I am not one to question the wisdom of our Mother the Church. After all, she has centuries of experience and intelligence that I do not; not to mention the wisdom of the saints, scholars along with the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. But, I will admit that I’ve always been perplexed by the placement of the feast to Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows on September 15th .
It seems to me that it would be more appropriate to place this sometimes forgotten feast during Lent, closer to Her Son’s Passion and Death. It is much easier to see her sorrow walking with Him to Calvary, at the foot of the cross, and then the amazing image of the Pieta as created by Michelangelo.
I can picture her sorrowful in those places, but in the midst of September when the weather is finally getting cooler here in the Middle Atlantic States is more difficult. I could be flippant and say that the struggles of a new school year bring on some sorrow but that would demean the feast. No, this feast is to honor a woman who, with her “Yes” to a new baby was also saying a “Yes” to pain no other mother would imagine and endure.
While it is hard for me to understand, it is true that Mary knew what her fiat would bring. And if she didn’t at Gabriel’s announcement, it was made clear in the temple with Simeon’s prophetic words.
For many years I found it hard to imagine Mary as anything but sorrowful. Perhaps it was due to her image as often being depicted in cold marble or one-dimensional holy cards and pictures. In my mind, all of those images, while beautiful, placed an image of a woman who had endured much sorrow with perhaps little joy.
And I wanted some joy. So, when I was coming fully into my own as a Catholic in my adulthood, Mary remained a mystery to me. I had no problem with Jesus and even God the Father but I couldn’t really find a place in my faith for Mary. This flaw was not out of belligerence or defiance on my part but simply ignorance. And then I became a mother myself.
Upon becoming a mother, it was easier to me to picture her smiling and laughing as I did with my own little ones. Surely, she would be unable to resist Jesus’ own first laughs without some of her own. The smiles that must have come as He learned to walk, snuggled on her lap for a nap and attempted to hold a hammer with Joseph. Mary was a mother of joy.
But it was also in my being a mother that I began to truly understand her sorrows. My husband and I have endured the pain and sorrow of four miscarriages – one of which occurred during a Lenten season. The loss of child, even one yet born, brings about a very sharp sorrow; not unlike the arrows of which Simeon spoke perhaps? We clung to Mary during those times and found myself needing a mother who could truly understand.
I have noticed there exists a weird warp of time that occurs when you find out you are pregnant. Parents strangely capable of going from a blue line on a pregnancy stick to a college graduation cap in 0.9 seconds. With the first realization that you are pregnant, you begin to wonder about everything from the gender of the new baby, to their name, to their eventual career and possibly children of their own. We are fast to the future when we find out a baby is on the way!
Mary might have been that way as well. What did she wonder about as she waited those nine months? But also, did knowing Her Son’s future ever keep her from enjoying His present? During and after our miscarriages my husband and I found ourselves struggling in sorrow over a life so quickly celebrated and then so quickly grieved. While Mary was given 33 years with Jesus, I don’t know if that gave her any great sense of comfort.
Through each of those babies lost I learned very clearly that sorrow is a natural part of life. Even with the other children I had around me, I am sad for the ones not here. For me, sorrow came wrapped in baby blankets never used. For others it may come from a cancer diagnosis or the news of a drunk driver. Sadness is an inevitable part of life and Mary knows this better than any of us.
This specific feast day for Mary is the time to remember this. It is a time to both give her honor and gain the comfort we need in our own lives. Over time, I have come to realize that the Church is wise in placing this feast day exactly where it is. Having this feast in the middle of ordinary time allows us to spend time reflecting not only on her sorrows but on our own without the distraction of anything else. This is not to say her sorrows are ordinary as in mundane or commonplace as they are far from pedestrian. Her entire life is extraordinary. But her grief is normal, another synonym for ordinary. We all have sorrow and, like Mary, live with some of our sorrows everyday; Ordinary Time or not.
These sorrows of ours are not insignificant to her and she welcomes a chance to grieve with us and give us comfort. We can give comfort back to her by meditating on the many sorrows she endured on our behalf. Taking our sorrows – past mistakes, miscarriages, loss and death – to her on her feast day and asking her to help us with ours is an opportunity to allow God’s grace and healing enter our lives. Mary said ‘Yes’ for all of us knowing full well what it would cost her and this feast day is a chance to say ‘Thank You’ to her.