Reflection on Our Sorrowful Mother
(by Rev. Frederick A. Reuter)
Darkness had come down over the hills of Judea, and, in the gloom, hills and valley were one. It was the last day of the unredeemed world; the morrow would be the dawn of the first day of the world redeemed by the Death of Christ Our Lord.
Upon one of those hills stood a sorrowing Mother. It was the evening of her sorrow, near its end. The morning began in the long ago, when in the Temple the prophet had told that Mother of a coming sorrow that would pierce her heart as a sword. It grew in intensity in the hurried, anxious flight into Egypt, when fear broke into that stainless heart lest ruffian hands should steal away the Life that had just begun.
That sorrow changed its tone to grief again, in the weary, aching search of the three days’ loss in Jerusalem; and again the parting of the Son from His Mother, and her meeting Him cross-laden, seemed to her more than she could bear. But this was not all. It surpasses human words to tell all that Mother suffered. One cannot hope to tell the whole story. But one can always look upon the sweet, sorrowful face of the Mother, think of who she was, think of her Son, gaze upon His dead body, all covered with His precious blood, and then answer what it teaches one’s heart of her sorrow. One begins to look upon the face of that Mother, to mourn with her and for one’s sins; to ask the grace to know the depth of the bitterness that welled up in Mary’s heart.
The very meaning of the name of Mary is “sea of bitterness.” How truly this word tells the story of that Mother’s life. The bitterness of the Passion of Christ, ” great as the sea,” was in the heart of Mary from that first dread prophecy. The shadow of the Cross hung its gloom over that bright life, which one would say should have been free from sorrow’s lightest touch. She had a mother’s heart in all its yearning’s for the joy of her Son, and its finest fibers were wrung in response to the beating pulses of His pain. The first pang came with the Circumcision, and increased till the spear opened His side at the crucifixion, till it could increase no more, for the measure of its woe was full; and in that fullness there was no kind of bitterness that she had not tasted. The neglect and the insults at Bethlehem, the inconvenience and fear of the flight were there; and before this, the grief after the Annunciation, when Joseph was “minded to put her away,” a sorrow that she bore in silence alone, and such an intensely painful sorrow to her immaculate Heart; the parting and the Agony and the Passion and the scenes of Calvary –all these tell us of that “sea of bitterness” in Mary’s name.
All this brings her inexpressibly near to us in sympathy. In our trials, and desolation and darkness, we do not realize how near to us she is until we have meditated upon this meaning of her name. In Mary the faculty of sympathy is developed to such a degree that she cannot but feel for each one of our woes. Sympathy would come from the very perfection of that heart, formed with such care and quickened by the greatest graces of God. Mary’s heart is the heart of a Mother ever inclining to comfort her little ones in their distress. For, as among the Greeks, that mercy might temper justice, no one was allowed to be a judge, who was not also a father; so in a much greater degree, will a mother’s justice be tempered by mercy. Besides being a mother, her Son’s sorrows developed still more that character of her soul; and as His sorrows were born for us, even apart from her special relation to us, our sorrows must make a deeper impression on her. When we remember, moreover, that we have been entrusted to her as to our Mother, we understand more fully the meaning of the words of the Salve Regina, that she is a “Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope,” and in our sorrow we send up to her a cry of mourning from this vale of tears, that she who was immersed in bitterness may turn her eyes of mercy upon our needs.
Sorrows come home to every human heart; sorrows that are sweet and merciful; sorrows that set the heart against the pitiless world, or seek to make it rebellious against God’s providence; or, again, sorrows that paralyze the heart’s energies, and deaden it to all that is joyful in, life. But, over all these sorrows comes the calm, peaceful glance of the Mother of Sorrows, helping us to sanctify every pang, and to bear all in patience through love for our dear Saviour, her Son.
When the morning of her sorrow had grown into noon, and the evening came, the fullest weight of grief was upon her. The Cross is laid upon Him, and He is brought to Calvary. His Mother meets Him on the way. Their eyes meet. Dimly, through the tears and blood that obscure His sight, Our Lord discerns His Mother’s face, and His glance carried strength to her soul. He summons her, His well- beloved, to ratify the oblation made at Nazareth in the hour of the Incarnation, when she consented to become the Mother of the Man of Sorrows; the oblation made solemnly in the Temple on the day of His Presentation, and renewed again and again as the time of the Passion drew near: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord.” At every stage of His Redemption she is His handmaid, waiting upon Him always, His fellow-worker on whose sympathy and absolute fidelity He can rely. No cry of pain escapes her. To bring Him the only comfort in her power–the assurance that she accepts with Him every jot and tittle of the Father’s will; that she does not grudge one pang; that she is ready for more, for the consummation of the Sacrifice, for Calvary–this is her one thought. She cannot speak. Her heart would break with a word to Him. But her eyes, her quivering lips, her clasped hands speak for her. It is but for a moment that the Son and the Mother meet.
“When they have come to the place where they are to crucify Him, she, in her love, is near; as they stretch Him upon the Cross, she hears the dull thud of the hammer as it falls upon the nail that is to pierce His right hand, and the cruel sound it makes as it forces the nail through His sacred Flesh.
Did not that nail drive its way through her own heart? And then comes the nailing of the left hand, and another wound in her heart, and then the strokes that fasten the feet of her Son to the wood of the Cross. The Cross is lifted up, and sinks into the place prepared for it. She hears the sound, and knows that it is increasing the pains in His hands and feet. ”Oh, all you that pass by the way, attend and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow.”
As Mary stands there at the foot of the Cross and looks up to that face–that beautiful face of her Infant of Bethlehem–there comes to her heart the contrast of the joy of that first Christmas and the sorrow of this Good Friday. That little one had grown up beside her, had called her lovingly by the name of mother; and from the gloom of Calvary her heart goes back to the home at Nazareth, and the crib of Bethlehem, and it seems as if her heart is broken. This is the realization of Simeon’s prophecy; the sword has pierced her heart, indeed.
But when a mother sees her son grow up, and when his life is full of the promise of manhood, in all the glory of his youth he is suddenly taken away from her, who will measure the desolation and the darkness and the sadness that sweep over her life? Her hopes are broken, her dreams scattered, her soul crushed. In the night of her grief, it seems to her that there is nothing in life worth living for. She is alone, and the great sorrowing love welling up in her heart has not whereon to put itself. If this be true of a mother’s love for her child, where was there a mother with such a child as Jesus? Where a mother with such great, strong, tender love as the Blessed Virgin Mary had for her Son? And unless we know who Jesus was, unless we understand His infinite holiness His tenderness, His goodness, His divine amiability and His own love for that Mother; unless we can penetrate into the mysteries of that beautiful heart of Mary, we can never fully understand the sorrow of that afternoon on Calvary. As she stood gazing upward there, she heard Him speak. But, oh, how, changed that voice from long ago; She heard Him speak the word “Mother.” And after those other words were spoken, as she was looking up, she saw those eyes close, and heard that last word, and Jesus, her Son, was dead.
The desolation and the sorrow, and the grief and the resignation of the Mother of Jesus! He was dead! “The most beautiful of the sons of men.” Now there was no comeliness in Him. He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, one wound from the crown of His head to the soles of His feet. He was wounded for our iniquities, and by His bruises we are healed. When they lift that Body from the Cross, and place it in the arms of His heart-broken Mother; when in her grief she clasps her arms about Him to forget all the world and be alone with Him in spirit, truly we ask: “Was there ever a sorrow like that sorrow?” Can we enter deeper into that mystery of sorrow?
There is indeed a deeper depth: but it is enough With these pictures and memories before us, we should let the thought of them sink deep into our hearts. We naturally feel disposed to sympathy with that Mother, and sorrow for the sufferings of Jesu Christ; sorrow and love and sympathy in union with the hearts of Jesus and Mary. There is no better means of offering the reparation in which, as Associates in the Apostleship of Prayer, we are all engaged. The very day of the Feast of Mary’s Sorrows, which is kept in September, is our own day for Communions of Reparation. Although a day commemorative of mourning, it still goes by the name of Feast. Feast of the Seven Sorrows, the Church terms it, and so dear is that Feast that the Calendar offers it to our celebration twice a year. It is rightly dear to the Church, and justly named Feast. Mary’s Sorrows were a cause of our joy.