Chaplet of the Seven Sorrows instead of the traditional Fosary.
I was just getting to know Mary as my mother, so constantly asking for her company, that weekend, was comforting. At the same time, meditating on her sorrows was heartbreaking. By the end of the retreat, I felt closer to Mary than ever before, and I desired to follow her example. I wanted to love the Lord, not just in joyful and glorious times, but also in times of pain, suffering, disappointment, and injustice.
In the last few months, with the tragedies afflicting our Catholic Church, I have been given ample opportunity to love Jesus in the midst of suffering. And through it all, Mary has been my constant companion and inspiration.
Returning to Calvary
For much of my life, I have kept Calvary at a safe distance. It was that place on the hill, where the worst thing in history happened, a long time ago. But now, as the Church endures heartache, anger, disappointment, and grief, Calvary is right in front of me.
Quite honestly, the Cross is a difficult place to ponder. It is bloody and horrific. And even though I want to close my eyes and hide my face until it is over, Jesus asks me to remain. He invites me to come close to Him in His suffering. He reminds me that the Cross was necessary for hope, joy, life, and salvation to become eternal realities.
In response, I cannot help but constantly think of Jesus as the Suffering Servant, the Lamb who was slain, Christ Crucified. And as a member of the mystical Body of Christ, I feel His excruciating pain, even if it’s only a fraction of what He endured.
It is scary to stay with Jesus in the horror and injustice. But even in my fear, I am learning how to stand firm. Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, is teaching me how to remain.
Our Sorrowful Mother Shows Us the Way
More than anyone, Mary knows sorrow, pain, and horror — and what to do in the midst of it. For at Calvary, Mary did not run away or abandon her post. Rather, she trusted God, and she stood strong — at the foot of the Cross.
But she endured other sorrows in her lifetime, too: the prophecy of Simeon, the flight into Egypt, the loss of Jesus in the temple, meeting Jesus on the road to Calvary, receiving the body of Jesus after He died, and Jesus’ burial.
Mary, who was highly favored and blessed among women, did not live an easy life. Yet she said “yes” to God, completely and wholly.
As I wonder how long it will take to rebuild our Church and heal the mystical Body of Christ, after these present-day scandals, I turn to Mary who waited with hope, even in the midst of painful uncertainty.
During her sorrows, and especially when she stood at the foot of the Cross, Mary did not know how long she would have to suffer. But she remained steadfast — praying, trusting, and offering it all to God.
Three Ways to Remain
Today, when we encounter trail, tragedy, or turmoil, Mary keeps us company. She encourages us to say “yes” by giving her own example. And she inspires us through a devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows, which is especially honored during the month of September (feast day: Sept. 15).
Here are three prayerfully practical ways to remain at the Cross with Our Lady of Sorrows:
Pray the Chaplet of the Seven Sorrows of Mary. Technically, there are special beads for this, but don’t let that stop you from beginning this beautiful devotion. For starters, pray one sorrow per day, to complete the chaplet in a week’s time.
Meditate on a Scripture passage that pertains to dying to self. Throughout His earthly life, Jesus spoke of taking up our cross in order to follow Him. Sometimes, when I hear that message, I don’t always take it to heart. Here are a few Scripture verses that can make this more personal:
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. (Galatians 2:19-20)
I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. (Colossians 1:24)
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. (2 Corinthians 4:8-11)
Remember the Cause of Our Joy. Suffering with Christ should not lead to despair. We have hope, because God keeps His word. He promises new life, and He fulfills His promise through the sorrow and pain of the Cross. Our Lady knew this. Her suffering and steadfastness were rooted in faith, hope, and love.
That is why it is so beautiful that during this month devoted to Our Lady of Sorrows, we also celebrate Mary’s birthday (Sept. 8). This shows me that we can find joy in the midst of suffering.
Let us also rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)
Even though September 8 has passed, who is say we can’t celebrate Mary’s birthday belatedly? One way to do this is to bring flowers to her statue. Another way is to pray a Rosary for her intentions.
Mary is someone we can always turn to for guidance and understanding, because she was a woman of faith in the midst of uncertainty sorrow, and joy. She experienced the highs and lows of life, just like we do. She opened her heart completely to the Lord, and now she shows us how we can do that, too.
Mater Dolorosa, Cause of Our Joy, pray for us!
Copyright 2018 Sarah Damm