Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
The day after we exalt the Holy Cross—that Roman device for torture and death—we remember Mary's sorrow. She stands at the foot of the cross while her only son bleeds away his life, and Simeon's prophecy made many years earlier is fulfilled, “. . .you yourself a sword will pierce. . .” The image of Mary's heart pierced with a sword is the image of a mother's grief, the image of any mother's sorrow at the suffering of her child. Simeon's prophecy—delivered in the temple when Jesus was just a boy—must have seemed strange to Mary at the time. Even stranger is the reason he gives for her sorrow. Your heart will be pierced, Mary, “so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” She must've wondered, “How can my grief reveal what's in the hearts of others?” Jesus answers this question from the cross when he says to his mother about the beloved disciple, “Woman, behold, your son.” And to his disciple, “Behold, your mother.” The sword that pierces Mary's heart is the sin of the world, the rejection of her son and his sacrifice on the altar of the cross. Her grief is a mother's grief for the suffering of all her children.
The Blessed Mother has long served as a template for the Church in the world; that is, when we hear her say to Gabriel, “May it be done to me according to your word;” when we witness the strength of her resolve in the face of opposition to her son's mission; when we see her motherly devotion at the foot of the cross; and the honors given to her by the Father, we see how the Church best lives and works in the world. Mary is more than just a model for the Church. She gave birth to the human body of the Christ 2,000 yrs ago, and the Church is his human body 2,000 yrs later. Mary is the mother of the Christ and his Church. She is my mother and yours. While she mourns the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross, she also mourns the sins of his disciples; she mourns for him and his Church as we are persecuted, ridiculed, and rejected; and she mourns for those who will not see, will not hear his Father's offer of mercy. Our Lady of Sorrows could well be called Our Lady of Compassion b/c her pierced heart loves all those who have separated themselves from God and those who have received His mercy and yet remain disobedient. Her compassion shows us our sin, shows us where we have strayed from the faithful way.
If Mary is the Mother of the Church and our model for faithful service, then the Church too must be compassionate toward those who have separated themselves from God. She must also show compassion for those of us who have been adopted into God's family and yet remain disobedient still. We could see this necessary compassion as a weakness, an indulgence of an entitled child's willfulness. But we must remember that the Via Dolorosa, the sorrowful way, is not an easy path for most of us. Jesus is unrelenting in warning those who would follow after him that the powers of this world would stop at nothing to divert, distract, and destroy our progress along the way. In fact, by the world's standards, Jesus is a total failure. He was executed as a criminal, a heretic. And now those who follow him live as signs of an absurd contradiction: they stand for the possibility of redemption from sin and against the inevitable victory of darkness. Like our Mother, the Church's heart is pierced with compassion and mercy so that she might be a living sign, a sacrament of salvation, for all those who suffer, all those who remain in sin. Ask Our Lady of Sorrows to reveal what's in your heart. Ask her to show you the way to the altar of the cross. She's been there. . .many times. She knows the Way.___________________
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