March 2023 Allocutio
Mother Of Sorrows
Fr. Paul Churchill
The central reflection of Lent is always the Passion of Our Lord. We meditate on that most noble act by which the innocent Lamb of God took on all our sins and while reviled “did not revile in return” (1 Pt 2:23). We cannot reflect enough on it so that we can see in its mirror both our own pettiness and the extraordinary love that we have been gifted with by the Saviour.
Part of the scene on the Passion is Our Lady, his Mother, standing there and suffering in silence with him. And part of our passion in life can be just to stand there hopeless, unable to do anything, and just watch in agony with the suffering person. We have all been there with those who suffer, a parent dying, a spouse in hospital with serious injuries, a child having burnt themselves. You do not have exactly their pain but watching has its own pain, especially if you can do nothing. That is Our Lady’s pain. “All you who pass by. See if there is any sorrow like my sorrow” (Lam 1:12).
Of course at this moment of time (March 2022) large swathes of humanity are suffering something of that as we watch the situation in the Ukraine. Indeed the name Mariupol, the city of Mary, has to be a symbol of our alignment with Our Lady at the foot of the Cross as we watch what has happened there. It should galvanise us to dig deeper into our prayers from the heart to our heavenly Mother asking her great intercession for the situation being undergone by those who live in the city named after her.
Frank Duff once wrote an article “I have suffered with him whom I saw suffer” (in Virgo Praedicanda). And he comments that John in his narrative says “There stood by the Cross of Jesus his mother” (Jn 19:25). And Frank notes that she was standing, standing because she was strong. Oh yes, never let us doubt her strength. She was a woman of great quality, no shrinking violet. She is a model in suffering. So Frank comments further, “We must use our own suffering as a means of enabling us to appreciate hers … If in the moment when intolerable torment and grief seize us, we turn our thoughts to her, we get a little insight into the extent of her sufferings – not as an exercise in theory but in a dreadful practice.” And so now, as we look on at such horror inflicted by soldiers, we get a glimpse into what it must have felt like for those who saw hardened soldiers put a good and innocent man to death.
Frank now adds, “The role we must aspire to is that of standing up in her and suffering in her in a sort of identity”. That role of being in solidarity with Mary’s sufferings was first embodied in John. At the foot of the Cross stands the one disciple who didn’t run but looked on and saw the horror of what happened on Calvary. He absorbed it all as his own narrative shows and he grasped its depth as his processing of it deepened in time. Our Lord did not want him to be paralysed by what he saw. To both his mother and John he will say, “Woman, behold your son” and “Behold your mother” and then we are told that from that moment John made a place for her in his home (Jn 19:26-27).
If like John we consider ourselves very close associates of Our Lady and take her to be our mother we must ask about how we can take her into our homes at this moment. Certainly in our hearts and prayers. But we must also think if we could help with material support or even to make space for some of the refugees from war or other troubles and help them in their needs. And when we open doors to the down and outs in our legion shelters or even now maybe open our personal doors to war-refugees let us understand ourselves being like that beloved disciple making a place in our homes for Mary.
Let me add these words from Frank Duff. “Standing there with her – or rather in her – we must be worthy of her. We must not cower and cry and wish to be dead, for she did not give way like that. … If we want to be like her and to help her, we must call up strength and courage in ourselves”. Those who have displaced suffer loss of home, family members, a functioning society etc. just as Mary lost everything that mattered to her.
Finally I know that many of you might like to do more but cannot. For most of us suffer “from afar looking on” as one Gospel account puts it (Lk 23: 49). Let us remind ourselves again of the power of the spirit and the value of prayer. Let us pray to Our Lady that this awful event afflicting both Catholic and Orthodox may, both of whom have great devotion to the Mother of God, by the spiritual authority of the Mother of Unity and Dispenser of graces, we brought to an end soon, to the glory of her Son who himself was put to death by soldiers. Amen.