Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Secret of Joy is Sorrow

Yesterday, March 22, was the Feast of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is a devotion that I try to do everyday. has this devotion here. It is a meditation on the great sorrows that Our Blessed Mother experienced as the Mother of Jesus Christ. The Seven Sorrows of Mary are as follows:
  1. The Prophecy of Simeon that a sword would pierce her soul
  2. The Flight Into Egypt to escape the destructive wrath of Herod who threatened to kill Jesus
  3. The Loss of Jesus at the Temple
  4. Mary Meets Jesus Carrying His Cross
  5. Jesus Dies on the Cross
  6. Jesus is Pierced With a Sword
  7. Jesus Is Laid In the Tomb
A very good friend of mine, Veronica, who died last year in the first week of Lent, was very devoted to our Sorrowful Mother. She prayed the Seven Sorrows devotion every day and also said a rosary every day for each of her children who had been born alive, and this was not easy. She was the mother of 11 children. Four of the babies died in miscarriages, but two died shortly after birth, and two more died as adults. Three of her children were still alive at the time Veronica died. So that made 7 rosaries that Veronica said every day. She had also lived through breast cancer, with which she was diagnosed right after the birth of her last child. This was in the early 70's, and the routine treatment then was a radical mastectomy. At one point she had gone completely blind, but through a literal miracle, had regained most of her sight. Her hearing was also impaired.

Despite all of this, she was probably the happiest, most well-adjusted person I have ever known. Her house was open to everyone. She was a loyal member of the Legion of Mary. She told me her secret was her devotion to the Sorrowful Mother. She said no one had ever experienced pain as Mary had and yet Mary never complained, never struck out at others. She just trusted in our Lord and never gave into despair. Mary's example gave Veronica the strength she needed to face the heavy trials in her life.

The purer a soul is, the freer from sin, the more a soul will suffer in this world. That is why our Lord said blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Those who have immersed themselves in the evil and sin of this world do not mourn. They reject the sorrow in their lives. They drown out any sadness or pain by running away from it and refusing to even acknowledge it, turning to whatever painkiller they can find, be it money, sex, drugs, alcohol, work - anything but the pain in their lives.

Those who mourn are those who have accepted and joined their cross and their suffering with Christ. They, like Christ, actually embrace their cross and their suffering. Our Blessed Mother is the model for all of us. She was told by Simeon that a sword would pierce her heart. She felt tremendous sorrow and pain in her life from that moment on, culminating in overwhelming sorrow at seeing her Precious and Beloved Son crucified on Mt. Calvary. Yet, she is referred to as the "Stabat Mater", the "Mother standing." Despite the great sorrow that she carried in her heart, she did not break down in despair and bitterness. Underneath all that sorrow was a great serenity and trust in God that never wavered.

Pope Francis
How is it that Mary so willingly carried the cross that was given to her? How is it that, despite her tremendous sorrow and pain, she never once felt despair, bitterness or loneliness? Mary never once ran from her cross, she never complained, she never tried to give back her cross. Those who run from their suffering, which is most of us at one time or another, are always defeated in the end by great despair and hopelessness. But those who willingly unite their cross with the Cross of Jesus as our Blessed Mother did, are never defeated and never abandoned. They carry within themselves true joy and peace.  Our Blessed Mother taught us by her example that the only way to endure the pain in our lives is to acknowledge it and even embrace it, realizing this is our road to salvation. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, in his first homily as Pope said this to the Cardinals assembled before him:
This Gospel continues with an important moment. The same Peter who had confessed Jesus Christ said to him: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. I will follow you, but let’s not talk about the cross. This is not a part of it. I will follow you in other directions, but not to the cross. When we journey without the cross, when we build without the cross and when we confess a Christ without the cross, we are not disciples of the Lord: we are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord.
I would like for us all, after these days of grace, to have courage, precisely the courage, to walk in the Lord’s presence, with the cross of the Lord; to build the Church upon the blood of the Lord, which was poured out on the cross; and to confess the only glory there is: Christ crucified. And in this way the Church will go forward.
It is my wish for all of us that the Holy Spirit – through the prayer of Our Lady, our Mother – bestow upon us the grace of journeying, building, confessing Jesus Christ crucified.
Our Blessed Mother - our Lady of Sorrows - gave us the perfect definition of what it means to be a Christian. It is to live a life of great sorrow. Even our Lord is described in this way in Isaiah 53:
He was despised, and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and as one from whom men hide their face he was despised; and we esteemed him not.

But how do we reconcile this with Christ's statement in John 10:10 - "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."  Christ also told us as recorded in John 14:27 -  "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."  How can we have great sorrow in our lives and at the same time live life abundantly and with the Peace of Jesus Christ?  The key is in the middle part of Christ's statement in John 14:27 - "not as the world giveth, give I unto you."  

We all have a fallen sinful nature and we live in a fallen, sinful world. Apart from God, the world has never experienced true life or true joy since the time of our parents' first sin when they were driven out of the Garden of Eden and from God's Presence. We in this world are surrounded by sin and death. Any happiness or joy in this world is fleeting and will eventually come to an end.

In many ways life in this world can be compared to living in a German death camp in WWII. Those camps were run by people with the ultimate objective of killing all who entered into the camps. Our world is run by Satan whose ultimate purpose is to destroy each and every one of us. But our Creator actually entered into this world of sin and death in order to rescue us from it. He brought true joy, peace and happiness that will never end. And every Christian carries this peace in his or her heart.

The great irony of being a Christian is that receiving the joy of Christ makes us acutely aware of the overwhelming sorrow of the world. That is the cross that we all bear. That is why we, along with our Blessed Mother and her Beloved Son, mourn in this world. Could anyone enter into a death camp and not mourn? Those who live in this world without mourning are those who refuse to admit the reality that surrounds them. The Father of Lies tells us that we can find joy and happiness in the world of sin and death that he has created for us. And each time we sin - each time we turn away from God - we are accepting the lie of the Adversary.

Our first Holy Father - St. Peter - said in I Peter 2:11 that we are "strangers and pilgrims" on this earth, or as the New Living Translation puts it, "temporary residents and foreigners." The more we attach ourselves to Christ, the more homesick we will feel and the more we will mourn and suffer. Most of the people on Calvary on that first Good Friday did not mourn the death of Jesus. Only our Blessed Mother and those with her mourned the suffering and death of Jesus.

Do not run away from your suffering. Look to the example of our Blessed Mother. As Pope Francis told us, we cannot journey without the cross or confess Christ without the cross. The cross means to mourn, to accept our suffering and to unite it with our Lord. Only then will we find peace and joy.

O Virgin most sorrowful, pray for us.

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