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The Sixth Sorrow of Mary

The name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 What image comes to mind when you think of motherhood? Well, perhaps the most common image is or pictures of motherhood is that some form of image of Madonna and child that really takes center stage around Christmas time. However, this image of a mother holding her child presupposes another moment, because every birth is preceded by a conception. The mystery of our Lord's Nativity is preceded by the mystery of the Annunciation. And recalling that first joyful mystery, the Angel Gabriel delivers the divine invitation that Mary is chosen to be the mother of God's son. Our Lady is given a free choice to accept or to reject the gift of the son and to accept or reject the invitation to motherhood and so you see that the first movement of the vocation of motherhood and fatherhood occurs the moment that mothers and fathers are open to life and invitation that is sadly rejected all too often in this modern world. The Blessed Virgin Mary personifies what it means to be open to life, to receive the gift of new life. Motherhood requires a fundamental trust in the love of the Heavenly Father, and this trust in the Heavenly Father bear’s fruit.

Our Lady's Yes. Or we say oftentimes in Latin Fiat, the word meaning let it be her willing acceptance to the gift of her son is the first movement of motherhood. This first joyful mystery of the annunciation moves then to the third joyful mystery in which she gives birth to the son of God. She receives her divine Son accepts him, and then she wraps him in swaddling clothes and lays him in a manger. The son is newborn. He is full of life, Hope, expectation. This familiar image of mother and son projects the tenderness, the tranquility of the vocation of motherhood. However, this image only communicates the first part of the mystery of motherhood. Because as soon as we are born, we begin a pilgrimage towards death and it's precisely there at death that we encounter a second image of motherhood, seeing the life of Jesus and Mary.

The third joyful mystery 33 years later becomes the sixth and the seventh sorrow of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the sixth sorrow of our Lady occurs when she receives her son after his crucifixion and death on the cross. This time when she receives his body, it is lifeless, drained of expectation. The seventh sorrow of our lady occurs when she once again wraps his body in swaddling clothes. Only this time she lays him not in a manger, but in the tomb. The tears of joy that were shed at his birth have become the bitter tears of sorrow shed at his death. And yet, we might say there's a sort of a faint echo of the mother's words that can still be heard through her pain and sorrow. Fiat, let it be done to me, according to your word. Our lady continues to bear witness, even at death, to the lesson of motherhood. The fundamental receptivity to the will of God. This is foundational for motherhood. In his will is our peace. And like that serene image of the Madonna and child, the ties that's been called the mother holding her adult son lifeless body also radiates the tenderness and tranquility of motherhood. It is actually a very peaceful image. Our Lady, or rather our Lord, is comforted by our lady in both scenes, in both moments at his birth and at his death. And so we discover that motherhood begins with receiving the gift of a child. But motherhood doesn't end there. After receiving and caring for that child, every mother must give that child back to God.

Back to the Heavenly Father. The sixth and the seventh star of Our Lady completes the mystery of motherhood.

Now, this is a lesson that seems rather abstract, but it's something that I encountered firsthand a number of years ago. That's when I first learned this lesson. Many of you know my brother Mark. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer five years ago. Now, many of you prayed for him, prayed for his family and my family during his battle on behalf of Mark and his family, were very grateful for your prayers and for your sacrifices these five years. My brother Mark died in November, just days before Thanksgiving, and I had the privilege of offering his funeral mass. But 12 years ago, my sister-in-law, Pamela and Mark, Mark's wife, was pregnant with their fourth child, Elizabeth Marie. The day came for Pamela to deliver the child. However, when she arrived at the hospital, they discovered that their daughter died that day before she was born. Mark and Pamela, of course, were devastated. They began the day expecting to greet their daughter. Instead, they had to say goodbye. The joy and hope of birth was immediately transformed into sorrow and grief. In other words, Pamela expected to experience the third joyful mystery birth, but instead found herself confronting the sorrow of our lady death. As you know, this is every parent's nightmare. You see, life and death, as we know, are certainly connected. But life and death are not supposed to be so close together. Why did God permit Elizabeth to die so young without even experiencing a life out of the womb? Why did God choose Mark and Pamela to experience this grief, this sorrow, and this pain? What purpose did they serve? There were many unanswered questions, and many questions linger to this day. Now, some parents here can identify with Mark and Pamela. Some of you had have had to bury a child. Some of you will one day, unfortunately, bury a child. And the universal response of every parent who experiences the injustice of an untimely death is the same. Parents shouldn't have to bury their children. I hear this over and over again. 12 years ago, I had the privilege of offering Elizabeth Marie's funeral mass. And when my brother Mark came in carrying the tiny cast a casket in procession and into the church for the funeral up to the altar, the mysterious vocation of motherhood and fatherhood became clear. Receiving the gift of a child is only the first part of the vocation of motherhood and fatherhood. Giving the gift of the child back to the Heavenly Father is what completes the vocation. In other words, all persons belong first to God, not to us. Parents are rather stewards of the gifts that ultimately belong first to the Heavenly Father.


So therefore, the vocation of motherhood and fatherhood is beautifully defined by our Lady. Our lady demonstrates that fundamental receptivity to the will of God produces joy. The joy of receiving a gift. Gift of a child. But she also reminds us that the receptivity to the will of God can also include sorrow, the sorrow of having to detach from the child and giving the gift back to the father. So now we see that the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary remind us that God allowed our Lady to experience more grief, more sorrow, more pain, more agony than we could ever imagine that any of us could ever experience. And the father loved this daughter, the mother of God, more than any other human person. Our lady was not spared this grief, nor should we be expected to be spared of the sorrowful mysteries of life. So, as we enter into Passion high this week and into Holy week next week, we're reminded that motherhood is not merely captured in that sweet image of Madonna and child, but also includes the mother holding her son's lifeless body before she talked him into the womb, the womb of the tomb. But as we know, this is not the end of the story. In a fallen world, the joyful mysteries of life become the sorrowful mysteries. But you see, these only set the stage for the glorious mysteries yet to come.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.


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