Every person’s life is marked by both sorrows and joys. The two often intertwine in such a way as to make one impossible without the other.
When considering a Feast like Our Lady of Sorrows, it is good to keep in mind that sorrow is always related to love. We do not grieve what we do not love. The greater the love, the deeper the sorrow when the good we love is lost, threatened, abused or violated in some way.
Who can measure the sorrows of Our Lady? The fullness of grace abiding in her, infused her with a love that completely transcended our human limitations. Because of this, her sorrow likewise knew no bounds. The two realities in her have been linked at various times to other titles, most notably “Our Lady of Compassion” and “Our Lady of Hope,” both beautiful because they speak to this union of love and sorrow.
Simeon’s prophecy, as Mary and Joseph present the infant Jesus in the Temple, is the first public pronouncement to Mary of where her relationship with the God-Man, her child, will take her. Simeon utters mysterious words:
“Behold this child is set for the fall and for the rise of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted; And thy own soul a sword shall pierce that out of many hearts thoughts may be revealed.” (Luke 2: 34-35)
These words are intriguing. But they can be understood from the perspective of Mary’s unique motherhood. What mother does not know her child so well that even those things that seem otherwise hidden, are not hidden to her?
As children we were amazed by this in our own mothers. We would exclaim: “How did she know that? Does she have eyes in the back of her head?” Actually no. But mothers have eyes at the center of their hearts. Love gives one a vision into things that are otherwise concealed. And that love encourages us, like no other, to remedy any evil or disorder in our hearts. With great solicitude a mother knows us as we really are and draws us to become all we’re meant to be.
There is some interesting scientific research that gives support to this even on a biological level. At a congress entitled: “At the Dawn of Human Life,” organized by the Institute of Gynecology and Obstetrics of the Catholic University of Rome, during the Jubilee year 2000, Professor Salvatore Mancuso, head of the Gynecology Institute, presented some fascinating findings. The research gave proof that beginning in the fifth week of gestation,
“…when a woman realizes she is pregnant, an infinite number of messages pass from the embryo to the mother, through chemical substances like hormones, neurotransmitters, etc….and the embryo sends stem cells that colonize the maternal medulla and adhere to it. Lymphocytes are born from here and remain with the woman for the rest of her life.” Mancuso stated: “From the fifth week there is clearly a passing of cells, but messages begin at conception. Even during the first phases of cellular subdivision, when the embryo is moving in the fallopian tubes, there are transmissions through contact with the tissues touched by the moving embryo. Later, after implantation in the uterus, the dialogue is more intense through the blood and cells, and chemical substances that enter the mother’s bloodstream. Finally the child’s stem cells pass to the mother in great quantity both at the moment of birth, whether spontaneous or Caesarean, as well as at the time of abortion whether spontaneous or voluntary.”
When asked how long the fetus’ influence on the mother lasts, the professor answered: “Stem cells have been found in the mother even 30 years after the birth. It could be said therefore that the pregnancy does not last the 40 canonical weeks, but the woman’s entire life….It is somewhat as though the thoughts of the child pass to the mother, even many years after his birth.”
This is what Simeon’s prophecy is about, though in a spiritual sense. It is a prophecy of the universal motherhood that will be given to Mary in the agony of Calvary. As a mother knows everything about her children, and suffers not only for, but with her children, Mary, in an extraordinary way, was so one with Jesus in His sufferings and death that she is rightly called Co-Redemptrix. As her soul was mystically being pierced on Calvary, Jesus opened up a place large enough within her, to take on a universal motherhood for all of us.
In one way, Mary’s sorrows flowed from the sufferings of her innocent Divine Son. In another, they flowed from her maternal union with us and our indifference and ingratitude toward God’s unfathomable love for us. Her distress over those children who reject their Father’s love keeps her always at work and in intercession for the restoration of this relationship. She is near us always, helping us in all adversity, affliction, heartache and difficulty.
St. Pope John Paul II puts it beautifully this way: “Mary Most Holy goes on being the loving consoler of those touched by the many physical and moral sorrows which afflict and torment humanity. She knows our sorrows and pains because she too suffered, from Bethlehem to Calvary…Mary is our Spiritual Mother, and the mother always understands her children and consoles them in their troubles. Then, she has that specific mission to love us, received from Jesus on the Cross, to love us only and always, so as to save us! Mary consoles us above all by pointing out the Crucified One and Paradise to us!” (1980)
Mary continues to mother us from the death of sin into the Risen Life of Christ, laboring to bring us to true holiness, so that we can be born into eternal life and everlasting happiness. When we are all safely home, it is then, as the best of Mothers, that her joy will be complete.