Our Lady of Sorrows

The Seven Sorrows of Our Lady:

  1. The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple
  2. The Flight into Egypt
  3. Jesus Lost in Jerusalem
  4. Meeting her son on the Via Dolorosa
  5. The Crucifixion
  6. The Descent from the Cross
  7. The Burial of Christ

As converts, there are some Catholic things that take longer for us to ‘get’. Our Sorrowful Mother is one of them. Protestantism (especially the American form) isn’t too strong on a theology of suffering. American optimism and the constant push for success and the drive to look good, feel good and banish all forms of negativity, sickness, ugliness and pain is a benefit, but unless there is some way to deal with the dark side of our existence, this optimism can simply become a shallow form of escapism.

Christianity is the one world religion that has a profound and disturbing answer to the world’s sorrows: we go through them. This theology is woven through the New Testament at every turn–from Jesus saying that we cannot be his disciple unless we take up our cross and follow him to St Paul saying that he ‘dies daily’, that he has a ‘thorn in the flesh’ that his sufferings ‘help to complete what was lacking the cross of Christ.’

It took me a while to understand that Our Lady of Sorrows is a similar embrace of suffering as part of Christ’s once for all redemption of the world. It was prophesied to her that ‘a sword shall pierce your own heart also.’ That Mary suffers with her Son is her identification, like Paul’s with the cross of Christ, and Christ uses this suffering as part of the continued outworking of his redemptive act. Mary always show us where we must go, and if we follow Christ, then sooner or later, to a greater or lesser degree, we will have to take up a cross. Its not an option. Its a command. It goes with the territory.

One of the most frightening aspects of modern American Protestantism is not only a quiet ignorance and dismissal of this crucial part of our faith, but also an active preaching against it. Charismatic preachers who focus only on healing and only on ‘spiritual success’ are preaching heresy, for heresy is the preaching of one truth to the exclusion of others. Preachers who tell their audience that Christ always wants to heal and that all sickness is a sign of sin or lack of faith are false teachers. They ignore an important strand of Biblical teaching and the final result of their false teaching is counter productive to the Christian faith.

People are not dumb. They know that not everyone is healed by Christ. They know that good people suffer. They know that little children suffer horrible diseases. They know how much that suffering hurts. They know that when the preachers turn out the lights, send the rock band home and head to the office to count the collection that countless hospital beds continue to be filled with suffering souls. So what do they conclude? That the healing ministry is a joke. That the preacher is a fraud. That Christians are dumb mugs, and that Christ is dead, not alive.

A full and consistent Christian faith must have a complete and profound theology of suffering. We must pray for healing and expect Christ to heal, but we must also be able to give an answer to those who continue to suffer. The answer must be deep and compassionate and help them to see that there is still meaning and reason to life and that their suffering may just be the way that they enter most fully into that meaning. In my experience it is only the Catholic theology of suffering which empowers people to identify most closely with the cross of Christ.

The shallow feel good gospel which is being promoted in contrast to this is theological bubble gum. It’s sweet, it keeps your mouth busy, but there’s no nutritional value and it rots your teeth.

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02000106556898498656 Sir Watkin

    "Protestantism (especially the American form) isn't too strong on a theology of suffering"Odd. I'd have said that the theology of suffering was an area of common heritage between Catholics and protestants, despite the divisions of the sixteenth century.(Even Our Lady's role, being thoroughly biblical, is less controversial than some other aspects of Mariology.)If anything, protestantism, with its roots so firmly in a particular part of Europe in the late Mediaeval period (and thus lacking the balance which Catholicism's broader historical and geographical perspective brings), rather overdoes it.But perhaps, as you imply, America is different. Perhaps, too, liberalism is another factor: liberal protestantism is so often not merely a retreat from the classical form, but a reversal or mirror image of it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12044861299107622964 Riley

    I deal with chronic pain. The only teaching which has started making sense to me are the writings of John Paul II who suffered much in his life,and Fr. Dwight's writings here. I am a Lutheran who greatly desires conversion. Please pray for me.Riley

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00165820389106598455 Jenny Z

    I've never understood the first sorrow. What was so sorrowful about the presentation? It's in the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Fr Longenecker

    That's when the prophecy was made that 'a sword will pierce your own heart also.' Luke 2:35

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00165820389106598455 Jenny Z

    Aaah!! That makes sense, thanks Father :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14485768454161100884 Neophyte

    That's good preaching Father.As a new convert I haven't had an opportunity to learn about that yet.I will ponder it intently though.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12896735513158371547 MamaMidwife

    Riley,I will add you to my list of prayer intentions.Godspeed in your conversion. And may Mama Mary always be with you.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11153355585571358736 truthfinder

    Riley,I will pray for you, too. I have only been a Catholic for five years. I have absolutely no regrets, except that I waited so long. Rosemary

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09136169986057927090 Find joy in every journey

    The Church's teaching on suffering has helped me cope much better with our cross of infertility. I try daily to unite my sufferings with the Cross.