Sermon for the Seven Dolors of the Blessed Virgin Mary Commemorating the 14th Sunday after Pentecost, September 15, 2019 by Father Paul A. Norton
SEPTEM DOLORUM BEATÆ MARIÆ VIRGINE
DOMINICA XIV POST PENTECOSTEN
In the movie “The Passion of Christ” by Mel Gibson, there is an admirable scene (which also recalls one of the Seven Dolors of Our Lady) that I believe summarizes magnificently the mystery of our Redemption, and it is this one: Our Blessed Mother sees her son fall under the weight of his cross. Despite the crowd and his captors, she reaches him, touching his face -“bathed in sweat and blood”- (as St. Alphonsus said) and offers the greatest of comfort, though it is only the words, “I am here”. Jesus sees her, and Gibson moves a line from the Book of Apocalypse to this encounter. So, Christ responds, “See, Mother, I make all things new.” Today, we heard this prayer in the Collect: “O God, in Whose Passion the sword, according to the prophecy of blessed Simeon, pierced through the soul of Mary, the glorious Virgin and Mother, mercifully grant that we, who reverently commemorate her piercing-through and her suffering, may, by the interceding glorious merits of all the saints, faithfully stand by the Cross and obtain the abundant fruit of Your passion.”
This collect prayer and the scene I mentioned before help us to better understand the general idea of what we commemorate today: The Seven Dolors of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Now, when we pray the litany, we find also a beautiful title with which the Church salutes Our Lady: She is called “Queen of Martyrs”.
This title refers to the tremendous suffering she experienced at the foot of the Cross. As we know, the other martyrs suffered physically for Christ. Our Lady was more than a martyr. She suffered more because she loved more than anyone except God, even to the point of that suffering piercing her soul in proof of her ineffable love. Her love, being stronger than death, made Christ´s death her own.
It would seem that the Blessed Virgin Mary should not have suffered since she was conceived without sin and never sinned. However, in this we can see that suffering can be a great good because God, Who loves His Son so much, gave Him as a ransom for all of us. Likewise, to Mary was given as a gift, the opportunity to suffer with her Divine Son. All of this was, somehow, necessary for us to learn how to accept pain which God permits for our own good. If we look at things with the eyes of God, we will see that God orders everything for the good of those who love Him, as St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans, an idea that I have taken for the motto of my coat of arms as well as a guide for my whole life. Every Catholic has to remember always that we all are constantly guided by the paternal hand of the Divine Providence.
In consequence if we look at the meaning of today’s Mass, we will be able to see that it focuses us not only on the person of Mary but also on another important aspect: The overwhelming mystery of suffering.
“God had one Son on earth without sin, but never one without suffering” goes a phrase attributed to St. Augustine. I’m not sure if he said it or not, but I’m sure he would have agreed with it. The important point here is that suffering is an inevitable component of the fallen human nature: The painting of the life of the human being is composed of multiple colors but also of shadows. You cannot have a painting without shadows. On the other hand, there are many atheists and agnostics that exalt suffering as a sign of abnegation and high moral values. There are also some cults that praise it as a way to escape reality. How many of you have heard about that Asian belief which affirms that self-sacrifice is the way to achieve emptiness as the only path to reach true happiness? I think that there is nothing more contrary to Christianity than that idea. It reminds me of those words of Christ: “And when an unclean spirit is gone out of a man he walketh through dry places seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith: I will return into my house from whence I came out. And coming he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then he goeth, and taketh with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is made worse than the first” 1
No, my dear faithful, suffering for Christianity is neither a step to achieve the emptiness of Nirvana nor a virtue to be poetically praised as the end of the human spirit and its most elevated aspiration. Suffering for us is the way we have to unite ourselves with the Suffering Servant of God and tell him: O my God, I trust in thee!
Suffering also makes us stronger, prepares us in the battle against the evil one and his temptations, teaches us about mercy, kindness and empathy towards others, helps us to be faithful to Christ at the foot of the Cross, increases our virtues and, in general, if it is accepted for the love of God, perfects every good quality in us.
Certainly, through suffering Christ makes all things new. He makes us new. If He, with pressure, can turn coals into diamonds, sand into pearls and worms into butterflies, He also can turn your life around too.
Every time we face the grey presence of suffering, let us remember that it is an opportunity God is sending us to be saints.
1 Matthew 12:43-45