This week, we start to get into the heaviest and deepest sorrows of Mary’s life, beginning with her fourth sorrow: Meeting Jesus on the Road to Calvary. Take a moment to recall Mary’s first two sorrows – the prophecy of Simeon and the flight into Egypt. Call to mind the joy she was probably experiencing at those two times, basking in the glow of being a new wife and a new mother. She was very likely experiencing strongly positive and happy feelings right before those first two blows were delivered. With her fourth sorrow, we have a similar situation, but with perhaps a bit more intensity.
Mary had spent the last three years watching her Son do the things He was sent by His Father to do. He was preaching, teaching, healing, performing miracles, driving out demons, and helping people to repent and amend their lives. He was teaching a new approach to the law, which was motivated by love. He was amassing a great following, beginning with His first Apostles, as He travelled around proclaiming, in love, the truth about God and the Kingdom of Heaven. All of this culminated with His grand entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, where He was treated as a celebrity and king. Mary must have been so proud, as any parent would be, her heart would have welled with love and admiration for her Son as He carried out His holy vocation with such great success.
Then, almost as if in an instant, everything changed. Jesus went from being loved and adored, to being betrayed, arrested, tortured, and mocked in the cruelest of fashions, then murdered in a horrific crucifixion – all while being completely innocent of any of the false charges against Him. Now, there is no specific scriptural references of Mary being present through all these events, but Chapter 19 in the Gospel of John places Mary at the foot of the cross for the actual crucifixion itself. We can surmise that by Mary’s intimate relationship with her Son, her presence at other important moments of His life (like His first miracle at Cana), and the very nature of motherhood itself, that she most likely did not just show up for the final moment of all of His suffering, but rather, she was certainly with Him throughout the entire ordeal. If you have children of your own, you likely have tremendous empathy and compassion for Mary as she witnessed this horrendous torture of her Son from beginning to end. Even if you do not have children of your own, your heart still breaks for Mary at this point in time.
Most of us cannot bear to watch the sight of such torture. Most of us run away from such horror. As a matter of fact, most of Jesus’ closest friends did run away from the awful scene. Judas despaired and hanged himself before the worst of it began. Peter denied his friend three times and by the time Jesus was put to death, the only Apostle left was John alongside the Blessed Mother, Mary Magdalene, and just a handful of other people. Despite her own suffering, Mary ran toward her Son’s suffering rather than away from it like the others. This demonstrates supernatural virtues of strength, perseverance, trust in God’s plan, and ultimate charity.
It is human nature to want to avoid suffering. We want to avoid it in our own lives, but sometimes we have a hard time knowing how to deal with the suffering of our loved ones, particularly when it is deep suffering. We often struggle to find the right words or right actions to take when it comes to the suffering of others. Take a moment to reflect on the fact that Mary, too, was completely unable to comfort or console her Son in His suffering. He was surrounded by angry mobs and Roman soldiers. There was quite literally nothing she could do but walk with Him on His journey of suffering and pray. He no doubt was aware of her presence and it was enough. The Catholic Church teaches a very deep and intimate connection between Mary and Jesus for the sake of salvation. She gave her fiat and cooperated with God in bringing our Savior into the world; she facilitated the start of His public ministry by interceding on behalf of the couple at Cana for Jesus to perform His first miracle; and she walked with Him at the end of His earthly life on the road to Calvary. Her suffering – the sword piercing her heart as Simeon prophesied – was joined lovingly to His suffering as she cooperated in the divine plan of salvation.
This week meditate on the tremendous physical suffering of Jesus on the road to Calvary and also on the intense emotional and spiritual suffering Mary endured on that same journey. Examine how you handle your own suffering. Do you carry your cross obediently, without complaint like Jesus? Do you walk quietly through it like Mary, who notably never tried to beat the mobs and soldiers away while they were physically mutilating her Son? Do you trust in God’s plan for your suffering and that it is being used for a greater good, even if you cannot yet see what good could possibly come from it? Take some time to also consider how you handle the suffering of those around you. Do you run from it like so many of the disciples did, or do you run towards it like Mary, knowing that if even if there are no words of consolation you could possibly provide, your presence in itself is an act of virtuous charity?