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Every year on Sept. 15, the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. It's a feast that recalls our Blessed Mother's heartbreak at being a firsthand witness to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ's brutal execution on the Cross for humanity's redemption. Most of us cannot fathom the heartache that must have been Mary's at seeing the price of humanity's redemption — her Son's very flesh and blood — hanging for hours on the Cross giving His lifeblood for sinful humanity. Mary, unlike all but one of the Apostles, unlike most disciples, stood at the foot of Jesus' Cross and, in her pain and sorrow, offered to God the Father her Son for humanity's redemption, along with all her sorrow.
For those of us who have not had children or, for that matter, witnessed the death of a son or daughter, it's hard to fathom the emotions and feelings that rake a person witnessing the slow death of his beloved. Speaking personally, two years ago, I was privileged to witness firsthand the slow, agonizing death of my father from cancer. My father's life was taken from him in minute, incremental, painful stages, and, in the end, he was left a shell of the once tall, handsome, muscular man that he had been. The 200+ pound man of lean muscle that we once knew, we buried as a mere 150-pound man of bones. My heart even now is heavy as I recall helping the nurse prepare my deceased dad for his last journey from his hospital bed to the mortuary. What a fallen, evil and cruel world we live in which a disease can rob a man of everything!
So, for myself, I know in a small measure the sorrow that beset our Blessed Mother's heart when she saw her Redeemer, her Son, her very flesh and blood so evilly executed and put to death on the Cross. Yet she remained standing at the foot of the Cross, sorrowful, yet not despairing and not without hope, as a silent witness and support to God the Father's plan to redeem humanity.
The New Testament is piously silent on Our Blessed Mother meeting her resurrected Son. It's hard to fathom Mary's joy at seeing her Son risen from the dead! For myself, I cherish this image in my mind of our Blessed Mother greeting the Risen Lord on that first Easter. And my sincere hope is to merit salvation in the future and once again greet my own deceased father and mother in Heaven. Encountering death firsthand forces us to either believe in the Faith we profess or to despair. God has blessedly given me the necessary grace to hope and to believe.
On Sept. 15, the Church, in an astute way, remembers in the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows Our Blessed Mother's seven "major" sorrows. In reality, Our Blessed Mother suffered myriad sorrows in the course of her life on earth. And while she can no longer suffer as Queen of Heaven, she bears innumerable sorrows with a mother's heart for mankind, which often rejects redemption from her Son, Jesus.
The devotion to the Seven Sorrows of Our Blessed Mother was bequeathed by Mary to St. Bridget of Sweden in a mystical experience she underwent in the 14th century. Saint Bridget was recognized during her long life as a holy and saintly widow; she would become the foundress of the Brigittines. And because of her great visible holiness, she was elevated to sainthood just 18 years after her death in 1373.
One important note about St. Bridget in the COVID era (as cited by RCL Benziger in their Saints Resource):
When Bridget learned of an epidemic in Rome, she made a pilgrimage there to assist the sick and dying. While in Rome, she spoke out against the injustices she saw and worked to change situations that kept all people from living a good life. Her words and actions influenced government and Church officials, even the pope! Saint Bridget, not some shrinking violet in the face of disease and death, as a mother herself, bequeathed to the Church the Seven Sorrows devotion. As a Church, today we could learn a lot from St. Bridget's courage: She did not fear death nor [sic] disease, but sought it out and embraced it as the devout disciple that she was and did not flee from it! What a poignant example of holiness!
The Seven Sorrows devotion as bequeathed to the Church by St. Bridget is simply a short meditation upon each of the Seven Sorrows of Our Blessed Mother, in which each meditation is accompanied by the recitation of a Hail Mary. Our Blessed Mother's principal Seven Sorrows are as follows:
Even just a cursory knowledge of the Gospels reveals that St. Bridget elided some sorrowful events that presented themselves to Our Blessed Mother in the course of her life on earth. For example, one serious sorrow omitted was Mary's journey — late in pregnancy — from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Mary's journey on foot over rough terrain was certainly no pleasant task for her!
But what about the mystery of Our Blessed Mother bearing our sorrows now (sorrows that she bears even as she reigns as Queen of Heaven in 2021)? These crosses do not diminish the substantial joy of her beatitude, and yet she bears them with the deepest concern of her Immaculate Heart. Our Blessed Mother is deeply concerned for the billions of souls who, despite the overwhelming victory of her Son's redemptive death, just walk away from this great gift with cold indifference, to their own condemnation and eternal damnation.
For a clear depiction of just how deep Our Blessed Mother's sorrow is for all those who are pursuing their own damnation, recall the image of Our Lady of La Salette, whose feast day we celebrate each year on Sept. 19. During her apparition at La Salette, she even appeared to be shedding copious tears owing to these sorrows. The image of Our Lady of La Salette recalls the apparition that occurred in France on Sept. 19, 1846, where two young shepherds, Maximin and Mélanie, encountered Our Blessed Mother in tears, seemingly overcome by sadness for the blatant rejection of her Son by such a large portion of humanity.
Sadly and tragically, despite the passage of many years since Our Blessed Mother's appearances in La Salette as well as in Fatima and other places, many continue to fall away from the Faith and apostatize. It's hard to imagine Our Blessed Mother's countenance changing at all — from one of tears to one of joy — when the bulk of humanity rejects Christ! Of all the things that have transpired in the past year, with COVID and church closures, more have walked away from the practice of the Faith, and more people have given Our Blessed Mother the reason to cry copious tears.
The good news, however, is that we can change all this by encouraging one another to practice the Faith, by striving to stay in a state of grace and by faithfully receiving the Church's sacraments. Our Lady thus bears myriad sorrows for humanity today, for humanity's rejection of her Son and for rejecting His free gift to all of their redemption. Lamentably, too many are going to their perdition out of sheer indifference. But this can be changed; our Faith tells us that in the end, Mary's Immaculate Heart will triumph and many souls will be saved. Let us all pray and recite reverently the Rosary and the Seven Sorrows of Our Blessed Mother devotion. Prayer makes a difference, and, as disciples of Christ, we are confident that, in the end, "the gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church" (Matthew 16:18), and all will be restored in Christ.