This week we will reflect on the Fifth Sorrow of Mary, which is The Crucifixion and Death of Her Son, Jesus. “But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene” (John 19:25).
The death of a child must be the worst suffering any parent could ever experience in any circumstance. For Mary, the pain must have been unimaginable. She not only witnessed her Son die, but she witnessed the horror of the manner of His death. She knew deeply and intimately of His perfection and innocence. She saw Him humiliated and His dignity destroyed as the soldiers stripped Him naked and cast lots for His clothing. She saw the wounds and pain from the beating He had taken earlier. She saw the crown of thrones pressing into head and she saw the sign above Him that read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19). While Jesus was suffering in His physical body, Mary was suffering right along with Him in the deepest depths of her soul.
There was nothing Mary could do or say to help her Son in this moment. I’m sure we have all been with someone going through something painful and we find that we have no words of comfort to offer them because they would certainly fall short. It was His mother’s mere presence that offered Him any consolation at all. She never left His side, even in His darkest moments, and she went through them with Him. Read the words from John’s gospel again. Note that when Mary was at the foot of the cross, she was standing. This reveals a lot about how Mary handled this suffering. She perfectly exemplified strength, courage, grace, dignity, and faith in ways that most of us can’t match even when facing much less. Her only focus was on her Son and supporting Him in His sole mission: coming in the flesh to suffer and die to redeem us from the sins we are still committing to this very day.
I can’t help but wonder if any of the witnesses or soldiers who were present at the time looked at Mary and felt any sympathy or compassion for her in that moment. Of course, those who were close to her and with her at the foot of the cross were there supporting both Mary and Jesus in their suffering, but how many strangers took notice of a mother’s pain? Did those responsible for the humiliating torture and murder of an innocent man experience even a hint of regret or remorse upon looking at Mary, or were they too busy basking in the satisfaction of eliminating the perceived threat they found in this Man? There is one hint in Scripture that tells us that at least some noticed. “Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God saying, ‘Certainly this man was innocent!’” (Luke 23:47). He undoubtably saw the horror in what had taken place, along with the suffering mother at the foot of the cross, and experienced a powerful conversion at the sight of it all. Place yourself in this scene, taking the perspective of the centurion. Meditate on how Jesus Christ’s physical suffering and the suffering of His Blessed Mother in her heart and soul, were united. Can you see your own role in their combined suffering and use it to deepen your conversion? Does it increase your conviction to reduce sin in your life and thus grow in holiness to console their broken hearts?
I’m sure there were many present at the crucifixion that did not have the same experience as the centurion. Likely, they barely noticed Mary standing there as they cheered the spectacle on the cross. How often do we not notice the deep suffering of others and simply pass by without a second thought? I do not say this as an indictment, as most suffering is hidden, and not as obvious as what happened on Calvary. I only mean it to be thought-provoking. Like most of you, I have learned from experience that most people we encounter throughout the day are suffering in one form or another, to some extreme or another. As Catholics who know and understand the true meaning of suffering and its place in redemptive work, we are called to be sensitive to the fact that everyone around us is suffering, and to always act in love and charity because of that fact. Everywhere you go, within every human encounter, try to see the suffering faces of Jesus and Mary (yes, even if they are cheerful and smiling), and offer consolation through your kindness. Let your simple, peaceful presence be a form of comfort and consolation for whomever it is.
Recall Mary standing at the foot of the cross with all of her poise, grace, courage, and strength. I know if I was in Mary’s shoes – and likely most of you are with me on this – I would not be handling this situation as well. I imagine things like begging them to stop hurting my child, wailing, fainting, screaming about the injustice of it all…the list goes on. In this fifth sorrow of Mary in particular, she is teaching us how to suffer well. It’s not about us. It’s never about us. It’s always about God’s plan for redemption for all of humanity. So, it is most important to follow Mary as an example in suffering and to courageously go through it with our eyes fixated on Christ, trusting in the greater purpose of it all. “Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5).
The final point I want to make in this reflection is the gift that Jesus gave to us in His mother’s great suffering. Before He died, while hanging on the cross, Jesus looked at His mother and His beloved apostle, John (the only one present) and said “’Woman, behold, your son!’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother!’” (John 19:26-27). In this moment, Jesus gave all of us the gift of His own mother as our spiritual mother. We are her spiritual children and in her care. Just as she did not abandon Jesus in pain, she does not abandon us. When we suffer, our Blessed Mother is standing with us and suffering with us. Her presence and loving gaze offers us consolation. She helps us to yoke our cross to her beloved Son’s cross to lighten the load, and she is with us the entire time, just as she was with Him. Whenever you are suffering from something, always remember that your spiritual mother knows far too well what you are experiencing and is with you through it. Ask for her intercession, her prayers, and her consolation. She will give it to you in abundance.
Spend time with Mary this week, reflecting on the sword that pierced her heart just as Simeon had prophesized so soon after her Son was born – the brutal crucifixion and death of her Son on behalf of all of us. Ask God to reveal to you, in your specific circumstances, what more you can learn from His mother in the face of your own suffering.