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Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows

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By Melanie Williams (Sep 15, 2018)
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.'"

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

Jesus calls us in the message of Divine Mercy 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 friends who are suffering by my prayers, penance, and presence with them, I find meaning for the suffering I have in my heart from not feeling like I can't help them.

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 friends 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 friends go through it. Then again, I must trust that the Lord, in His wisdom and knowledge, knew that my friends have the grace to suffer as they are, and I have the grace to accompany them.

This experience of accompanying my friends in their 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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