And you yourself a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.Luke 2:35
I meditate on the Seven Sorrows of Mary, and I find myself on the outside looking in. I’m not a mother yet, so I can’t relate to losing a child. I’ve never watched one of my loved ones take their last breath. But if I zoom out from a microscopic view to a more bird’s-eye view, I notice that Mary’s Sorrows aren’t completely different than the ones that I experienced. I’m no stranger to feelings of sadness, fear, and loss, and neither was Mary. I’ve found little ways to relate to the Seven Sorrows of Mary to make them more tangible. As I did this, I understood them better and reflected on them more deeply.
1 The Prophecy of Simeon
Maybe a priest never told us that a sword will pierce our hearts, but I’m sure we’ve all heard bad news. You probably heard something from a family member or read something that broke your heart. When I learned that I wouldn’t be a FOCUS missionary, my heart shattered. I felt like a sword had pierced my heart, so I made a beeline to the Newman Center’s chapel to bleed out in front of the Lord. Eventually, I learned that God broke my heart to mold it into something new. I became thankful for FOCUS’s “no,” because their “no” allowed me to say “yes” to some other beautiful things that God planned for me. There’s beauty in the breaking. From the sword that pierced Mary’s heart, we find the image of her most Immaculate Heart. From her sorrows, we enter into her heart that loved Jesus more than anything so that our hearts might become like hers.
2 The Flight into Egypt
The Holy Family fled to Egypt to escape the Slaughter of the Innocents. I can only imagine Mary’s fear during this sudden change of routine. Like Mary, we also face uncertain times. The Coronavirus pandemic brought a whirlwind of emotions when it forced us to uproot our lives. I’m certain that I went through the five stages of grief when I found out my graduation was postponed indefinitely. When my classes and Rock Catholic meetings moved online and I couldn’t see my friends anymore, I overflowed with sadness, fear, anger, and apathy. When my graduation day rolled around, God blessed me with a beautiful day. As a pandemic graduate, I didn’t have the graduation that I expected, but it was still a memorable day filled with the people I love the most. During our seasons of change and periods of panic, we can look to the Holy Family and find our shelter in them.
3 The Loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple
We all know what it’s like to make one mistake and feel like a failure. I’m sure Mary felt defeated in this moment. If I were here, I’d think that I didn’t just let my son down, but I also let down my Lord and My God. I feel this way when I go too long without praying. When I get caught up in other things and allow myself to get distracted from prayer, I feel my relationship with God deteriorating. When I don’t pray for an extended period of time, I feel like I lost Jesus, and because Jesus doesn’t leave us, it’s my fault. The beautiful thing is, he brings me so much joy when I come back to him. When I start praying again, rebuild my relationship with Jesus, and “find” him, I’m overcome with joy. There will be times when we won’t be near to Jesus. During these times, I think of Mary’s relief and happiness when she finally found her Son in the temple. We’ll feel lost and like Jesus is nowhere to be found, but when we’re reunited with him, we’ll experience the joy of finding Jesus.
4 Mary Meets Jesus on the Way to Calvary
Mary could have walked away after meeting Jesus on his way to Calvary. She didn’t have to follow him to the foot of the cross, but she did. Instead of leaving, she stayed until the bitter end out of love for her Son. Mary is a perfect example of encountering someone in their suffering and accompanying them. In high school, my best friend Mikayla had surgery for her scoliosis. I prayed for her constantly, gave her a blanket made by my church’s sewing ministry, and visited her when she came home from the hospital. When the only thing that I could do was be there for her, I showed up. The only way that I could really help was to be present, so in those moments, I gave her my heart. Mary walked with Jesus every step of the Way of the Cross, and likewise, we’re called to accompany our brothers and sisters in Christ.
5 Jesus Dies on the Cross
I think it was from a podcast that I heard that when Jesus sacrificed physically on the cross, Mary sacrificed emotionally as she watched him. Mary knew what it was like to helplessly watch someone suffer and know there’s nothing that can fix it. At the foot of the cross, Mary didn’t just watch Jesus die. She was present with him so that he wouldn’t be alone. Nathan and I have barely seen each other since he moved to Maryland and I moved to Washington DC. I have to be cautious amidst the pandemic so that I don’t bring anything into the house and spread it to my community. Nathan and I still miss each other tremendously, and we often talk about how lonely we feel. Talking as often as we can doesn’t shorten the distance between us, but it lightens the load of our loneliness. While we feel each others’ absence with heavy hearts, we look forward to the days we get to spend together with hope.
6 Mary Receives the Dead Body of Jesus in Her Arms
Images of the Pietà flood my mind when I contemplate this Sorrow. The beauty of Mary holding the body of Jesus juxtaposes her grief in that moment. The light of her life was now lifeless. Although she knows that Jesus will soon conquer death, Mary probably felt defeated. If she could have done something, she missed her window of opportunity. When I was nine, my Mom told me to pray very hard for my Grandma because she was in the hospital. I prayed almost every night for her, but she still passed away. For a long time, I blamed myself. I thought that if I prayed more, my Grandma would still be here. After a few years, I realized that God brought Grandma home according to his perfect timing, and I’ll see her in Heaven someday. When we mourn our loved ones, especially when we feel guilty, Mary comforts us. She embraces us in our suffering and helps us to remember the Resurrection.
7 Jesus is Placed in the Tomb
Mary knew that Jesus would rise again. She watched the stone roll in front of his tomb and knew that his Resurrection was just three days away, but she still mourned his loss. It’s hopeful but still difficult to know that things will be okay. There are times when we know that our wounds will heal and our tears will dry, but for now, our wounds are still stinging and our tears are still hot rolling down our cheeks. In college, a heartbreak debilitated me. After a boyfriend at the time broke up with me without warning, I sat in sadness asking God why and begging him to take away the pain. I waited in darkness for two months for the light at the end of the tunnel. We know what came after Good Friday. Jesus rose again, and he always redeems us so that we can rise with him.
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Every sorrow that Mary experienced didn’t last forever. Before long, her tears were dried and she shared in the joy that only God can bring. The Seven Sorrows of Mary allow us to reflect on the swords that pierced her heart, but we can also contemplate them and remember Mary’s hope. Throughout the sorrows of our life, we can turn to our Blessed Mother and her Son to remember that we’re not alone. We can rest knowing that our sorrows are only temporary and hope for the joy that Jesus provides.
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