In the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem is the ever-venerated rock of Calvary upon which stood the royal cross of Jesus Christ. A few feet to the right of the Calvary memorial is the icon of the Sorrowful Mother that dramatically portrays Mary’s heart pierced by one singular, large sword. In Jerusalem both memorials are appropriately side-by-side just as the Church’s liturgy honors the Exaltation of the Cross and Our Lady of Sorrows coupled in consecutive days.
The first reading of the Mass describes the Lord’s reaction to the disgruntled Israelites in the desert. After sending a plague of snakes, the Lord relented because they repented. Then the Lord told Moses to make a bronze serpent, which he put on a stand so that if any afflicted person looked upon the bronze figure, they’d be cured. This was the foreshadowing of Christ being lifted up on the cross so that we who gaze upon Him with faith receive the gift of salvation. The Lord told Nicodemus, “The Son of Man must be lifted up as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (Jn 3:14-15). Henceforth, the cross is the path of salvation, holiness, healing.
The cross is present in our lives in different ways. Today’s feast offers the opportunity for us to prayerfully consider what is our habitual disposition when we come face to face with the cross, with the Crucified Jesus, and His Sorrowful Mother? Personally, in the darkest hours of suffering I find the greatest consolation by contemplating the crucifix, the passion of Christ, and the sorrows of Mary. The cross is the place where my suffering meets the Lord’s and finds meaning and value. The sorrowful Mother is my refuge; she understands every kind of human suffering. She stays with us while grace carries us through the fire of purifications and pain.
In my work in the Church’s ministry of healing, deliverance and exorcism, repeatedly I observe the unspeakable power of lifting up the cross of Jesus as the most effective victory sign over evil. That is why the devils cower before the Crucifix now. And they flee the presence of the all-humble, holy Mother of God who did not recoil from the cross.
The Seven Sorrows of Mary
In the Church of the Holy Sepulcher Mary’s seven sorrows are represented in the one very large sword that pierces through her maternal heart and represents the perfect suffering of Mother of Christ.
Our Lady’s seven sorrows include the following. I’ve proposed the grace we can gain from them.
- The Presentation
Faith to receive the prophetic word of God
- The Flight Into Egypt
Trust in divine providence
- Loss of Jesus for Three Days
Perseverance to look and find the Lord
- The Way of Calvary
Courage to be faithful in suffering
- The Crucifixion
- The Descent from the Cross
Hope in the face of tragedy
- The Burial of Jesus
Mercy in caring for the body and soul
On pilgrimages to the Holy Land, I received the grace to spend many hours in prayer in the still of the night sitting at Calvary and at icon of the Sorrowful Mother.
For the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross and the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, I offer the following reflection wherein we consider what the Lord Jesus may have communicated to His sorrowful Mother—speaking heart to heart on the Via Dolorosa.
Mother, be valiant as you always are. Mother, they deride me, but they will not disrespect you. No one will lay a hand on you, Mother of the Condemned One. No one will speak an unkind word to you, Mother of the Messiah. They will not cease their cruelty against me until I breathe my last. Death by crucifixion is their only aim. It is sport to them.
The devils are unleashed to enter this crowd to carry out the most tortuous execution possible. But the devils will not dare to harm you. The Father will not permit it. Legions flee from you because you are altogether too much for the fallen angels. Any number of people will do their evil bidding but not you.
Mother, I know that you choose to share in my physical pain. It is enough that you share the pain of my soul. Your sorrow is seven times complete. Our two hearts are beating in love’s synchronized rhythm that we always share. This maddening crowd stares at you, “There is his mother”. While they have no sympathy for me, you elicit sympathy from them.
Mother, your tears are sanctifying the earth. They fall and mingle with my blood and sweat to purify the earth’s children. Mother, your Son’s hour is now. We talked about this moment. We prepared one another for this hour. My enemies think that it is their hour. But we know the truth.
Mother, your tender heart is pierced as the prophet Simeon foretold. Your noble heart is completely anguished, and at the same time, rapt in selfless love. My pure Mother, your love always tends upward. You could no more wish ill upon my persecutors than I could. Your suffering is complete because of the affection that you have for these people. You know that I love them and so do you. Love bears all things with equanimity.
Mother, your eyes speak volumes to me. You are always full of grace, my humble, tender Mother. Valiant Lady, thank you for accompanying me on the Via Dolorosa. My friends fled in fear. You remain with me always. Take courage now, as I must complete the mission. That I may finish the sacrifice I shall not receive the consolation of your loving gaze again until this Body is raised on the third day.
Let me look at your lovely face one last time before it is finished. Your countenance is sorrowful but noble, more beautiful than ever. My Queen, your heart is well prepared for the piercing sword of bitter sorrow. Most holy Mother, I die for you also. My will is fixed, Mother, fiat!
With the praying Church that exalts the Cross and loves the Sorrowful Mother, let us sing, “Lift high the Cross, the love of Christ proclaim ‘til all the world adore His sacred Name. Come, brethren, follow where our Captain trod, our King victorious, Christ the Son of God. Led on their way by this triumphant sign, the hosts of God in conquering ranks combine. Each newborn soldier of the Crucified bears on the brow the seal of him who died. This is the sign which Satan’s legions fear and angels veil their faces to revere. Saved by this Cross whereon their Lord was slain, the sons of Adam their lost home regain. From north and south, from east and west they raise in growing unison their songs of praise. O Lord, once lifted on the glorious tree, as thou hast promised, draw the world to thee. Let every race and every language tell of him who saves our souls from death and hell. From farthest regions let their homage bring, and on his Cross adore their Savior King. Set up thy throne, that earth’s despair may cease beneath the shadow of its healing peace.” (Words: George William Kitchen and Michael Robert Newbolt, 1916)