Our Lady Understands: A Reflection on the Seven Sorrows of Mary
By Melayna Alicea
This year, my family started the devotions of St. Brigid (the Twelve Year Novena and reflection on the Seven Sorrows of Mary), so we have become quite familiar with the seven sorrows of both Mary and Jesus. Both of these devotions are incredibly beautiful and powerful and deserve their own articles, but on this feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, I wanted to share some of my personal reflections on each of her sorrows.
I have often wondered if Mary really did have the full human experience, if she really understands our sufferings since she was free of sin, etc. (a topic I plan to do an apologetics article on). After reflecting on her sorrows daily, I have come to the official conclusion that yes, she does understand and can relate to any sorrow that we experience on this side of Heaven.
First Sorrow: Simeon’s Prophecy that a Sword will Pierce Mary’s Soul
The amazing thing about all of these sorrows is they closely follow a joy. What a great reminder that amidst trials, tribulations, and grief, God has joy in store for us if we only have faith and trust in Him.
Amidst this first sorrow is incredible joy, Mary and Joseph are presenting their son to the temple.
Simeon tells Mary that a sword will pierce her soul. “Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:34-35).
At this moment, Mary is told some hard truths. She now knows that great suffering is going to befall her little baby. For those of us who have been given painful diagnoses whether for ourselves, our children, or our loved ones. We can look to Mary for consolation and solidarity. She had to live with this diagnosis for 33 years, knowing that her one and only beloved son would undergo horrific suffering, and she would have to stand by and patiently endure witnessing it.
Second Sorrow: The Flight into Egypt
Riding off into an unknown land, nearly escaping the hands of those who want to murder your baby, poor, and unsure of how you will provide for your family. This is what Mary and Joseph experienced on their flight into Egypt.
When we are taken into periods of unknown, maybe periods of financial insecurity, we can lean into Mary, knowing that she understands. She won’t bombard you with tips and tricks, rather she will empathize. She will sit and be with you. Because she too understands how following God’s will often leads us down paths and periods of uncertainty.
Third Sorrow: The Loss of the Child Jesus in Jerusalem
I like to think of this sorrow as the ultimate sorrow relating to mom guilt. Can you imagine being entrusted with God’s only son, the savior of the world, and losing him for three days?
Whenever I feel like I am not enough, not doing enough, or catch myself dwelling on my human failures, I like to reflect on how Mary must have felt in this moment: scared and likely incompetent. Despite these very real, mom guilt feelings, she leaned on God and trusted that He would fill the gap that she was not able to fill.
Fourth Sorrow: Mary meets Jesus on the Way of the Cross
Watching my child suffer is a pain I hope to never experience. The very thought of it sends my stomach into knots, but I know this is a sorrow that many parents have to endure. These are the types of sorrows that often lead us away from God. We can’t understand why God would allow such suffering, but God saved the world through suffering. He showed us His love through suffering, and we can know that we are not alone. Mary had to watch her son endure the most excruciating death, and she stood by, stood with him, and just was.
Fifth Sorrow: Mary Witnesses the Crucifixion and Death of Her Son
The death of a loved one. There is no one who better understands this pain than Mary. A common theme throughout her sufferings is she just remains present. She does not run away like the other apostles. She does not try to control the situation. She does not react and attack (verbally or physically). She chooses to just be. She fully feels the sorrow, and she chooses to remain, to be there for her son, and to trust that as long as she follows God’s will, He will ultimately triumph.
Sixth Sorrow: Jesus’ Body is Laid in the Arms of His Holy Mother
I was pregnant during Lent this past year, and this sorrow, in particular, wrenched my heart. Here I was, about to hold my second son for the first time as a newborn infant, and I was surrounded by images of Mary holding the still body of her only son in her arms. It caused me to reflect on the miracle I was being given of a new and healthy life.
Mary knows what it means to receive a blessing and have it taken away. She wanted to hold her son, bloody and all, one last time. I think this is an image we often want to turn away from. It’s too difficult for us to even think about, but it’s real. It’s a real image of love. A mother never leaving her son, holding him tight, allowing the tears to fall, and never turning away.
Seventh Sorrow: Jesus is Laid in the Tomb with Mary’s Tears and Loneliness
The word “loneliness” always stands out to me. Often, we feel so isolated in our pain and suffering. I can sense the loneliness Mary must have felt. She was a widow, and her only child was gone. Jesus had given her John as a son only a few moments before, but he would not be able to rid her of this pain. She was utterly alone.
When we feel alone or isolated in our sorrows, we can turn to Our Mother, Our Mother who was given to us on the Cross, and ask her to be with us, to show us the way toward her son through our suffering.
I want to end this reflection with a quote from St. Faustina: “Sufferings, adversities, humiliations, failures and suspicions that have come my way are splinters that keep alive the fire of my love for You, O Jesus."