Mothers often carry sorrow in their hearts; sorrow is an inescapable aspect of maternal love. Mary, who loves more, therefore also has more sorrow. With today’s feast, which goes naturally with yesterday’s celebration of the Exaltation of the Cross, we join our Sorrowful Mother at the foot of the Cross. We share in her love for Jesus and in the fruit of her union with him.

What mother would not feel the “sword of sorrow” piercing her soul at the sight of her only Son being tortured, humiliated, and nailed to the Cross? What mother would not be crushed under the weight of such extreme anguish? Yet Mary is somehow not crushed. How does she remain standing as the prophecy of Simeon finally unfolds before her very eyes? What is the secret source of her inner strength?

Mary is able to persevere in sorrow because she never wavers in her faith; she always unites her heart fully to the heart of Jesus. Though she cannot understand at this moment why the Father allows his Son to undergo such a brutal death, she trusts him fully, and endures everything with great equanimity. When she looks at Jesus on the Cross, she sees more than all the other onlookers see. Beneath the agony, she sees his loving abandonment to the Father’s will. She sees not hate but overflowing love and mercy toward all, including his tormentors. She hears him say, “Father, forgive them…” and she knows what he means (cf. Lk 23:34). Her spirit recognizes the High Priest, offering himself as the greatest sacrifice of all, offering “prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to God” as “the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Heb 5:7, 9).

Mary is the epitome of faith, and her faith shines out most clearly in her perseverance through the contradictions she experiences on Calvary. The Catechism affirms, “By her complete adherence to the Father’s will, to his Son’s redemptive work, and to every prompting of the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary is the Church’s model of faith and charity. Thus she is a ‘preeminent and … wholly unique member of the Church’; indeed, she is the ‘exemplary realization’ (typus) of the Church” (CCC 967).

“Behold, your mother.” In the Jewish society of the time, Mary would be seen as the poorest of the poor, perhaps even thought of as cursed, for she was left without a husband or any children. Any son would be concerned about his poor mother’s welfare. Jesus provides Mary with the care of John, the “disciple whom he loved.” But beyond this temporal consideration, Jesus reveals to us a more sublime purpose: Mary’s great role in our lives. He entrusts us to her as her spiritual children. She is now to be the Mother of all who believe in him. So he says to us today, as he says to every one of his beloved disciples, “Behold, your Mother.”

We take our Sorrowful Mother into our home and into our heart. As we draw near to her, we discover that she has already taken us into her heart. Together with Jesus, she truly loves all people for whom he is offering himself as a sacrifice. She carries us, with a mother’s heart, nurtures us, and forms us in the likeness of her Son. This, however, is a painful and sorrowful process! Knowing that some of us will fail to recognize the great gift of salvation being given from the Cross, Mary weeps – more for our loss than for her own. Being a mother involves birth pangs, in which the sacrifice of the mother gives life to the child. In a similar way, Mary’s sorrows bear fruit for her spiritual children.

When we accept a share in our Mother’s sorrows, offering ourselves with her in union with Jesus on the Cross, we participate too in her spiritual motherhood. We have a role in giving spiritual life to others! When we recognize and welcome this role, then, like a woman whose labor leads to birth, our sorrow turns to joy! (cf. Jn 16:20-22).

How does Mary’s example at the foot of the Cross enable me to empathize with the sorrows of others? Why is it difficult for me to be abandoned to the Father’s will when my faith is weak and staggering? How does the faith of Mary at the foot of the Cross sustain me in my sorrow and pains in life?

Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 19, no. 7. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.