As a Catholic, Mary is kind of my jam.
Whenever I need to call in the reinforcements to help me storm heaven, she’s my go-to mediatrix.
And while I can completely conceptualize in my head that Mary is a human being just like me, my heart can be left feeling like she’s so far out of my league that I just can’t imagine she would be able to understand what I’m going through in my day-to-day life. That’s why, while the Rosary has brought me untold amounts of comfort in times of intense suffering, it has also left me feeling even further away from Mary at times.
Thankfully, as a Catholic hipster constantly searching for the awesomely obscure in our faith, I stumbled upon an alternate meditative prayer that completely changed things for me: the Servite Rosary, or the Rosary of the Seven Sorrows, was just what I needed.
This Rosary originated with the Servite Order and focuses on the Seven Sorrows (or Dolors, if you want to impress your friends) of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The journey you embark upon as you move the beads through your fingers goes a long way toward bringing the Holy Mother of God right up beside you and into your life.
The First Sorrow: The Prophecy of Simeon
Just days after the birth of my first son, he had an extremely rough night that culminated in our rushing him to our doctor. Once there, we were given the crushing news that he would be admitted to the hospital and kept overnight for observations. It was terrifying to hear.
The Bible doesn’t document any of Jesus’ battles with childhood illness, but Mary was told by Simeon that her baby boy would “be the fall and rise of many in Israel” and that her own heart would be sword-pierced with sorrow over him. She knows a parent’s fears.
The Second Sorrow: The flight into Egypt
Do you know those times when you find yourself feeling left out in the cold, either literally or emotionally? Where you’ve felt unwelcome, even among your closest friends and family, simply because you’re tracking in a different direction? Mary’s definitely been there — unmoored, and with only the consolation of God, her husband, and her son to take comfort in.
The Third Sorrow: The loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple
Think of the wave of stomach-churning, dizzying terror that you feel when you lose track of your child, even for a minute while out in public, and the emptiness and guilt that inevitably replaces your panic once you find him or her. You may only have lost sight of your child for a moment, but the self-recrimination lives on: “How could I have been so distracted?” Mary has been there, in spades.
The Fourth Sorrow: The Meeting of Jesus and Mary on the Way of the Cross
As a mental health professional, I have given support to parents as they have faced their children — realized they still haven’t hit rock bottom, still aren’t ready to get the help that is needed — and have been forced to let them go, let them fall the rest of the way, in hopes that they will finally rise.
That confrontation is awful, because feeling helpless in the face of your child’s trouble is terrifying and heartbreaking. There is nothing worse. Mary knows what it means to stand helplessly before the pain in her child’s eyes. There is no better companion in such a terrible moments as these.
The Fifth Sorrow: The Crucifixion
Have you ever had to experience the unbearable and unspeakable pain of losing a child, either to death, or estrangement, or because someone has gotten lost? She’s right there, crying alongside you.
The Sixth Sorrow: The taking down of the Body of Jesus
We all have that day; the day of darkest suffering — when you must see something and bear it, and it makes you feel like you just can’t go on — a day of nothing but keening pain, and a future that seems empty and void. Mary, being handed her bloodied, broken son, understands.
The Seventh Sorrow: The Burial of Jesus
We all know how it ends. “Be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.” Jesus wins, yes.
And yet we mostly forget it; we continually second guess whether a happy ending could ever be on its way.
Deaths, financial worries, miscarriages, marital problems, work difficulties — hope can be hard to find in these difficult moments, and we want to give up.
Mary must have felt this way as she held the body of her Son after he was taken down from the cross. Whether or not she knew at that moment that Easter was on the way, she certainly understands how difficult it can be for our hearts to see beyond Good Friday.
With good reason, Mary can seem so far above us as to seem out of reach, but if we take a moment to reflect upon all she endured throughout her life, we start to see how clearly she understands everything we’re enduring throughout ours. The Servite Rosary has helped me to see this, clearly, and to believe that if I hang on, she’ll gladly take me by the hand and lead me the rest of the way home.
Tommy Tighe is a Catholic hipster, husband and father of four boys. You can follow him on Twitter @theghissilent