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Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows

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By Melanie Williams (Sep 14, 2016)
September 15 is the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows. We share with you our reflection for this day, and we ask Our Lady of Sorrows to pray for us

Have you ever had to experience watching a loved one suffer? For many of us, this is one of the most terrible pains we have to endure. What runs through our minds is, "Why is this happening?" "How can I help them?" and, "I wish I could take their place."

For that big question that everyone has: "Why is there suffering in the world?" St. John Paul II said in his Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris (On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering), "suffering is present in the world in order to release love, in order to give birth to works of love toward neighbor, in order to transform the whole human civilization into a 'civilization of love.'"

This summer, I have been faced with the suffering of a very close friend. There are many days when I want to take the place of Veronica and wipe the face of Christ in my friend, or be his Simon of Cyrene and help him carry his cross by my words and actions, or even on desperate days I want to take his place on the cross. Many of those days end in frustration because I find that there is no way I can possibly help my friend by any of my words or my actions, and I can't take his place on his cross. This has often led me to the temptation of despair — that I'm of no help to him, that I can't ease his suffering.

Then I'm reminded of our Blessed Mother at the foot of the Cross. She wasn't able to wipe her Son's face or dry His tears. She couldn't take Him off the Cross or take His place on it.

She could have felt helpless and fallen into despair. But instead, she surrendered and had compassion — cum passio in Latin, meaning "to suffer with." Mary, at the foot of the Cross, was the first to, as St. Paul later wrote, "make up what was lacking in the sufferings of Christ" (see Col 1:24). This is not to say that Jesus' redeeming sacrifice upon the Cross was not complete, but rather He invited His Mother into His sufferings so that the suffering of her heart — the sword that was piercing her heart as she watched her Son suffer and die a humiliating and excruciating death (see Luke 2:34-35) — might have meaning: participation in the salvation of souls. Jesus invites each and every one of us into that same embrace upon the Cross.

During this extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis has called upon the faithful to serve our suffering brothers and sisters in Christ through practicing the works of mercy.

Many of us are giving drink to the thirsty, food to the hungry, clothing the naked, etc. With the corporal works of mercy, I often can see the effect of my work: Someone is no longer thirsty, someone is no longer hungry, someone is no longer naked, etc. But when it comes to the spiritual works of mercy, to comfort the afflicted and pray for the living and the dead, I don't always see the fruits. It seems hopeless. That is when Jesus calls me to suffer with those who suffer — to have compassion. This is when I join Mary, our Lady of Sorrows, at the foot of the Cross, and pull close to the side of Christ. When I pull close to my friend who is suffering by my prayers, penance, and presence with him, I find meaning for the suffering I have in my heart from not feeling like I can't help him.

It is precisely in suffering that the Church becomes one with her Bridegroom, Jesus. Souls are saved by our sufferings in ways only the Lord can see.

Still, that's not to say it isn't difficult. I cannot sugarcoat it. Watching my friend suffer is one of the most difficult trials I have ever been through. I am tempted to say that it would be easier if I was the one enduring the physical and emotional suffering instead of watching my friend go through it. Then again, I must trust that the Lord, in His wisdom and knowledge, knew that my friend has the grace to suffer as he is, and I have the grace to accompany him.

This experience of accompanying my friend in his suffering has transformed me in ways I never knew possible, and it has purified my love for God and neighbor. I know that, ultimately, I must trust in God and His plan for me and my loved ones. I must trust that He will work all things for our good (see Rom 8:28), even when I can't seem to do anything to help.

Now I am not saying that you should stop practicing the corporal works of mercy. What I hope to accomplish through this reflection is give hope to the hopeless, those who feel incompetent and unable to help their loved ones who are suffering. You can help them, in ways only the Lord may know. Stay with those who suffer, if only by your silent presence with them.

If I can recommend any reading to you all that has changed my life and helped me to better understand suffering and hope, I would recommend two papal documents: Salvifici Doloris by Pope St. John Paul II and Spe Salvi (Saved by Hope) by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

Thankfully, you don't need a degree in theology to understand and take to heart these writings. They are for the Church, the Christian people, and it is my hope that more and more people read these all too hidden treasures of the Church.

May our Mother Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us this day and always, that we might continually draw nearer to the side of our Crucified Lord in all of our daily trials and sufferings — both great and small.

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Cathy - Sep 15, 2016

I feel everything you mentioned. Through my experiences, one of which was my husband with cancer for 4 years, it came to me through the graces of the Holy Spirit that I am not worthy to take someone else's suffering. For one, would I not be asking to taking away their redemption. Two, I am such a sinner how could I ever think that honor would be given to me to take their suffering, if it be in accordance with God's Holy and perfect Will. Three, would I carry it any better. So I placed all my blindness of thought in the hands of our Blessed Mother's intercession and asked her for her most loving prayers for all of us to stay true to God our Father.

Maryann Therese - Sep 28, 2016

I too feel all of what you're saying as I post, day after day the suffering of any given peoples, right now, the Syrian people, asking others to pray for them and for their conversion and never get one response...as if all who see these posts have no compassion for the pain of those outside their immediate circle of family and friends. HAVE people lost compassion? Because those suffering may not be of a race or color they like, would they refuse to pray for their conversion and protection? For them to reach safe harbor and be met by Christians as they flee for their lives? I hope not. The faith, and the people of this world need our prayers now more than ever before. If we don't offer them, we are only increasing the sorrow of our Holy Mother and Her Son~