I grew up a non-Catholic Christian of Hispanic heritage…. which means that I saw Mary in some of her more “traditional” titles before I ever understood or appreciated them as a Catholic. To be honest, a lot of them made me squirm with discomfort and then look away from what could only be described (at that time) as over-exaggeration of the importance of Mary. I grew up comfortable with her in our Christmas pageants – as long as she was being told of God’s plan, on a donkey, or kneeling before a manger. Any more than that at any other time of the year and it would be deemed “too much Mary.”
Fast-forward ten or so years. Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows – a day when Catholics around the world remember the horrors of Calvary from the viewpoint of the one human heart most broken by it: Mary’s.
Can you imagine? Imagine the heart of a mother that has loved her Son beyond words. She wasn’t just a surrogate. God chose HER to be the mother of the Son. She rocked him to sleep as a baby and woke up again and again through the night to nurse him. She watched him toddle about as a baby and learn to walk. He ran to her when he fell and got hurt. If she was like the rest of mothers everywhere, she watched his face in the moonlight as he slept. For the rest of His life, when she looked at him, she would have seen the baby, the toddler, and the boy in the man.
And this was the woman who stood at the foot of the cross – weeping. Do we really grasp that? I cannot imagine the agony of watching my child die like that! We talk about the sacrifice that God made in sending His Son – and rightly so! We sing songs about Christ’s sacrifice that day – and again, rightly so! But, we forget that there were two parents that day whose child died. Mary’s Son died that day on the cross – and she stood there and watched it happen.
It’s simple, really. Because she was His mother. She could not hold him that day. She could not stop the nails. So, she did the best that she could do. She stood at the foot of the cross and would not leave.
When most of His disciples fled, Mary stayed. When the ground shook and the sky grew dark and she could see her Son beginning to fade, Mary stayed. When the agony of watching her Son die on a cross broke her heart, Mary stayed.
And, in the end, this mother received the broken and destroyed body of her only son. The hands that she used to stroke as a baby were now pierced from nails. The back that she could remember scrubbing as a toddler was now striped beyond recognition and that sweet face that she gazed on adoringly as he slept was so marred that one could scarcely tell he was even human.
And this, this is the heart that we delegate to Christmas. This is the broken heart that we have minimized to simply that of a surrogate womb and breast; when in reality, this is the heart of His mother.
Mary never, ever tries to take the place of her Son. She above all others knows what He is. But, we do ourselves the greatest disservice when we forget about her. You see, if the cloud of witnesses is real, if those in heaven are praying for us on earth, then who would be the greatest and most fervent in prayers that we remember the sacrifice of Christ? Who would be the most ardent in desire that we recognize sin for what it is and what it does? The woman who stood beneath the cross of her Son and watched as he died the most agonizing of deaths because of it.
And that, friends, is the message of Our Lady of Sorrows.