How To Be Sorry

It’s a meaningful truth about the Church, that she restores true meaning to our distorted language. Thus being scandalous is not simply ‘being publicly sinful’ or ‘wearing a little clothing at a lot of clubs’, as our Pop music might suggest. It is leading the innocent astray by sinful example. In this sense, a prostitute might be innocent of scandal, for who is led to believe that pre-marital sex is virtuous by the example of prostitution? Our President, however, is guilty of scandal in his promotion of abortion. Likewise, the Church teaches that Love is not some indescribable warm emotion or feeling, but that it is “a divinely infused habit, inclining the human will to cherish God for his own sake above all things, and man for the sake of God.” Bam. A word receives meaning. The masses are thankful.

But I’m not just giving you another reason why the Catholic Church is the greatest idea we’ve had since the brewing of beer. (Alright, so maybe I am, leave me alone.) No, I want to focus on the fact that we just celebrated the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, and probably have very little idea why. A terrible Feast, an awful Celebration. A gloriously dark Holy Day. Mary’s heart is pierced by the sword, and we are told not to merely emphasize, not to simply ‘feel bad’ for her, but to enter into her Sorrow, to see it as a part of our own reality. To hurt. Given that we live in a world invested heavily in the business of avoiding sorrow, is it ever anything but a contradiction that we are called to lift our eyes and to raise our hands to heaven not to receive comfort, but a piercing sword?

Why? Like love, like scandal, we have to ask, “What is true Sorrow?” Paul hints at an answer in his letter to the Corinthians. Speaking to a repentant church he says, “For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” He makes a distinction between godly sorrow and worldly sorrow.


I would define worldly sorrow as grief. It is the feeling of sadness without hope, the despairing cry that, “everything’s gone!”, or that “there’s nothing left to live for!” And while we are always allowed to grieve – perhaps over a national tragedy or the death of a loved one – this emotional sadness is always temporary. There are times of grieving. This implies that there are times when the same grieving must cease. To be forever grieving is to have no hope of future happiness, and that – most certainly – is not what we are being called to when we gaze at our Sorrowful Mother. No, grief is a passing thing. We are called into Sorrow.

I got a great insight into the meaning of Sorrow from Hillsong’s Hosanna, in that beautiful line, “break my heart for what breaks yours.” What an earth-shaking request. I’ll give it away then: Sorrow is the sadness of God. Sorrow is weeping, not for ourselves, but for love of Christ. With Christ. To be broken-hearted for the same reason He is broken-hearted. When our pain and His are united, then we have Sorrow.

What is His pain? In a word, it is Sin. Sin and Sin’s wage; Death. To cry over the loss of a job is grief. To be struck with the full tragedy and reality of abortion is an experience of Sorrow. This definition helps to make sense of why we say “sorry”. We say ‘I’m sorry’ when we sin against some one; it is the acknowledgment of the reality and effect of our sins. True, we might say we’re ‘sorry’ when a neighbor’s house burns down, but the reply is often, “Don’t be, it wasn’t your fault.” This is because being sorry implies being sorrowful, and being sorrowful means to be experiencing the sadness of God, and our God weeps for our sins, not our stubbed toes. Truly, the tears of Love are the one thing worth crying about.

The Church celebrates the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows between Good Fridays, pulling us back to the Cross. So to a world that seems to think the meaning of life is having cheesy grin of pleasure pasted on your face as often as you can, the Church puts forth an invitation to enter into Sorrow. To have our hearts broken. And, at the end of it all, true Sorrow can only lead us to greater freedom and joy, because once we realize what’s really worth our tears, our daily sufferings, annoyances and distractions will melt away.

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  • athanasius

    Some very thoughtful reflections here. I have had many times when I have been deeply aware that this fallen existence is NOT the best of all possible worlds.

  • egosumbarb

    Beautiful. Post.

  • Anonymous

    This is why I love Lord of the Rings, it's not merely a good story, and it's not just about good triumphing over evil, it's about sorrow, the sorrow that there is evil that must be conquered, the sorrow of Paradise, something that is lost and can never be returned.-Sky

  • Maggie

    Anonymous is so right. A very lovely post.

  • Sophia’s Favorite

    Huh, thing ate my last comment. Let's hope this doesn't show up double. If it does, let's keep this second one, kay?Anyway. Anonymous, I don't know if I'd consider "that there is evil that must be conquered" an occasion for sorrow, or for rage. The fact Tolkien doesn't really get "righteous fury" is one of his few weaknesses. I think it's because the Orcs, Trolls, and Nazgûl are portrayed as nearly lacking free will, so the things they do are just met with sorrow and grim determination. But righteous fury has served Christendom quite well when the time comes for it to fight; "Id Deu vult" is not a sorrowful slogan, it is an angry one.The fact he does understand righteous fury, as well as sorrow, is why Chesterton is still the greatest English Catholic writer, and Tolkien will have to be content with inventing a whole new genre.

  • Debbie Sercely

    The Pieta you posted is SO lovely. I don’t know if we had the original in our local art museum, but it was 10 feet tall and the halos were blinding. I have a copy on my wall. I love that painting. :)