Many Catholic moms are drawing strength from Mary when facing their own sorrows.
I’ve been praying the Chaplet of the Seven Sorrows of Mary ever since a friend and former colleague brought me a "souvenir" chaplet from Assisi. (Thank you once again, Msgr. JPM!) Perhaps that’s why several women whom I’ve come to know in the past decade have, in their own way, reminded me so much of Our Lady of Sorrows. Not from any outward appearance of sorrow, mind you, but from the way they accepted extraordinary hardship and lovingly persevered up to and beyond the death of their own innocent child. By their witness, they are teaching us—as the Blessed Mother has—the meaning of love and faith, and the dignity and worth of every child.
These women said “yes” to life even when they recognized that their “yes” would entail sacrifices and loss and, in some cases, the suffering and rejection of their child. Let me start by comparing the Seven Sorrows of Mary with the experiences of my friends.
1. The Prophecy of Simeon (that a sword would pierce Mary’s heart). Each mother whose story follows was given a prophecy of suffering and loss when told by their OBs and genetic counselors that their child had a fatal chromosomal disorder.
2. The Flight into Egypt. The Holy Family had to swiftly flee to Egypt—before the arrival of Herod’s soldiers, intent on killing the Christ Child—to escape what would be the Massacre of the Innocents. The mothers I describe also had to find a place of safety from doctors and family members who thought their children would be better off dead. Sometimes this meant going to two or three OBs before finding one who would support their desire to give birth and give their child medical care for as long as God wanted him or her to live.
3. The Loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple. The Blessed Mother suffered anxiety for days as she and Joseph searched for Jesus, after he remained behind them in the Temple. These mothers have also experienced anguish each time their child became ill or needed surgery—not knowing if he or she would survive.
4. Mary Meets Jesus on the Way to Calvary. In a sense, these mothers have walked their own way of the cross since receiving the diagnosis that their child had an “abnormality incompatible with life.” Although the mothers had many opportunities to savor the joys these children brought to their families, they also experienced whatever pains their children suffered from surgeries and illnesses and they suffered from the scornful attitudes of many medical people who told them their children’s lives were unworthy of life (to borrow a phrase from doctors of the Third Reich).
5. Jesus Dies on the Cross. Without equating the suffering of the Blessed Mother at the foot of the Cross, as she watched in anguish as her innocent Son—who had already been tortured and nailed to the Cross like the most despised criminal—suffered for three hours longer before expiring, nevertheless, it is true that to any mother, the death of her innocent child is unimaginably traumatic and deeply painful.
6. Mary Receives the Body of Jesus, as have these mothers whose hearts were also broken with grief.
7. Jesus is Placed in the Tomb. This was surely a moment of emotional desolation for Mary, even as her spirit hoped for Jesus’ Resurrection. Thanks to their strong Catholic faith, these mothers felt emotionally bereft in burying their children, but knew with the eyes of faith, that their children are with Our Lord and His Blessed Mother in heaven.
Before telling you about my “old” friends who resemble Our Lady of Sorrows, let me first introduce you to one I haven’t met, but who is surely on her way to joining this group of holy women.