The first sword: The Prophecy of Simeon
Each night every priest or religious and perhaps many of you, pray Night Prayer, including the Gospel Canticle of Simeon, who with his weary arms holds the baby Jesus in his arms and whispers to God: “Now Lord, you can let your servant go in peace, for my own eyes have the seen the salvation you have prepared, the light to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.”
And after that joyous canticle, he turned to Mary and told her this baby would be the rise and fall of many, concluding with the words: “and your own heart will be pierced with a sword.”
At that moment, Saint Alphonsus Liguori tells us, the joy which had filled Mary’s heart must have been turned to sorrow, a sorrow which would perdure and a foreshadowing of the Cross on which her Son would offer the perfect sacrifice.
For her suffering was a participation in the Cross of her son, just as each of the Crosses God sends to us is a way of participating in the Cross of Jesus. “Whenever you suffer,” Mother Theresa once told an old woman, “it is really just Jesus loving you so much that he is holding you closer to his Cross.” “But could I ask him,” the woman responded, “not to hold me quite so close!?”
Sometimes he holds each one of very close, just as he held his Mother, the most blessed among women, closest of all. So, if Lent is the Via Dolorosa, the Road of Sorrows leading to the Cross of Jesus, perhaps we can spent a moment with Our Lady of Sorrows as each of those swords pierce her Immaculate Heart.
The second sword: The Flight into Egypt
Chances are that Mary had never been further from home than Jerusalem, a three day journey. But now, here she is, a newborn in her arms with no place to lay him but the animals’ feedbag and Joseph comes to her with the news that he has had another dream, and now the Angel is telling them to go to Egypt. To become refugees, strangers in a strange land with a newborn child.
Mary must have felt like Jinan, a Syrian refugee with three young sons and six months pregnant. “Honestly, I have no more strength. I am so tired…Sometimes, I put my kids to bed and when they are asleep, I look at them and I cry. I don’t care about myself. I care about my kids and how they are living. There is nobody to help me. My parents are dead. There is nowhere I can go.”
Imagine the suffering of the Blessed mother on the back of a donkey, or the young mother fleeing the drug Lords or the gangs or the failed state where her children were born, and you will imagine the sufferings of him who was nailed to a cross and spat upon, and who took all their sufferings upon his aching shoulders.
The third sword: Jesus is Lost in the Temple
Chances are that Mary must have been hysterical when she realized that Jesus was not with them as they left Jerusalem. And then, as she ran from one part of the Temple to the other looking for him, her heart must have ached with the fear she would never see him again.
Like those 800,000 mothers whose children went missing in the United States last year. Most of them were found, but imagine what life is like for the 24,000 mothers who will never see their children again.
Imagine the suffering of the Blessed mother as she stares into the crowd with Jesus nowhere to be seem, or the mother who finds her child has died in his crib, or the parent who stares down the street and no little boy comes home from school. Imagine the ravaged heart of the mother who will never hold that child in her arms again and you will imagine the sufferings of him who came to seek out the lost, raise the dead child and return him to her mother’s arms, and lead us to a place where no one will ever be lost again.
The fourth sword: The Meeting of Mary and Jesus
Chances are she watched him for a very long time as he dragged that cross, now smeared with blood up every step of the road of sorrows. She watched for a long while, until she could not control herself any longer, and according to an ancient tradition, ran to embrace him as he walked to his death on Calvary Hill.
Her heart was broken when she saw what they had done to him and she would have given her life to take that suffering away. Like the mother at Children’s Hospital this morning who listens to the click click of the respirator as the body of her child struggles to live. Or the mother who sits in the waiting room at MCI-Framingham who has seen her giggling child become a teenager and then an addict, enslaved to Oxycodone. Imagine their suffering, and you will imagine the sufferings of the Son of God who stretched out his arms upon a cross in order to embrace all who are afraid, broken and alone.
The fifth sword: The Crucifixion of Jesus
Chances are she had seen a crucifixion before. The criminal tied to a gibbet, asphyxiated by his own exhaustion, hanging there and taunted by the jeering crowds. But she had never seen her own son up there, nailed to the wood and gasping for breath. And then she hears him speak his last words to her as he looks at the young Apostle John: Woman, there is your son.
Her heart was truly pierced when they thrust that lance into the side of her son. Like the mother of the girl in her twenties who was shot on Juliette street in Dorchester a couple weeks ago, or the mother of the guy who was stabbed outside of Michael’s in Natick two days ago. Imagine their suffering, and you will imagine the suffering of Jesus, who looks upon us in our sin and breathes his last to save us from them.
The sixth sword: Taking Jesus Down from the Cross
Chances are Mary had helped to prepare a body for burial before. There were no funeral directors in those days, just the women of a family who would wash and tenderly cradle the body of the person who had died in their arms. But this was no distant relative, this was her son.
And so the Pieta, the mother cradles the dead body of her son in her arms. The same body who had weaned at her breast and danced on her knees, lies lifeless in her arms. Imagine her suffering, and imagine the son who lies in her arms, who gives his own life in sacrifice to save us from our sin and destroy even death. Imagine the love of a God who becomes a weak little child and then offers himself upon a cross, that we might never fear death ever again.
The seventh sword: The Burial of Jesus
For then there is the grave, as the body of Jesus was placed in a borrowed tomb. Chances are that the most Blessed among women would have suspected that her Son would rise from the dead. But she did not know with certainty. And as everyone ran away, from the cross and from the tomb, it must have seemed the end of a terribly cruel story. Imagine that sorrow, and imagine the one who raised Lazarus from the dead and who rose from the tomb that he might be the firstborn of many brothers, that no mother might ever fear again that her sorrow is infinite and that death is an end.
A final story about Marie Claire.
Marie Claire Mukangango was born in 1961 in the small village of Kebeho in Rawanda. She was just eighteen years old when her friend Alphonsine told her that she had seen a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Marie Claire at first laughed at her and then accused her of witchcraft, telling her friends that their friend must be possessed by demons! So Alphonsine asked the Blessed Mother to appear to more of her friends so that they would believe her. So she appeared to Anathalie and then to the biggest skeptic of all, Marie Claire.
The Blessed Mother encouraged the girls to pray to her under the title of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows and for six months she repeated a simple message: “Repent! Repent! Convert while there is still time!”
But then something strange happened, for the gentle lady began to show them visions of what would happen if people did not repent, with dreadful visions of death, violence, blood, fire and destruction. She spoke of rivers of blood, piles of severed human heads, people chopping and hacking at each other, and a valley filled with a million rotting, headless corpses.
The next year the visions ceased and Marie Claire finished school, becoming an elementary school teacher. Ten years later she married a journalist who went to work for the Prime Minister’s Office in Kigali.
And then the visions became true. For three months one of the most horrific genocides of our time resulted in the deaths of close to a million Rwandans of the Tutsi tribe were hacked to death with machetes by their neighbors, friends and even family members in a frenzy of ethnic rage. The rivers ran red with blood, bodies were chopped to pieces, and corpses lay rotting on the ground with no one to bury them.
Among the bodies was Marie Claire and her husband. The young girl who had tried to tell the world that if they did not embrace the Cross through Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows, they would be only sadness and death.
For the sorrows of the Mother of God, as deeply as they pierced her Immaculate Heart, had meaning, for they were a participation in the Perfect Sacrifice offered by her Son as he gave his life for our Salvation.
And we too, Like Marie Claire, are called to embrace all the sufferings God sends us, accepting the little crosses as a means to joining our poor lives to his perfect At of Love. That is what Mary teaches us this Lent, to see him in every desperate immigrant, every lost child, every suffering mother, each son who is about to die. To accept him into our hearts and our arms and to believe in his Passion, his Death and his Resurrection with our whole hearts and souls.
Mary, Most Sorrowful! Pray for us!