Monday, September 15, 2014

Our Lady of Sorrows

It’s one of those statutes destined to drive non-Catholics a little batty. Bigger than life size, extravagant in detail and anguish, Simeon’s prophecy to Mary given flesh and steel.  Something to contemplate this Feast of the Seven Sorrows.

One thing that surprises my Protestant brethren is my statement, oft repeated and heartfelt, that had the Real Presence not been enough to bring me into the Church, her teaching on suffering would be.  It’s important to come to grips with suffering—there is so much of it in the world.  While I might like a world that doesn’t suffer, it seems I have not been given one.  And the usual explanations of suffering as punishment or lesson are hard for me to stomach, insufficient in a world where evil is so evident and the innocent suffer far more than the guilty. There is a clear mismatch of punished and punishment if that's the operating theory; and the evil seem so hard to educate.

That is, of course, why the crucifix is front and center in our churches.  The moment of our redemption was the otherwise senseless death of the Innocent at the hands of the guilty.  There’s a lot of that around these days. 

Overwhelmed by such things some time ago, I asked Him of the Impossible Penances why it is that I have escaped any significant hardship or suffering.

Luck of the draw.

I suppose so.  My faith hasn’t been tested in any real way.  Not that I am asking it to be.  It’s not up to any real test; not sure I can handle it.  How do you keep faith after enduring such brutal things, or seeing them up close and personal?

If your worldview is that such things ought not happen, I suppose you don’t.  But if your worldview is that such things do happen, it’s possible.

Not only do such things happen, it seems that they are programmed into the very fabric of this world.  I was a medical examiner  and I know that truth; I’ve seen it at one remove if I have not lived it firsthand.  Sometimes I look at the crucifix and rather than just than a price paid, I see a passion demonstrated and endured: the lengths God will go to in order to be with His people.  What He endures out of love, to remind us that He is with us, never to abandon us, if we only recognize Him.  

Mary had a long time to ponder Simeon’s prophecy.  I suppose she might have had some instant, supernatural understanding and acceptance, but if she did, she’s not the role model I need.  I need a mother who felt the creeping anguish, the uncertainty, the unfairness, the confusion, perhaps even the anger that comes from watching a loved one misunderstood, ridiculed, betrayed, abandoned, and condemned to die miserably and not being able to change that fact or exchange places.  I need a mother who felt every single moment of the terror and the heartbreak and trusted anyway—not because she knew but because she kept faith in world that is all too obviously unfair and tragic and senseless.  I need a mother  who understood that the world is the way it is and because she did, and kept faith, could follow her Son wherever He went, even to Calvary, where is was his passion to die and hers to live.    

How could she stand beneath the cross and watch her son’s anguish?  Then again, how could she not?  The paradox of love: unspeakable anguish and unbreakable connections.  The mystery of suffering, by which we can, if we accept what is rather wasting our hearts than longing for what we think ought to be, will bring us to the foot of the cross, to the moment of our very redemption by Love.

Catholics—who seem to have a devotion for everything—have a Chaplet of the Seven Sorrows: Simeon’s Prophecy, the Flight into Egypt, the Loss of Jesus in the Temple, the Meeting on the Way to Calvary, the Crucifixion, Receiving Jesus from the Cross, and the Entombment.  Likewise on the same beads, one can pray the seven joys: The Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity, the Adoration of the Magi, the Finding of Jesus in the Temple, the Resurrection, the Assumption and Coronation.

I take comfort in the fact that the third sorrow and the fifth joy are the same event, viewed from a different perspective: a bit later in time, the fruits of the anguish, just as the Resurrection must first be preceded by the Crucifixion, the receiving of the body, the laying in the tomb.  The world is like that, full of sorrow that is senseless and undeserved, but sorrow that when joined to Christ has the power of new life for all of creation, even when we do not understand it and can only stand mute before it, weeping.  Perhaps it is then we keep faith the most completely, for beneath the cross is the temptation to flee; once on it we can no longer refuse the burden.  There are only two places for the Christian when it comes to the Calvary: on the cross or at the foot of it.  We all get there sooner or later and Mary stands waiting for us and with us.

Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us.

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