My husband, Pat, and I just recently returned from a trip to Spain. While there, we were blessed to visit Montserrat, a Benedictine Monastery built centuries ago on the beautiful mountains in the outskirts of Barcelona. It was in the Basilica in a small side chapel of the Holy Cross, I encountered the painting above and on September 15th the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. From that time, she has captured my heart in new ways. The painting is titled, “The Pieta of Montserrat” the artist remains unknown to me.
So, it seems fitting that I should share this as I reflect on today’s Gospel from St. Luke. “Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed.” V.27 Does she look like she feels blessed?
She certainly doesn’t resemble the usual idea we have of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. There is not much serenity visible—at least, not to me. She could be any mother as she holds the lifeless body of her son and today I mourn her pain and the pain of every mother-and father—who have experienced her pain in their lives. In her face, I see every face, every beloved child of God for whom her Son gave his life. For in her pain, we see His pain, his rejection and our own.
Yet, we know the end of the story, don’t we? And this is most definitely NOT the end of the story. Jesus words to the woman in the crowd offers another insight to what may happen to those who “hear the word of God and observe it.” V.28 For most of us, however, we may not experience such a cross as we diligently “take us our cross(es) daily” and follow him. I observe no anger in her face, maybe a little bit of confusion or even shock as she holds her pain. When Jesus took on our sins—the sins of all humanity—did he also take on the hate and the anger of humanity? O, sweet Jesus, thank you!
Mary holds all the ugliness life has to throw at her and observes the word of God in her Son. Who while he was alive preached mercy, compassion and especially love. Yes, she is blessed, but it comes at the cost of dying to herself and believing—trusting that God’s got this darkness under control.
Etty Hillesum (who was a 27 year old Jewish woman who died in Auschwitz), in the book, “An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork,” writes as she observes life in the Nazi holding camp for Jews.
“And I also believe, childishly perhaps but stubbornly, that the earth will become more habitable again only through the love that the Jew Paul describes to the citizens of Corinth in the thirteenth chapter of his first letter.” P.256
I’m so moved by her words. If one person can come to that inspiration and act on it; we are all capable! In today’s world of polarization and anxiety I hear the message of hope in these simple verses. Let us remember that we are all truly one—as Paul tells us in our first reading—and we all belong to God.
Thank you, dear Mother of Sorrows for shining your light through the generations, always offering love and peace.
Jean Bowler is a retreatant at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center in Sierra Madre, California, and a member of the Office of Mission Effectiveness Board of Holy Cross Province.