The Seven Sorrows of Mary
Every year on September 14th, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. And every year, the following day, we observe the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. I love how our liturgical calendar places these feast days back to back, so close together. It’s so fitting, as Mary never left the side of her Son on Good Friday during his most bitter passion.
Our Lady of Sorrows has become a companion and inspiration for me in this season of secondary infertility. About a year and a half into trying for a second child, I found myself inwardly rolling my eyes at the pain and sufferings of others. I was discounting the weight of the cross that was currently crushing them because my own cross of longing for another child seemed so much heavier. There were times when I even looked upon the crosses of others with envy (especially when they complained about the discomforts of pregnancy or the difficulties of being a mom to so. many. little. ones). I was preparing for confession one Saturday afternoon when it hit me that this was a failure to love, a failure to “suffer with” other members of Christ’s body. A TED Talk on compassion fatigue popped up as a suggested video one day on YouTube and the phrase seemed to fit with what I was experiencing. Except instead of being exhausted and depressed by the suffering of those in my care or those out in the world, I was so sad for myself and the cyclical, crushing disappointment I was living that I found it impossible to acknowledge the pain of anyone else.
I’m not sure how I stumbled upon the devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows, but I want to say it was at my dad’s suggestion (#futuresaint). It seems only right that someone who always did what the Lord asked her to do would be shielded from pain, but reflecting on our Blessed Mother’s Seven Sorrows shows us how this wasn’t the case. In fact, St. Alphonsus writes that Mary is the “Queen of Martyrs” because her martyrdom was the longest and greatest of all. It began with Simeon’s words at the presentation of the infant Jesus and lasted through to her seventh sorrow of burying her only son, after watching his brutal execution. It has been said that because of Mary’s immaculate heart, she felt the effects of sin in this world more acutely than we do. Her life was full of pain and suffering but she still was able to love.
I started asking Our Lady of Sorrows to help me love with her heart, a heart of compassion, able to show up with love for others even when it was painful. I’d love to say that after several months of reflecting on Mary’s Sorrows, I don’t struggle with “cross envy” anymore, but I still do. I still have days where my own pain blinds me to the struggles of others, but I am better able to recognize I am doing it and pull myself out of it with empathy. Reflecting on Mary’s Sorrows also inspired me to seek out the joy in my life, as it is, today. You see, many of Our Lady’s sorrows occurred just before or just after a great joy. If you look at the Seven Sorrows and the Joyful and Glorious Mysteries of the rosary, many of these events would be neighbors on the timeline of Mary’s Life.
The 4th Joyful Mystery: The Presentation. The 1st Sorrow: Simeon’s Prophecy.
The 3rd Sorrow: Jesus is Lost in Jerusalem. The 5th Joyful Mystery: Jesus is found in the Temple.
The 7th Sorrow: Christ is buried in the tomb. The 1st Glorious Mystery: The Resurrection of Our Lord.
I don’t know how my story will end. I don’t know if I will ever be blessed with the gift of life in my womb again, but I’ve become determined to look for, create, and anticipate joy. I refuse to let my great sorrow of infertility cloud the joy to be found in my life right now. This is a hard season, but there is also so much beauty. In John 10:10, Christ says “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” I am seeking that abundance in my life each day.
Getting to know Our Lady of Sorrows
If you would like to know more about devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows, here are some helpful pointers.
Katie Wood is the author of Waiting with Mary: A Seven Sorrows Devotional for Catholic Women Facing Infertility which you can buy here or on Amazon.