The recent revelations of depraved deeds committed by bishops and priests are evocative of different appropriate emotions. Anger would be the first of these. It is the irascible passion we experience in the presence of an evil we strive to avoid but cannot. Justified anger, I mean, the absence of which Saint Thomas Aquinas holds to be sinful. As long as we temper anger with the virtue of meekness, we can control it so that it serves the good of a virtuous life.
But sorrow, which is the passion we experience in the presence of evil simply considered, is another proper emotional response. Not sorrow for the plight of the clerical and episcopal criminals themselves, who are wicked men deserving of punishment, but sorrow for the victims, sorrow for the disedified members of Christ’s flock, sorrow for those outside the flock who see in Christ’s only true religion nothing other than a cesspool of vice, sorrow for the sacrilege committed against the priesthood — and sorrow for the grievous offenses against the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Speaking of the Mother of God and sorrows, September is the month dedicated to the conjunction of those two realities. Exactly mid-month, September 15, is the Feast of Our Lady’s Sorrows. We can look at the whole month as a build up to that feast, its climax, and a gradual dénouement taking us into the month of the Holy Rosary.
Here in New England, September brings with it some seasonal changes that complement the liturgical commemoration of Our Lady’s Sorrows. There is less daylight. It’s been rainy and overcast of late. The atmosphere is a bit heavier, sometimes oppressive even. Some old folk begin already to dread the proximity of winter.
The Church provides us with appropriate outlets for all human emotions. More, she provides us with ways of sanctifying them. This goes for the full panoply of human emotions, not only sorrow. But, to keep our attention on that September emotion, sorrow is inevitable in this life. Lamentably, it is so often the case that our self love and pride gets the better of us and we wallow in self pity, wasting what could be a profoundly transformative thing. Tears that could wash away sin instead compound the debt because they are selfish.
Uniting our sufferings with those of Jesus and Mary is not a mere pat answer or crutch for life’s griefs; it is a healing and divinizing thing.
While this month lasts, let us try to grow in fruitful sorrow. I’m not encouraging anyone to become morose, but to consider the Sorrows of Jesus and Mary in a meditative and prayerful way, to join our sorrows to theirs, to weep for our sins (something recommended by Saint Benedict in his Rule, and by many other spiritual masters; there’s even a Votive Mass for the Gift of Tears), and to have tenderness for the sorrows of others.
The words compassion and sympathy come respectively from the Latin and Greek words for “suffer with.” It was Mary’s part to suffer with Our Lord at the foot of the Cross. She can show us, more than anyone else, how to suffer with Jesus — and with our neighbor, too, when he needs genuine sympathy.
Here are some suggestions as to how we might grow in fruitful sorrow:
- Meditate on the propers of the Feast of the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady.
- Take a good look at your sorrowful Mother in any of the numerous representations of her in Christian art.
- Mediate on Our Lady’s Seven Sorrows.
- Offer up your next sorrow in union with Mary’s Sorrows.
- Listen to any of the great musical settings of the Stabat Mater, e.g., those by Pergolesi, Vivaldi, Dvořák, Rossini, Poulenc, and Pärt.
- Think of some time you made your mother cry because of something you did wrong. Now realize that you did worse than that to the Blessed Mother, who wept for what your sins did to Her Son.
The Holy Name of Mary, upon which Feast I write these lines, is of Hebrew origin. According to one reckoning, Our Lady’s name, Miriam, comes from a Hebrew word meaning “bitter.” We see a form of this same word in the name that Noemi chose for herself in the book of Ruth (1:20): “But she said to them: Call me not Noemi, (that is, beautiful,) but call me Mara, (that is, bitter,) for the Almighty hath quite filled me with bitterness.” Etymologically related is the word, Myrrh, that “bitter perfume,” the gift of which by the Magi is considered to be a foreshadowing of Our Lord’s Passion.
It is being reported that a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe is weeping sacred chrism at a Catholic Church in Hobbes, New Mexico. The Diocese of Las Cruces is investigating it, and has so far ruled out any natural causality. Curiously, according to this report, the statue, which has wept in the past, began to do so again on the first Saturday of this month, which was also the first day of the month dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows.
It appears that for Our Lady, as for the Church, it is a season of sorrows.