It is significant that the Octave Day of the Nativity of Our Lady should be the recollection of the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady, and that this should be a day after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. As we saw yesterday, the Christian life, rather than avoiding the cross, must seek to embrace it. This is a hard saying, but we have to trust God when it comes to suffering that its significance may be revealed to us and the transforming power of His love work even through the times that of the most profound horror and pain. If this life is all there is then there is nothing but pain and sorrow ending in nothing. Yet, if this life really is only a fragment, indeed an important fragment, then it must be taken in the context of a wider existence. Pain warns us to the existence of Evil, and the war against Evil is the Christian Life.
Even for our Lady.
The First Sorrow: Simeon's Prophecy
The fear of impending suffering is in itself a suffering. This is how Our Lord suffers the night that the mob comes for Him. Like Our Lord, the Blessed Virgin has this increasing knowledge of impending pain for all of His life on Earth. The temptation is to turn aside and avoid the suffering: to do so would be to allow Evil free reign over life, to take over control and be its master. Both the King and the Queen Mother refuse to swerve and continue on course for the destination.
The Second Sorrow: The flight from Egypt
The suffering of being driven from one's home by violence is one that many of our brothers and sisters are going through right now. Our Lady is no exception. To protect the Holy Infant, she and St Joseph must leave their home in a hurry, and seek shelter in a strange land where the customs, culture, and religion are very different - even hostile. The temptation is to remain static and to take one's chances against Herod: to do so would put the precious life of a baby in danger. Our Lady must abandon the security of a settled life for love of her little boy.
The Third Sorrow: The losing of the boy Jesus
Children cause much suffering by the way that they live life not knowing the dangers they face. When the story that a child has gone missing makes the news, the heart of every parent sinks for fear of their own children and in solidarity with the suffering parents. The parents of the missing child go into a frenzy, imagining all kinds of terrible things that Evil can do to one so small and innocent. The temptation is to try and protect our children so much that they do not live: to do so will prevent them from going to the Father's house and thus being the person that they were created to be, separate from mother and father. Our Lady must embrace the fact that she will not be able to protect her child.
The Fourth Sorrow: On the way to Calvary
Once we are on the path to suffering, the worries of the past intensify. We are now presented with what we feared and we know the inexorable conclusion. Chemotherapy begins; the nurse with the needle approaches; the militant with the knife bursts into church. Our Lady is presented with an already bloodied Jesus struggling on His journey to worse sufferings, and there is nothing she can do. The temptation now is to panic, to lose control and flail about: to do so will focus the soul away from God and thus disallow Him to be present with our suffering and thus offer His peculiar comfort and give meaning. Out Lady must submit to the fact that this is happening, and walk with her Son to Calvary.
The Fifth Sorrow: At the foot of the Cross
It is as intolerable for us to watch suffering as it is to suffer: sometimes it is worse. This is what scandalises many people against the Christian Faith and against God Himself. Our Lady sees her son suffering enormous pain, the nerves in his hands and feet screaming at the cruelty of nails tearing His flesh. How can she bear to see it? The temptation is to look away, to leave: to do so would to be to rob the Lord of her presence in His suffering. Our Lady is there at the foot of the cross, that is enough. She must stay and watch; her presence nonetheless gives comfort to her Son.
The Sixth Sorrow: The descent from the Cross
We have been presented with pictures of the dead in recent years. We see the body of Fr Mychal Judge pulled from the rubble of the World Trade Centre. We see the little body of Alan Kurdi face down in the water. We see life extinguished unfairly. We see the innocent snuffed out having barely lived. The body of the Lord is pulled from the Cross and placed in the lap of His mother. What misery that must be! The temptation is to despair of life, and of God, to become cynical, hardened and not willing to love again: to do so is to lose all that one has, to render meaningless the life that we possess, and to distance ourselves from the possibility of ever being happy again. Our Lady must hold her son's body, weep, and yet still have hope.
The Seventh Sorrow: The burial of the Lord
The death of a loved one affects us beyond their committal to earth, air, or water. The act of this committal means a physical letting go of the body, and thus the physical presence of one we love. To see the coffin lowered into the ground or conveyed away to the furnace is a horror as it confronts us with the fact of death. Our Lady sees her son placed into the tomb, the heavy stone rolled in place, and then people leave. The temptation is not to let go, to devote oneself to a corpse: to do so is to lose hope, to rot with the body, to fade away in despair. Our Lady must remember the words of her son that He will rise again, to cling to His words, not His body.
Oh there is so much suffering in this world! It is too much for us to bear at times and how we weep at the suffering of others even when they are far away! Our Lady's Sorrows show the effect of suffering on one so close to Love. We suffer because we love. We suffer because to love means to give of the most vulnerable parts of our being up for wounding. Yet, as Christians, we must love and so must suffer. However, our Christianity means that we can do something that the world cannot, we can make a sacrifice. Our suffering becomes holy, presented before God as an act of self-giving. Our suffering shows the world that Love still exists and will not grow cold despite the presence of Evil.
Our Lady loves, and thus suffers. So must we but, like her, we will not be alone! Where she is, her son is. The same is true for the Christian.