SEPTEMBER 15, 2011- O.L. OF SORROWS  : HEB 5:7-9 ;  JOHN19:25-27

Among those realities that are familiar to all of us and yet evade, in their full substance, our human capacity adequate to define is love. This is true already of human love, which assumes to many varied forms. As we are told in the first reading today, Divine love manifests itself in ways that are even more varied and more elusive for our human nature. For, having affirmed in the opening lines of his epistle that His son “reflects the glory of  God and bears the stamp of His nature,” the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews affirms that obedience to the Father required that the son, amid prayers and tears be perfected through suffering. And the suffering he refers to is the torture and humiliation of crucifixion. That this way of showing love presents disturbing challenges to our human sensibility the same author realized and he was at pains to deal with the paradox involved in maintaining that suffering a cruel death in obedience is a yielding to the purest love. He writes “About this we have much to say which is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.”

We cannot hope to realize something of the depths of the Sorrows of the Mother of Jesus unless we have some appreciation of this paradoxical nature of Divine love. It is not too much to say that even human love involves imposing suffering on the loved one when the issue involved or circumstances require it. Parents who do not consistently make demands on their children that involve a degree of frustration and, at times even, suffering, mental and physical, fail in love through indulgence. Friends who fail to correct our serious faults, even by imposing painful remedies that often require courageous interventions, neglect one of the basic requirements of faithful love. Teachers who are dedicated to the welfare and future success of their students regularly impose demands that require sacrifice of interests and at times even painful hours of application. The very fact of bearing children and rearing a family entails a decision that is at once an expression of love and an imposing of inevitable suffering.

That Mary’s role as mother of the Savior would prove a source of painful sorrow as well as bring her an immense fulfillment and eventually lead to a lasting joy was made clear to her from the beginning of her motherhood. At the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel greeted her as “full of grace and blessed among women” for she was chosen by God for a uniquely privileged role in his plan of salvation. Shortly after the birth of her son, however, Simeon was to say to her in a moment of divine inspiration that “a sword of sorrow will pierce your heart.” She lived in awareness of the future sufferings of her son and with the sorrow such anticipation inevitably accompanied her throughout her life. She was not found wanting at the critical time in her son’s suffering and death. Rather, she participated in his passion and crucifixion by an unfailing constancy, through a sympathy that proved stronger than fear. Mary stood at the cross of Jesus to the end, heedless of the insults and contempt that was heaped upon him. Her love was a source of strength that she revealed in standing by her son throughout his painful ordeal, unwavering and loyal. She was near him when most needed, manifesting by the courage of her fidelity her abiding faith in his mission.

Mary’s example has continued to serve through the ages as a lesson to all believers that the service of the all holy God undertaken with a willing love, inevitably is accompanied by sorrow and suffering. For the love that God is and offers us is both pure and strong and admits of no weak yielding to the claims of nature. Jesus himself had explicitly taught that hard lesson in his preaching. “The one who loves his life in this world will lose it.” The love that lasts unto eternal life is stronger than sentiment and affection; it is centered on the person in whom we are called to transcend all other attachments. Only through such a love that overcomes sorrow and death itself, as Jesus and Mary show us by their example, can we attain to the fullness of life together with those of our loved ones who stand by the cross of Jesus, even to the end. This is the love we celebrate here at the altar today as we honor Mary whose sorrows brought her to glory with her risen Son.     

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger


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