Does love sometimes require that we suffer?
Today we commemorate Our Lady of Sorrows, the Mater dolorosa movingly depicted by artists such as Michelangelo and Pergolisi. The Church puts forward two possible Gospel readings from the “bookends” of Jesus’s life for today’s liturgical memorial: the presentation of the infant Jesus in the Jewish temple after his circumcision (Lk 2:33-35) and the exchange between Jesus, his mother, and the beloved disciple on the day of his crucifixion and death (Jn 19:25-27). The two passages show us that the purest love known to mankind was open to profound suffering. They also help us to re-assess the way we love God and neighbor.
Mary was devoted to her son Jesus as only a mother “full of grace” could be. Yet Mary’s love did not shield her from the cruelties of the “real” world. This is apparent from the two cited passages. Consider the prophecy uttered by the prophet Simeon just days after his birth: “you yourself a sword will pierce” (Lk 2:35). From the time of Jesus’s miraculous conception, Mary had the joy of witnessing her son shine God’s light in her own family. With the start of Christ’s public ministry, Mary saw that powerful light shine wherever Jesus went: the blind received sight, the crippled stood and walked, the dead were raised, and the poor were afforded due dignity (Mt 11:4-5). But not all would react to Jesus with enthusiasm. His ministry exposed “the thoughts out of many hearts” (Lk 2:35). Some people, given over to sin, preferred darkness to light (Jn 3:19). Consequently, Mary suffered as Jesus was treated with the criticism and contempt that led to his passion and death. Her love, aided by a supernatural faith, drew her to stand where few of her son’s so-called amici would. And it is there at the Cross that she is given as mother to the disciple who remained with him (Jn 19:26-27).
Each Christian is invited to the same deep suffering that comes from remaining faithful to Jesus. Today quite manifestly, the forces of evil are unleashed against those who are devoted to the One who brings life and light. The lyrics of the Stabat Mater encourage the movements of the heart we will need to be steadfast:
O thou Mother! fount of love! / Touch my spirit from above, / make my heart with thine accord: / Make me feel as thou hast felt; / make my soul to glow and melt / with the love of Christ my Lord.
Jesus’s Cross is of countless worth. There he dies for the redemption of mankind and offers the gift of his dear mother. If we receive these gifts with sympathetic and open hearts, we will share in both sorrow and joy. As her adopted children, Mary will teach us that in this life, pure love often suffers. Through such love, the blind are given sight, the crippled enabled to walk, the dead have life given to them, and the poor are treated with the true dignity of God’s children. Christian hearts given over to this kind of love will rest completely only on that future day when all is illumined by God’s light.
Image: Giovanni Bellini, Pieta