Thursday, 17 September 2015

This vale of tears

Yesterday, the church commemorated The Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of Our Lady of Sorrows or Mater Dolorosa (Mother of Sorrows). Following on from Monday's Feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross, Tuesday's memorial invites us to meditate on the sorrows which befell our Lady as a result of her unfailing obedience to God's will and her love for her Son. Her "Fiat" at the annunciation would ultimately lead her to the foot of the Cross.

As St Alphonsus de Liguori suggests that whilst "the martyrs endured their torments in their bodies; Mary suffered Hers in Her soul.” [1] The theme of martyrdom is likewise taken up by St Antoninus who says of Our Lady of Sorrows:

“While other martyrs suffered by sacrificing their own lives, the Blessed Virgin suffered by sacrificing Her Son’s life – a life that She loved far more than Her own; so that She not only suffered in Her soul all that Her Son endured in His body, but moreover the sight of Her Son’s torments brought more grief to Her heart than if She had endured them all in Her own person." [2]

It is the maternal bond that Mary had with Jesus as sorrowful mother which is the key to understanding the meaning of this devotion. Mary shared in Jesus' suffering in a unique way and as a consequence, she has a unique share in its ultimate end, the Resurrection. From the Cross Jesus gives Mary to us as a dying gift where he says "Behold, your Mother". Mary's compassion as Sorrowful Mother can therefore be a source of strength for us when we feel afflicted by our own suffering and sorrow. Contemplating the depths of these sorrows can bring us closer to their subject, namely the person of Jesus Christ.

One of the great maxims of Faith comes to us from St Anselm who was reflecting on Saint Augustine when he said "I believe that I may understand" (credo ut intelligam). The point each was making is that without Faith, some tenants of Christian belief and practice are beyond comprehension. For some, suffering and the problem of evil are an impenetrable barrier to belief whilst for others they begin to erode the foundations of Faith to such a degree that it eventually collapses.

At present, as I look at the suffering and sorrows of family, friends and colleagues, I feel a little under siege. I find myself questioning its purpose and how God can allow such apparent injustices to occur on his watch. Why aren't my prayers good enough? Why has nothing changed? Sometimes I lose heart and become angry with God; other times I am reminded by a Psalm or a reading I am not the first, nor will I be the last, to feel this way. Ultimately, I am left with the notion that the answer, if it is to be found, exists only with Christ, crucified on the Cross, and his Mother, sorrowful and compassionate at its foot. Credo ut intelligam.

Stabat Mater

At the Cross her station keeping,
stood the mournful Mother weeping,
close to her Son to the last.

Through her heart, His sorrow sharing,
all His bitter anguish bearing,
now at length the sword has passed.

O how sad and sore distressed
was that Mother, highly blest,
of the sole-begotten One.

Christ above in torment hangs,
she beneath beholds the pangs
of her dying glorious Son.

Is there one who would not weep,
whelmed in miseries so deep,
Christ's dear Mother to behold?

Can the human heart refrain
from partaking in her pain,
in that Mother's pain untold?

For the sins of His own nation,
She saw Jesus wracked with torment,
All with scourges rent:

She beheld her tender Child,
Saw Him hang in desolation,
Till His spirit forth He sent.

O thou Mother! fount of love!
Touch my spirit from above,
make my heart with thine accord:

Make me feel as thou hast felt;
make my soul to glow and melt
with the love of Christ my Lord.

Holy Mother! pierce me through,
in my heart each wound renew
of my Savior crucified:

Let me share with thee His pain,
who for all my sins was slain,
who for me in torments died.

Let me mingle tears with thee,
mourning Him who mourned for me,
all the days that I may live:

By the Cross with thee to stay,
there with thee to weep and pray,
is all I ask of thee to give.

Virgin of all virgins blest!,
Listen to my fond request:
let me share thy grief divine;

Let me, to my latest breath,
in my body bear the death
of that dying Son of thine.

Wounded with His every wound,
steep my soul till it hath swooned,
in His very Blood away;

Be to me, O Virgin, nigh,
lest in flames I burn and die,
in His awful Judgment Day.

Christ, when Thou shalt call me hence,
be Thy Mother my defense,
be Thy Cross my victory;

While my body here decays,
may my soul Thy goodness praise,
Safe in Paradise with Thee.


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