The Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows: On Suffering

Michelangelo's Pieta, St. Peter's Basilica (from my recent trip to Rome)

This past summer, I was blessed enough to finally see Michelangelo's Pieta in person. Having had a fondness for this sculpture since childhood, it was a special moment, one that even moved me to tears. It was definitely a step on the Via Pulchritudinis, or Way of Beauty. Today, on the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, we remember the beauty - in the truest sense of the word - of Our Lady even amidst the suffering she endured.

In that regard, I share with you a reflection I wrote exactly 3 years ago on this same day - On Suffering, and what we can learn from Our Lady.

On the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows 09.15.08

Members of my family and Rence's family visited Oregon this past weekend, and as part of our family excursion, we were given a private tour of The Grotto, the National Shrine of our Sorrowful Mother. [Courtesy of a seminarian friend's hookups - it pays to be a seminarian]

It is the largest Marian Shrine on the west coast, complete with a replica of Michelangelo's Pieta, as well as a bronze bust of Mary's head made from a cast of the original Pieta statue (similar to the one on the right, but bronze). Ever since elementary school, when I had the opportunity to do a research paper on Michelangelo, I have had this deep connection with that image; the image of our Mother, the Victim Christ in her arms, sorrowful, but strong.

So, being that today is the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, allow me to take this opportunity to reflect on our response to suffering in this world, and more specifically how Mama Mary's response to suffering can be a steadfast example of how we can embrace the cross and unite our suffering with Christ.

Still, in my 9 years of active ministry, possibly the hardest question I ever have to answer is this: 
If our God loves us, why do we suffer?

That question has come from teens with tears in their eyes, coping with the death of a loved one, or their parents' divorce, or heartbreak. Sometimes, that question is launched from an Atheist friend attempting to reason that a loving God's existence cannot be justified given the daily headlines of war, poverty, and hate. Often, that question comes from within, wondering to myself, "why has this cross been put in front of me? Why has this cross been put in front of a friend? or in front of this youth I minister to? What have we done to deserve this? If you love us, why do we suffer?"

And God responds, "it is because I love you, that you suffer."

For many, that is a tough answer to swallow. Suffering does not make sense. Our world would laugh at the notion of love and joy in suffering. The world says, if we suffer, then God must not love us. I submit, if suffering means that God, the Father, doesn't love you, then He must love Jesus the least. For Christ suffered the most horrible death, bearing with it the sins of every man, and the hatred that man spat on Him. To say that love and suffering can not coexist, empties the cross of its meaning. One only needs to look at Mama Mary in the Pieta, to truly understand that love thrives in suffering, and that when suffering is before us, we do not run. We stand strong.


"St. Ambrose in particular sees Mary as a sorrowful yet powerful figure at the cross. Mary stood fearlessly at the cross while others fled. Mary looked on her Son's wounds with pity, but saw in them the salvation of the world. As Jesus hung on the cross, Mary did not fear to be killed but offered herself to her persecutors."
Imagine Mama Mary. She watched as her son was beaten and humiliated. She stood at the foot of the cross as the blood of her son drained from him. Yet, she did not run. She gave her son, and in doing so, gave the world everything. She did not grumble or curse God. She stood as she herself was pierced by a sword.

At the cross her station keeping
stood the mournful Mother weeping,
close to Jesus to the last.

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

-- Stabat Mater

As St. Paul reminds us, we should not let our suffering be in vain. As he said to the Colossians, "Even now I find my joy in the suffering I endure for you. In my own flesh I fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his body, the church. (Col 1:24)" Does that mean that Christ's death on the cross was insufficient - lacking? No. It means that our sufferings unite us to the suffering that Christ endured so that we all might have life. Suffering is an amazing grace, not because it is ours, but because it is His. And through our baptism, we have united ourselves to that bruised and beaten mystical body.

In his homily today, one of the priests here at Mt. Angel said (and I paraphrase), "It is a great joy to imagine those many souls flying out of purgatory, because we have united our sufferings to the Cross. Do not waste your suffering."

Brothers and Sisters, often I grieve over the many sufferings of this world. Sometimes all it takes is a phone call home, or to a friend to see that many of us suffer horrible tragedies and trials. I couldn't tell you why there are hurricanes, or why there is war, or why there is poverty. I couldn't tell you why you suffer the loss of a loved one at this point in your life. I couldn't tell you why you have become a victim of violence. I couldn't tell you why your parents are getting a divorce, or why your boyfriend cheated on you, or why you suffer the pains of loneliness and depression. 

I couldn't tell you, because I don't know.

He does. 

And He loves you enough to allow you to unite your sufferings to the Cross.

As Mark Hart says, 

"Because trials show that God is at work in our life. Every struggle in our lives is an opportunity; an opportunity to draw closer to, or stray further away from, God.

If God has allowed you to suffer in your life, consider it a blessing, that He believes in you enough to know that you can handle it, because by your keeping your eyes on Him through the pain, others will notice and see your enduring love for God.

God loves us more than we can comprehend…like any good father.

Look to God in times of trial…He BELIEVES in US.
The question during suffering, though, is do WE believe in HIM?

I end now with a prayer from the liturgy of the hours, that we might look upon our suffering and share them with Christ.

as your Son was raised on the cross,
his mother Mary stood by him, sharing his sufferings.
May your Church be united with Christ
in his suffering and death
and so come to share in his rising to new life,
where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit
one God, forever and ever.

“Life Himself came down to be slain; Bread came down to suffer hunger; the Way came down to endure weariness on His journey; the Fountain came down to experience thirst. Do you, then, refuse to work and to suffer?” - St. Augustine