Fr. Ron Millican
Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, Part I
I interrupt my study of Church history to present here a reflection on Mary, Mother of God and Our Lady of Sorrows. We are approaching the 100th anniversary celebration of our parish. It seems appropriate to appreciate our patroness under her title as Our Lady of Sorrows.
The woman named Mary whom we honor in our parish as Our Lady of Sorrows and about whom we know so little has intrigued people of faith for twenty centuries. We do not know when she was born or where she died, but we can place her in history; we know where she lived and who were some of her friends and family. But why does she persist through the ages? What is her appeal? The answer is to be found in her human journey with God, which is in reality our journey.
When we first meet her, Mary is the object of an ugly rumor: She is pregnant without a husband. Her fiancé, Joseph, is minded officially to deny her and anything about the pregnancy and put her at a distance. That she was innocent, “overshadowed” by the Holy Spirit, was not to be believed. So right away, people down the ages who have suffered from false rumors, who have had their reputations soiled, who have been misunderstood and maligned, unwed mothers, have identified with her.
Then, too, there was her very human anxiety and fear. What is this all about anyway, the Mother of God business? “How can this be?” she asked the angel incredulously. “What does God want? What about Joseph? How can this happen? How can I do this?” Confused and scared and full of questions, Mary is all those throughout the ages who have cried out, “How can I tackle this challenge? How can I survive? What does God want of me? What is it all about?”
When her son was born, shepherds and angels rejoiced but power-brokers seethed and conspired to kill her baby. They wanted his life, his spirit. And right away, parents today and down through the ages, faced with so many soul assassins have identified with Mary. They know well enough that there are people out there waiting to kill their children. The people who are waiting to kill their children with drugs, the media glamorizes uncommitted sex, the hawkers, with cash registers for hearts, who teach them that we do live by bread alone, the soul snatchers of false values—all are after their children to kill their spirits. Parents know what Mary knew and fear what she feared.
Mary has to flee with her husband and child and become a refugee in a foreign land and immediately joins the countless displaced persons, the homeless huddling in the world’s doorways and sleeping on the nation’s grates and the twenty-seven million refugees walking the earth today—those lowly people who need to be lifted up. They can identify with Mary.
When Jesus is an adolescent. Mary loses her child, she cannot find him in a crowded city. She becomes every parent, every teacher, every mentor in history who cannot communicate with a teenager, who loses them to gangs or drugs or the digital world; whose kids have joined the small army of runaways roaming the streets, exploited by the sex trade, abused and beaten. Many can identify with Mary here.
At some point—we do not know when—this wife and mother became a widow. She buried her husband, and everyone who has lost a spouse, cried Mary’s tears, felt the gnawing void in their belly, and returned to an empty bed can identify with her.
When her son is old enough he leaves home to begin his mission and he leaves a widowed mother behind and suddenly every mother and father who see their children grow up and leave them behind, especially those in nursing homes, know what she is feeling in her heart.
When she walks the streets, now that she is alone, she has to give way to the rough Roman soldiers and leering men passing by. She has to move quickly and live in the shadows. As a minority woman in an occupied territory, as a widow with no man around, she is always subject to sexual and physical exploitation and discrimination. Everyone with no rights, every minority figure who has to swallow their pride, everyone ever called nigger, wop, or fag can identify with Mary.
To be continued…..
Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, Part II
Last week, in preparation for our celebration of the 100th anniversary celebration of our parish whose patron is Our Lady of Sorrows, I began a reflection on Mary under this title that seems to be underappreciated and confusing to some. This column brings to completion that reflection.
When Mary hears rumors that her son, Jesus, is preaching nearby, she goes with some relatives to see him but cannot get near him because of the crowds. She has to be content with sending word to him that she is out there on the fringe. The message tells Jesus that his mother and relatives want to see him and he, gesturing to the crowd, asks, “Who are my mother and brothers and sisters? Everyone who does the will of God is my mother and brother and sister.” It sounded like a putdown, a message to tell his mother to go home, but she read it for what it said, what she always knew: her glory was not primarily that she was his biological mother, but that she was closer to him than anyone else because she loved God and, even when she did not understand it, did his will. And everyone little person on the sideline, off-center, on the fringe who does not understand what is going on but simply clings fast to God’s will can identify with Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows.
And then that son is caught, betrayed by one she had had over for dinner many a time, brought to a mock trial, beaten and humiliated, and hung on a public cross. She arrives in time to see him hanging there, every inch of her mind and body straining to go to him, but she is forced by soldiers to keep her distance. And suddenly, every parent who has seen their child carted off to prison, every parent who wants more than anything else to help their grown children dealing with alcoholism, living in sin, raising their children on nothing, not even having them baptized, going through a divorce—every parent who witnesses such “crucifixions” but who must keep their distance, who are told to keep their distance, can identify with Our Lady of Sorrows and have to pray and suffer in silence.
And finally, she cradles the broken dead body of her only son in her arms and sobs uncontrollably and there is once more: every parent who has lost a child, any friend who has lost a friend, any classmate who has lost a classmate through overdose or gunshot can identify with Our Lady of Sorrows, the Pieta.
This is the woman—this pilgrim who savored the ups and downs of life—this ageless woman who has been given to us as a legacy. “Son, behold thy mother.” And here we are today beholding her. But it is good to remember that we are beholding her now that it is all over. We tend to romanticize her. We clothe her with the sun, put the moon beneath her feet, a halo over her head with stars, dress her in medieval robes, paint in winged cherubs to do her bidding, and the sound of Handel’s Messiah playing in the background.
But we should understand that that is all metaphor, figures of speech, storytelling. What it means to say, all this heavenly glamour, is that Mary who is Everywoman, Everyman, is blessed now because, unblessed in many ways in life, she remained faithful. In all of the unfairness of life, she clung to God. In virginity, in motherhood, in widowhood, at home, a wanderer in a foreign land, with living child, with dead child, she clung to God. So, she becomes a woman for all ages and that is the secret of her enduring popularity and her appeal.
We, as church, elevate her not because she started out as great and traveled a privileged path, but because she was a handmaid of the Lord and traveled a lowly path. But then, he who is mighty has done great things for her. God has lifted her up when down, fed her when hungry, and because she responded to his loving invitation wherever life would lead her, saw to it that all generations would call her blessed.
That is what we are doing as we celebrate our centennial jubilee as a parish under the patronage of Our Lady of Sorrows: calling this woman of our flesh and blood, our experience, blessed. Which is not honoring some far away and high above us. No, we are calling blessed someone near and right with us at every step.
She is indeed a Woman for All Times and All Seasons.
Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us!