This month we again have two beautiful feasts of Mary. On September 8th we celebrate Mary’s birthday and on the 15th we recognize Mary under the title of Our Lady of Sorrows.  This is an age-old devotion to Mary which has somewhat fallen by the wayside in recent generations. Many are hesitant to pray to Mary under this title. It sounds like it’s going to be brutally painful. Suffering is something every one of us deals with at some point in our lives and certainly our world is suffering today.

As we were deciding the content of our September newsletter Sr. Marie Angela received an email from Brother Mickey with the depiction of Our Mother of Sorrows. We knew immediately what God wanted the focus of our newsletter to be. Brother Mickey and his staff generously gave us permission to share it with you.

In her life, tradition tells us Mary had seven major sorrows that pierced her heart and like all mothers her desire was to protect her child.  (1) At a happy moment in the temple, Simeon told Mary that “her child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel…and a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:34-35). How many times in her life did she recall that prophecy with fear. In our society as well, mothers fear for their sons as they have encounters with racism, unjust imprisoning and police brutality. (2) Mary had to flee to Egypt in order to protect Jesus. Today mothers flee from the brutality of Afghanistan and Central America to find safety in America where there is hope for a protected childhood. (3) When Jesus was just a boy, she lost him for three days in Jerusalem and she felt the anguish of searching frantically to find him. Today Moms have lost their children through abductions, human trafficking or addictions of many different sorts. They frantically search to bring them safely home. (4) Mary saw her son treated in brutal and inhumane ways as he traveled the road to Calvary. Mothers today see their children caught in bullying, gang violence, and sexual exploitation. (5) She saw her son dead on the cross. Because of escalating gun violence, mothers in our day have seen their children murdered on the streets of their own neighborhood.  (6) Mary held the dead body of her son in her arms. Today on our news we’ve seen mothers sob uncontrollable tears as they mourn the senseless loss of their children. (7) Mary had to see the broken body of her son placed in a sepulcher and many mothers today have also sat mourning as their sons were buried. All of these sorrows left Mary broken but they did not “break” her. Rather, because she continued to say “yes” to God over and over again, even in the midst of her suffering, they united her more fully to her God. Mothers throughout the world can identify with her sorrow.

Mary knew how to hold her sorrow and she walks with us as we deal with our own suffering. These are all moments that show us how to suffer even and especially when we don’t understand, by keeping our eyes on the God of Compassion. If we allow ourselves to be broken rather than hardened, then we too can be unified with our God and one another and our pain will become fruitful

Our world is broken. As we move through these September days, we can ask Mary, Our Mother of Sorrows, to help us to endure and move beyond the pain. The traumatic withdrawal of our troops from Afghanistan, the brutal attack by ISIS-K causing so many deaths, the devastation of Ida, the earthquake in Haiti, the epidemic of Gun Violence in American cities, the fires on the western coast, the rise of the Delta variant of the Corona virus all combine to break our hearts each day. And the social and political divide that exists in our country prevents us from working together to solve these issues. We need to lean into the Mother of Sorrows to help us hold our grief and move closer recognizing we are one people joined together.

We also, as do each of you, grieve the distance between each of you and the Spiritual Center Staff. If there are ways that we can be helpful to you during these difficult times please contact us. To get by each day we need to lean into one another. We long to chat with you and see how you are. We are available by phone (our numbers are on our website). We can offer Spiritual Direction for those who are interested. We can offer the quiet of the hermitages and Clare House when you need to simply slow down long enough to attend to your heart. Perhaps in the next issue we’ll talk about some ways we might connect on ZOOM once again. We await God’s plan for something “new”.

In the midst of sorrow we also need to reclaim JOY. In our tradition we have a Franciscan Rosary in which we remember and celebrate the seven joys of Our Lady (the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity of Jesus, the Adoration of the Magi, the Finding in the Temple, the Resurrection of Jesus, and finally, the Assumption and Coronation). We don’t deny Mary’s suffering but Francis calls us to always remember the joys as well. He tells us that even in sad and distressing times we can find perfect joy. He describes to Brother Leo a scenario in which after traveling in bitter cold they finally arrive at the Portiuncula and knock on the door but the porter does not recognize them and refuses to give them shelter or food – that, says our Father Francis, is perfect joy.

In that conundrum Francis saw the grace of suffering and recognized that even in the midst of pain there is joy. So perhaps in all the heartaches of our day, Our Mother of Sorrows can teach us how to hold our grief and with God’s grace see that the darkness will once again turn to LIGHT and the sadness into JOY – perhaps even perfect joy. We are called to bring the light of Christ into our world. May Mary, Our Mother of Sorrow, teach us how to hold the grief that overflows in our world. May each of us be open to support one another with HOPE and JOY.

Blessngs and Love!

The Staff of the Franciscan Spiritual Center