John 19:25-27, Our Lady of Sorrows on the Tuesday of Week 24 in Ordinary Time
Today’s feast day (Our Lady of Sorrows) reminds me of the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II. The year was 1981 – May 13, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima. Pope John Paul II was shot four times by a Turkish hitman Ali Agca – twice in the stomach, once in the left hand, and another time in the right arm.
To extract those four bullets from his wounded body, Pope John Paul II had to undergo a five-hour operation. Oddly enough, his surgeons kept one of those bullets, and at one point, they even gave it back to him as a kind of souvenir or momento. But then, the year after, John Paul II decided to visit Fatima and he brought with him that same bullet, offering it to Our Lady. By all accounts, he made this offering to show his profound gratitude and appreciation to Mary for protecting him and saving his life.
Now that same bullet from Pope John Paul II has been placed in the actual crown worn by the image of Our Lady of Fatima. And that is why, if we go to Fatima today and visit the shrine, there we would see the original image of Our Lady wearing a crown. And embedded on that crown is one of those four bullets which nearly killed Pope John Paul II almost 40 years ago.
Many years later, in 2010, Pope Benedict visited Fatima. And he would recall the significance of that bullet on Mary’s crown. In doing so, Benedict would say a prayer in these words – “Dearest Mary, (truly), it is our consolation that you are crowned not only with the silver and gold of our joys and hopes but also with the ‘bullet’ of our anxieties and sorrows.” Hence, with his prayer, Pope Benedict noted the two components that make up Mary’s crown – on the one hand, she is crowned with the gold and silver of our joys and hopes; and on the other hand, she too is crowned with the bullet of our anxieties and sorrows.
My dear friends, one quote on human joy and sorrow I like very much goes like this – “We can never taste life’s sweetest of joys, unless we also taste life’s bitterest of sorrows.”
Indeed, how true – often, we can understand and appreciate life’s realities, life’s mysteries only by their opposites or their anti-thesis. Thus, for example – we may not truly know the real meaning of presence,unless we have learned the real meaning of absence. We may not truly appreciate the real meaning of light, unless we have experienced some darkness. We may not really understand joy, unless we have understood and felt certain sorrows.
And that is why I believe the foot of the cross was such a pivotal place (in fact, a defining place) for Our Lady and Mother. This is so because it was there where Mary felt the bitterest of sorrows after tasting the sweetest of joys, given the earlier joyful mysteries of her life. Also, it was there at the foot of the cross where Mary decided to courageously stand her ground just believing and trusting, no matter what. In short, it was there, beneath the cross where Mary truly became both Our Lady of Consolation and Our Lady of Sorrows; and also where she became both The Comforter of the Afflicted, and the afflicted one herself.
As such, if Jesus our Lord was most himself as Son and Messiah hanging there on the cross, with Mary, she was most herself as our Queen and Mother also there, standing by the cross of Christ. This way, her exposure to extreme pain and agony through our Lord’s passion complemented and even completed her primary vocation as Mother of God and as Mother of all humanity.
This we say because of what sense and meaning would Mary’s vocation have, given her role in salvation history, if it involved only joy and consolation and no sorrow and pain?
For this reason, Mary’s joyful mysteries were not enough. They had to be supplemented by her sorrowful mysteries. In other words, how can Mary be what our Christian faith claims her to be – like Comforter of the Afflicted, and particularly Our Lady of Sorrows if she did not go through any form of suffering and misery herself? And it is in this sense that we can learn so much from Mary and her role as Sorrowful Mother.
My dear friends, for all of us, it is most natural that we prefer joyful moments over sorrowful moments. We prefer consolation over desolation. We prefer Easter Sunday over Good Friday. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with this. However, if exaggerated, one drawback to this approach to life is that we may end up continually avoiding and running away from life’s painful and distressing moments, in favor of its happy and consoling moments.
Of course, we should not go out of our way to proactively seek out painful and distressing moments in our lives. Nevertheless, if they do arise, we simply should accept and face them with much faith and courage.
In truth, my dear friends, as believers and disciples of our Lord, we need both. We need life’s sorrowful mysteries, just as much as we need its joyful mysteries. We need those tears of pain just as much as we need those tears of consolation. We need our Good Fridays just as much as we need our Easter Sundays. And why so?
Well, simply because if all our lives we have known only joy, comfort and peace, and have not known pain, suffering and affliction at all, then we have not known still the pains and sorrows of our Lord and his mother.
And our point here is – to be unfamiliar with the sorrows of Christ and Mary is to be unfamiliar with who they are and what they really have done for us (what they really have done for you) and our salvation – yes, all in the name of love.
And that is why today’s feast (plus yesterday’s – the Exaltation of the Cross) should serve as a gentle reminder to all of us believers (who call ourselves Christians) that there can be no Christ without a cross. There can be no Christianity, without Calvary. And for someone like Mary who was there with her son from the very start all the way to his cross, no doubt for her – Christ without a cross is not her Christ. And what is true with Mary should also be true with all of us.
And precisely, this brings us back to the earlier Fatima prayer of Benedict with that bullet in Mary’s crown. Once more, as the prayer proclaims – “(Indeed) dearest (Mary), it is our consolation that you are crowned not only with the silver and gold of our joys and hopes, but also with the ‘bullet’ of our anxieties and sorrows.” And I believe, this prayer of Benedict summarizes well what our feast today is really all about. It is all about Mary, as our Sorrowful Mother humbly taking in and embracing our joys and hopes, together with our anxieties and sorrows.
In short, when we go through our afflictions and difficult moments, we are never alone – the Lord always is with us just as Mary always is with us)
In this mass, let us then pray for ourselves that when painful, sorrowful times do come into our lives that we learn to stand our ground and just keep on trusting, keep on hoping – no matter what – just like – Mary.
Mary – Our Mother of Sorrows, pray for us!