The Third Sorrow of Mary is the Loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple, which we find in Luke:
… supposing him to be in the group, they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. (Luke 2:44-46)
If you have lost track of a child, whether your own or another, even if for just a moment, you have some insight into the agony and anxiety Mary must have experienced during those three days when she did not know where her 12-year-old child was. Those three days of separation must have seemed like an eternity to Mary and, unfortunately, many of us know mothers who have lost children for much longer than three days. To those women, I offer my heartfelt sorrow and compassion for their pain. Turn to the Blessed Mother for comfort as she shares in your sorrow.
While Mary’s sorrow ended after three days with great joy upon finding Him in His Father’s house, we all know folks – children, family members, friends, etc. – who have spiritually separated themselves from God, which also causes us great sorrow. These people we love so much have lost Jesus and we experience agony and anxiety over this fact, especially because we know what is at stake. Some of us have experienced the great joy Mary must have felt when our loved ones finally find Jesus again, but some of us are still waiting. Since we know that feelings in and of themselves are not sinful, but that it is what we do with them that creates sin, we must follow Mary’s example while we wait for others to find Jesus. Mary (and Joseph, too) were experiencing sorrow. We can presume, by the nature of the Holy Family and Mary’s Immaculate Conception, that they did not despair, nor did they blame one another, but rather, they prayed and most importantly, they trusted God in their distress. So, while we may suffer from a loved one’s separation from Jesus, we must also not despair, but rather, pray and trust God to bring about good in His own time.
Now let us consider the times in our lives where we have lost Jesus. Perhaps there have been periods in our lives when we were distracted by worldly things, allowing ourselves to be swayed off course, only to have the scales fall from our eyes, allowing us to see how separated from Jesus we had actually become. The times when we have gone off course can end up producing the greatest fruit, since they allow us to draw closer to Jesus than we ever were. Think of how much more you appreciate something you’ve lost once it has been found again. So, if you have been through something like this on your own spiritual journey, rather than kicking yourself for getting so off track, it is better to be grateful for the opportunity it provided for you to draw deeper into your relationship with Jesus and let the memory of the experience encourage you to not lose sight of Him again.
Perhaps some of you do not have such dramatic conversion or reversion stories in your spiritual life, but you’ve still lost Jesus, if even for a moment, from time to time. In truth, we lose Jesus every single day when we sin. In each sin, we lose track of Him and allow Him to leave our sight. These are the situations where we can exercise our spiritual discipline to recognize these moments in our lives and seek to find Him again as quickly as possible. Do we recognize our sin immediately, or does it take us a few days to realize that perhaps we didn’t do the right thing? Do we repent and apologize to God and the one we have offended? Do we continually and actively engage in activities that help us to grow in virtue and holiness, such as reading Scripture and Catholic books, participating in ministries, frequenting the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist, praying daily, etc. Also, remember that Jesus’ parents found Him in the temple. We have access to a great gift in various Adoration chapels. If we ever feel like we are losing sight of Jesus, at a moment’s notice, we can go straight to where He is physically present in His Father’s house in the Blessed Sacrament so that we do not have to suffer that separation a minute longer than necessary.
The final point I would like to make regarding Mary’s sorrow during the loss of her child Jesus for three days, is that it serves as a foreshadowing of the greater three-day sorrow she would suffer when dies on Good Friday. Since we know from Scripture that Mary pondered things in her heart and that God revealed things to her over time, we can extract that she had certain spiritual sensitivities and wisdom that were much greater than our own. After the first sorrow, where Simeon told her a sword would pierce her heart, and then experiencing the sorrow of losing her child for three days, she must have taken that foretaste of sorrow and meditated on what God might be calling her and her Son to endure in the future. Of course, she would not have done this meditation in an anxious or worrisome way, but in a trusting sense, preparing her heart to willingly accept whatever God’s plan would be, no matter how painful, for the sake of the greater good of humanity. We all go through sorrows in our life. How have our past sorrows prepared us for possible greater sorrows in the future as they cause us to lean even closer to our Heavenly Father?