Amongst the many beautiful titles and images of our Blessed Mother, I believe that Our Lady of Sorrows is particularly close to humanity even though, at first, she may be off-putting to us. In middle school my class was asked to make a banner for Our Lady of Sorrows. One of my best friends said that Our Lady of Sorrows was scary and made her sad. She did not understand why there were all those swords in her heart. I think that she may have almost felt emotionally manipulated.
In high school I too didn’t ever really desire to see Our Lady of Sorrows, for she was sad, after all. While my sufferings were and are very, very light compared with others, they cut deep, and I didn’t desire to become morose. Yet I was struck to the core several times, in some ways by matters beyond my control, in others by choices which I had made. I was growing up, and entering more fully into a world which I realized, no matter how positive or virtuous a person may be, will still do all it can to break you down.
Perhaps I was afraid of Our Lady of Sorrows before because I felt as though she was the poster girl for the melancholic doom and gloom Catholics, who sometimes are overwhelmed through their unintentional yet obsessive occupation with the dark or sad things in the world. I didn’t want to be a part of that group. I didn’t want to be naive, but I didn’t want to be sucked into a depression even if it was well-intentioned and welled from a concern for others.
Yet I began to realize that even the holiest, and in fact most especially the holiest lives, are sometimes filled with the dark things. They are sometimes burdened with pain and sorrows, and even the happiest hearts are filled with tears.
When we turn to someone for aid or advice, we desire to be listened to and comforted, but not to be victimized, not to remain in our pit of misery. We want our suffering to be acknowledged, yet deep down we also want to be challenged to keep going, to be reminded that there can and will be a way out, a path to authentic joy and human flourishing.When we go to people for help with a desire for comfort, if those we turn to have not truly suffered, we feel only more alone and as though their comfort is trite despite the best intentions.
Coming to this realization of the paradoxical balance of both joy and sorrows, I began to realise that Mary as Our Lady of Sorrows was also the ultimate Comforter of the Afflicted, precisely because of her sorrows. While Mary offers us joy, she also truly did suffer. She can authentically empathize with us. She feels her pain keenly and yet is not ruled by her pain. Even as tears trickle down her cheeks she still has joy and peace, authentic joy and peace.
It is a mystery, but the saints and the holy people in our lives live this paradox too. Even in their greatest suffering, the saints reach out to others. Frassati sends medication to a sick man while he himself is dying. Kolbe offers up his life even in a Nazi concentration camp, one of the very portals to hell. Even when a mother has had a terribly busy day with a tremendous headache, her children have no idea of this for how tenderly she loves them. Even when a father is drained from his work, he walks into his home, kisses his wife hello, plays with his children, does the dishes, and keeps an authentic smile upon his face.
Our Lady of Sorrows teaches us both how to mourn and how to be joyful. She is a paradox. Her image may seem brutal, but in reality it is tender, very tender and sweet. Our Lady of Sorrows shows us that even in the midst of suffering, even with tears filling our eyes, there may yet be authentic joy that fills us and overflows in love to others.
Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us!