Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mary, Woman of Sorrow, Woman of Joy

Liturgical days are so confusing sometimes! Today, for example, is the feast of St. Cyprian of Carthage in the Episcopal calendar. It's also an Ember Day. The Order of Julian and the Catholic calendars celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, formerly The Seven Sorrows of Our Lady. I think I'll go with Our Lady of Sorrows today.

O God, who willed that in the passion of your Son a sword of grief should
pierce the soul of the Blessed Virgin Mary his mother: Mercifully grant that
your Church, having shared with her in his passion, may be made worthy to
share in the joys of his resurrection.

The great abbot and saint, Bernard of Clairvaux, whose deep love of and devotion to the Mother of Jesus is so expressedly transparent in his eloquent sermons to his monks, graces us today with some words about Our Lady of Sorrows in his "Sermon on the Twelve Stars":

"The martyrdom of the Virgin is set before us both in the prophecy of Simeon and in the story of the Lord's Passion. The saintly old man had said of the child Jesus, 'Behold, this Child is destined for a sign that shall be contradicted.' To Mary he said, 'And a sword shall pierce your own soul.' Yes, truly, blessed Mother, the sword pieced your soul. Only by passing through your soul could it penetrate to the body of your Son. When Jesus your Son had given up his spirit, when the cruel spear which pierced his side could no longer touch his soul, it transfixed yours. His soul was no longer there. Yours was. It could not be torn away.

The sword of sorrow indeed pierced your soul. We call you more than martyr because your love, which made you suffer with your Son, brought pain of soul far more exquisite than any pain of body. 'Woman, behold your Son.' Wasn't this word of your Son far more piercing than any sword as it thrust in and cut apart soul and spirit? What an exchange! You are given John for Jesus, the servant for the Lord, the disciple for the Master, the son of Zebedee for the Son of God, mere man for true God. How keenly these words must have pierced your loving soul! Mere remembrance of them can wring our hard steely hearts with sorrow.

You need not wonder, my brothers, that Mary is said to be martyred in spirit. Only the one who has forgotten the words of the Apostle Paul might wonder. When Paul wrote of the sins of the Gentiles, he placed among their greatest ones that they were without affection. That kind of want of affection was far from Mary's heart. May it be equally far from the hearts of her servants! Some people comment: 'But she must have known beforehand that he was going to die.' Yes, she knew that. 'Didn't she have hope that he would rise again?' Yes, she did have hope. She had absolute faith. 'Did she mourn for her crucified Son in spite of this?' Yes, and deeply. 

Who are you, my brother? What sort of wisdom do you have? Do you marvel less that the Son of Mary suffered than that Mary suffered with him? He could die in body. Could she not die with him in her heart? His death was brought about by a love greater than any human being has; hers, by a love no other mortal ever had, except she."  


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