Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Our Lady of Sorrows
September 15, 2016
1 Cor 15:1-11, Ps 118, Jn 19:25-27
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Yesterday we celebrated the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. We focused on the Lord’s victory. Unlike on Good Friday when we ponder his sufferings upon the Cross, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross not only celebrates the rediscovery of the Cross after it was stolen in the early Church but the rediscovery, in a sense, of the meaning of Jesus’ triumphant on the Cross as something in which we should glory rather than be ashamed.
- But then, today, the day after celebrating Jesus’ victory on the Cross, we ponder his mother weeping and sorrowful. It’s a little bit of a jarring juxtaposition, one that ought to get us to ask why we would contemplate her in this way today. The fundamental reason why we ponder Mary’s sorrows today is because her tears are not over her Son’s victory but over so many of us who have not yet entered into his victory. It’s not over what her Divine offspring accomplished on Calvary, but how many of us allow his gifts to go in vain.
- The Church has long pondered the suffering and joys of the Blessed Virgin Mary as she accompanied her Son and shared in his redeeming work. There has for centuries been devotion to her “Seven Sorrows”: The prophecy of Simeon, when he announced not only that Jesus would be a sign of contradiction pointing to the ruin and resurrection of many but that her own heart would be pierced with a sword; the flight into Egypt after Herod’s henchmen were trying to assassinate her and God’s little boy; the loss of Jesus for three days at the age of 12; meeting Jesus on the Way to Calvary; seeing Jesus suffer and die on the Cross; receiving Jesus’ body into her arms at the foot of the Cross; and placing Jesus’ body in the tomb.
- Today is a day, first on which we ponder Mary’s suffering for her Son, what it must have felt like to have her heart and soul pierced in these ways. As we prayed in the Stabat Mater Sequence before the Gospel, “Is there one who would not weep, ‘whelmed in miseries so deep, Christ’s dear Mother to behold?” But our meditation is not supposed to stop there. By God’s grace it’s meant to lead us to compassion, to suffering with Mary. We pray in that Sequence words we should take seriously: “O sweet Mother! font of love, touch my spirit from above, make my heart with yours accord. Make me feel as you have felt; make my soul to glow and melt with the love of Christ, my Lord. Holy Mother, pierce me through, in my heart each wound renew of my Savior crucified. Let me share with you his pain, who for all our sins was slain, who for me in torments died. Let me mingle tears with thee, mourning him who mourned for me, all the days that I may live. By the cross with you to stay, there with you to weep and pray, is all I ask of you to give. Virgin of all virgins blest! Listen to my fond request: let me share your grief divine. Let me to my latest breath, in my body bear the death of that dying Son of yours.” Today we ask her for the grace to share her grief divine, to join our tears to hers, to bear in our body the death of Jesus so that we might in turn share his life.
- But Mary’s heart is pierced not only by the sufferings of her divine Son Jesus, but also all her spiritual sons and daughters given to her in the Annunciation carried out by her Son hanging upon the Cross, when he, seeing Mary and his beloved disciple, St. John, at the foot of the Cross said, respectively, “Woman, behold your son” and “Behold your mother.” And like any Mother, this “Holy Mother” mourns and weeps and suffers whenever she sees any of her children suffer. A couple of weeks ago we pondered the example of St. Monica who wept for 32 years for the conversion of her husband, mother-in-law and son, St. Augustine. If she wept that much, how much more will the sinless Virgin Mary weep for the conversion of all God’s prodigal sons and daughters? How much will she weep for us when we choose against her Son? How much will she weep for those who don’t know him and his love or wander far from him, lost in life?
- On Saturday we will celebrate the Memorial of Our Lady of LaSalette, where Mary appeared to two young children in the French alps in 1846. As they were grazing their sheep, two shepherd children — Melanie Calvat and Maximin Giraud — found her sobbing. We all need to ponder that image of Mary bawling her eyes out with her face in her hands. It’s tempting to think of the Blessed Mother exclusively in the beautiful images of Murillo, crowned with stars, stomping on the serpent, with the moon under her feet. But it’s key to grasp her tears, because without them, we won’t grasp her love, and we may not be opening ourselves fully to receive that love. Her tears initially frightened the 14 year old girl and 11 year old boy, but she told them not to be afraid, to come close, because she wanted to announce to them great news. That was the great news of conversion. They had built a little shrine called “Paradise” and that’s where Mary first appeared, to show them that not everyone was on the way to Paradise. She lamented four practices that are still very common today: blaspheming the name of God; missing Sunday Mass; failing to pray, and not even taking the conversion of Lent seriously. She was calling them, and through them all of us, to do the opposite: to use our thoughts and speech to praise God; to prioritize the great gift of her Son in the Eucharist; to become people who pray; and to repent and believe in the Gospel and live a repentant life. She wore a radiant crucifix that had two symbols on it, one a hammer and another a pair of pincers, which was a sign of the freedom that everyone has, the freedom to refuse God and hammer Jesus to the Cross by sin, or the freedom to love God and take the pincers to remove the nails. That is the choice that faces every Christian. She weeps when we chose the nail, not just because of what that means for Jesus her Son but what that means for each of us with the hammer in our hand. She also wants us to share that grief divine, to learn how to mourn for others and their sins so that we may like her be blessed and consoled, as her Son promised in the Beatitudes.
- But as we ponder Mary’s “grief divine,” we recognize that, as St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, we Christians grieve differently than the rest because we grieve with hope. And no one has more hope that the one we call Mater Spei. Her tears are those of sorrow but also of joy, having seen so many conversions of her sons and daughters. Her sorrows are joined in hope to a perpetual Magnificat in which she praises the Lord who has mercy from generation to generation, who is mindful of that mercy that he showed to Abraham and all our fathers in the faith.
- Today Mary gathers us all here around the altar, around the body and blood of her Son offered on Calvary, praying that we may receive more and more and live by the fruits of this sacrifice. She wants to make our heart burn like hers. Her tears have irrigated the soil of our soils precisely to receive this gift and she’d like to intercede for us to have a similar gift of tears as we approach a situation in the world in which so many of her spiritual sons and daughters treat each other as Cain did Abel, and then be motivated as she to intervene with love. As we come to pray on her feast day, we ask her to intercede for us to obtain the grace that we may console her today and console her Son by living the unity and love he seeks to bring about by what we won for us from the Cross and what he left us in this everlasting sacrifice. Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 1 COR 15:1-11
of the Gospel I preached to you,
which you indeed received and in which you also stand.
Through it you are also being saved,
if you hold fast to the word I preached to you,
unless you believed in vain.
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received:
that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures;
that he was buried;
that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures;
that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.
After that, he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once,
most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.
After that he appeared to James,
then to all the Apostles.
Last of all, as to one born abnormally,
he appeared to me.
For I am the least of the Apostles,
not fit to be called an Apostle,
because I persecuted the Church of God.
But by the grace of God I am what I am,
and his grace to me has not been ineffective.
Indeed, I have toiled harder than all of them;
not I, however, but the grace of God that is with me.
Therefore, whether it be I or they,
so we preach and so you believed.
Responsorial Psalm PS 118:1B-2, 16AB-17, 28
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his mercy endures forever.
Let the house of Israel say,
“His mercy endures forever.”
R. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
“The right hand of the LORD is exalted;
the right hand of the LORD has struck with power.”
I shall not die, but live,
and declare the works of the LORD.
R. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
You are my God, and I give thanks to you;
O my God, I extol you.
R. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
Sequence (Optional) – Stabat Mater
Stood the mournful Mother weeping,
Close to Jesus to the last.
Through her heart, his sorrow sharing,
All his bitter anguish bearing,
Now at length the sword had passed.
Oh, how sad and sore distressed
Was that Mother highly blessed
Of the sole begotten One!
Christ above in torment hangs,
She beneath beholds the pangs
Of her dying, glorious Son.
Is there one who would not weep,
‘Whelmed in miseries so deep,
Christ’s dear Mother to behold?
Can the human heart refrain
From partaking in her pain,
In that mother’s pain untold?
Bruised, derided, cursed, defiled,
She beheld her tender Child,
All with bloody scourges rent.
For the sins of his own nation
Saw him hang in desolation
Till his spirit forth he sent.
O sweet Mother! font of love,
Touch my spirit from above,
Make my heart with yours accord.
Make me feel as you have felt;
Make my soul to glow and melt
With the love of Christ, my Lord.
Holy Mother, pierce me through,
In my heart each wound renew
Of my Savior crucified.
Let me share with you his pain,
Who for all our sins was slain,
Who for me in torments died.
Let me mingle tears with you,
Mourning him who mourned for me,
All the days that I may live.
By the cross with you to stay,
There with you to weep and pray,
Is all I ask of you to give.
Virgin of all virgins blest!
Listen to my fond request:
Let me share your grief divine.
Let me to my latest breath,
In my body bear the death
Of that dying Son of yours.
Wounded with his every wound,
Steep my soul till it has swooned
In his very Blood away.
Be to me, O Virgin, nigh,
Lest in flames I burn and die,
In his awful judgment day.
Christ, when you shall call me hence,
Be your Mother my defense,
Be your cross my victory.
While my body here decays,
May my soul your goodness praise,
Safe in heaven eternally.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Blessed are you, O Virgin Mary;
without dying you won the martyr’s crown
beneath the Cross of the Lord.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel JN 19:25-27
Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother
and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas,
and Mary Magdalene.
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved
he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.”
Then he said to the disciple,
“Behold, your mother.”
And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.
Gospel LK 2:33-35
Jesus’ father and mother were amazed at what was said about him;
and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother,
“Behold, this child is destined
for the fall and rise of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be contradicted
and you yourself a sword will pierce
so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”