Last week I wrote about the urgent need for spiritual mothers in the world today. This week I’d like to delve deeper into why spiritual mothers are called to go into the depths of suffering in souls. Women have a unique role to play in Christ’s plan of saving souls by reaching into the heart of the Cross in people’s lives. Marian spiritual motherhood is to enter into the agonies of the Cross with others in order to lead souls to the joy of the resurrection. It is to seek to love with Her Immaculate and Sorrowful Heart.
To begin to understand this calling, we must enter into the nature of suffering and the purpose of our suffering in God’s great plan. Suffering is a part of life in this fallen world, and as such, is used in a mysterious way by God to bring about greater good. In the words of St. John Paul II in Salvifici Doloris, God uses suffering “to unleash love into the world.”
Many women who are called deep into the love of spiritual motherhood may find that they suffer tremendously. At first this can seem disconcerting and confusing, but this suffering is used by Christ to draw us more deeply into the Sorrowful Heart of Mary, so that we can love souls with Her heart. This is a part of learning how to walk as a spiritual mother with Our Lady. We must suffer first in order to be able to reach out to the suffering around us. Our own sufferings are what open us up to the sufferings of others.
In a culture that believes suffering is the ultimate evil, the calling of the spiritual mother who suffers with and for others is foreign, even within the Church. This calling is ancient and finds its deepest roots in the Immaculate and Sorrowful Heart of Mary who suffered at a level no other human being has suffered by watching Her Son suffer. She suffered with and for her Son. As St. John Paul II states in Salvifici Doloris paragraph 25:
And again, after the events of her Son’s hidden and public life, events which she must have shared with acute sensitivity, it was on Calvary that Mary’s suffering, beside the suffering of Jesus, reached an intensity which can hardly be imagined from a human point of view but which was mysterious and supernaturally fruitful for the redemption of the world. Her ascent of Calvary and her standing at the foot of the Cross together with the Beloved Disciple were a special sort of sharing in the redeeming death of her Son. And the words which she heard from his lips were a kind of solemn handing-over of this Gospel of suffering so that it could be proclaimed to the whole community of believers.
Our Lady is uniquely suited to teach us about suffering in God’s plan. Through Our Lady of Sorrows’ witness we come to understand the depths of love we are called to. Our Lord handed her this Gospel of suffering in order to invite all of us onto this path. We cannot give what we do not possess, so it is through our own trials, tribulations, losses, agonies, and battles with sin that our souls are expanded in love by Christ through union with Our Immaculate and Sorrowful Mother. It is through this union with our own sufferings united to Christ and Hers that we are able to receive spiritual children in their agonies, so by God’s grace, we can lead them to the healing power of Christ Crucified. We experience the salvific power of suffering in our own lives, so that we can share this truth with others.
A spiritual mother united to Our Lady of Sorrows seeks to enter into the sufferings of Christ in order to become united to His sufferings, which leads to a heart that opens to the sufferings of souls around her. A heart pierced with the love of Christ Crucified, as Our Mother was pierced, is a heart that is willing to be pierced out of love for souls. A spiritual mother seeks to love with the pierced heart of Mary in order to draw souls to the healing given through the blood and water poured out of Christ’s pierced side.
This encounter with the love of Christ Crucified and Our Sorrowful Mother helps us to accept our own sufferings. This acceptance of suffering in love leads to an immense freedom and expansive capacity for love given through the graces received with this acceptance. It leads to a movement outwards towards others in need. We see the sufferings of others with new eyes, with the eyes of Our Sorrowful Mother. There are countless souls in need of loving spiritual mothers who will enter into their suffering and who will not flee in fear from their crosses. The more we enter into those sufferings the more we are capable deeper and deeper forms of love.
Our Blessed Mother is the example par excellence to spiritual mothers of the salvific power of suffering with Christ Crucified and in being willing to enter into the suffering of others. Her Immaculate and Sorrowful Heart is the source from which the spiritual mother seeks to minister to her spiritual children in order to lead them to Christ. As spiritual mothers united to Our Lady of Sorrows, we can proclaim the Gospel of suffering to the afflicted souls sent to us as our spiritual children. St. John Paul II says of Our Blessed Mother’s example:
In the light of the unmatchable example of Christ, reflected with singular clarity in the life of his Mother, the Gospel of suffering, through the experience and words of the Apostles, becomes an inexhaustible source for the ever new generations that succeed one another in the history of the Church. The Gospel of suffering signifies not only the presence of suffering in the Gospel, as one of the themes of the Good News, but also the revelation of the salvific power and salvific significance of suffering in Christ’s messianic mission and, subsequently, in the mission and vocation of the Church.
Proclaiming the Gospel of suffering and how Christ seeks to heal and save us through His suffering while calling us to unite our own sufferings to His, allows us to draw wounded souls to Him in the same way Our Blessed Mother ministered to the nascent Church and as she ministers to each of her spiritual children today. We are meant to proclaim this Good News to others. Spiritual mothers can be Our Blessed Mother’s instruments of healing and peace here on earth by sharing in the sufferings of others and leading them to Christ Crucified, but this means a willingness to abandon our own comfort and desire to avoid suffering.
Through our sharing in Our Blessed Mother’s spiritual motherhood, we are able to lead wounded souls into her Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart where they will witness the power of God in suffering. St. John Paul II in paragraph 26:
This is not all: the Divine Redeemer wishes to penetrate the soul of every sufferer through the heart of his holy Mother, the first and the most exalted of all the redeemed. As though by a continuation of that motherhood which by the power of the Holy Spirit had given him life, the dying Christ conferred upon the ever Virgin Mary a new kind of motherhood—spiritual and universal—towards all human beings, so that every individual, during the pilgrimage of faith, might remain, together with her, closely united to him unto the Cross, and so that every form of suffering, given fresh life by the power of this Cross, should become no longer the weakness of man but the power of God.
With Our Blessed Mother, we have the profound privilege of witnessing the salvific power of suffering transformed through the Divine Love poured out on the Cross in the lives of our spiritual children and in our own lives. We can walk from Good Friday to Easter morning with those spiritual children Our Blessed Mother entrusts to us seeking always to love them as she loves them. In order to begin, we must be willing to go to the foot of the Cross.
Image: Madonna in Sorrow by Giovanni Battista Salvi