15 September 2012

Mater Dolorosa

Simeon said to Mary: Behold, this child is destined
for the ruin and rising of many in Israel,
and to be a sign of contradiction;
and your own soul a sword will pierce.
—Cf. Lk 2: 34-35, Introit, Our Lady of Sorrows

In which the pilgrim lets St Bernard of Clairvaux say almost all that needs to be said ...
To my confusion and shame, I do not know how to mourn. When faced with death of friends or family, my heart does no more than feel the the dim movement of one who misses a friend who has moved away. Because of that lack, I feel I betray my family and friends who do mourn when I do not.  Lacking sorrow for death, I fear I lack sorrow, true contrition, for my sins. Lacking contrition, I shudder that I do not weep for Christ Crucified.

The victory of Christ cannot be understood without the Cross, the sacrifice Jesus made of his body pained by our sins, suffering under the lash, the thorns, the mocking, the beatings, the spittle, the plucked beard, the nails, the thirst. Objectively, I know the horror and the suffering of our Lord's Passion, but my heart does not break, being only dimly aware of the victory, without feeling compassion for the suffering that wrought it. Faced with the Cross, I am aware of the sacrifice, without willingness to participate and take up my own.

Our Lady of Sorrows, then, is my hope when I ask to share in her mourning, for she "was associated more intimately than any other person in the mystery of his redemptive suffering." Through her intercession, I can truly learn to mourn for sinful Man, and through her prayers participate with the Virgin Mary in the Passion of Christ, and thus may merit a share in and experience the full joy of his Resurrection. Amen.

Now, St Bernard of Clairvaux, whose love for the Mother of our Lord and Christ Crucified were rarely expressed so beautifully:

The martyrdom of the Virgin is set forth both in the prophecy of Simeon and in the actual story of our Lord’s passion. The holy old man said of the infant Jesus: He has been established as a sign which will be contradicted. He went on to say to Mary: And your own heart will be pierced by a sword.
Truly, O blessed Mother, a sword has pierced your heart. For only by passing through your heart could the sword enter the flesh of your Son. Indeed, after your Jesus – who belongs to everyone, but is especially yours – gave up his life, the cruel spear, which was not withheld from his lifeless body, tore open his side. Clearly it did not touch his soul and could not harm him, but it did pierce your heart. For surely his soul was no longer there, but yours could not be torn away. Thus the violence of sorrow has cut through your heart, and we rightly call you more than martyr, since the effect of compassion in you has gone beyond the endurance of physical suffering. 
 Or were those words, Woman, behold your Son, not more than a word to you, truly piercing your heart, cutting through to the division between soul and spirit? What an exchange! John is given to you in place of Jesus, the servant in place of the Lord, the disciple in place of the master; the son of Zebedee replaces the Son of God, a mere man replaces God himself. How could these words not pierce your most loving heart, when the mere remembrance of them breaks ours, hearts of iron and stone though they are!
Do not be surprised, brothers, that Mary is said to be a martyr in spirit. Let him be surprised who does not remember the words of Paul, that one of the greatest crimes of the Gentiles was that they were without love. That was far from the heart of Mary; let it be far from her servants. 
Perhaps someone will say: “Had she not known before that he would not die?” Undoubtedly. “Did she not expect him to rise again at once?” Surely. “And still she grieved over her crucified Son?” Intensely. Who are you and what is the source of your wisdom that you are more surprised at the compassion of Mary than at the passion of Mary’s Son? For if he could die in body, could she not die with him in spirit? He died in body through a love greater than anyone had known. She died in spirit through a love unlike any other since his.
—St Bernard of Clairvaux: From the Office of Readings, Our Lady of Sorrows

O God, who willed
that, when your Son was lifted high on the Cross,
his Mother should stand close by and share his suffering,
grant that your Church,
participating with the Virgin Mary in the Passion of Christ,
may merit a share in his Resurrection.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

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