About 15 years ago, I met a couple whose 20-year-old daughter was instantly killed when her car was hit by a train. She died five minutes after she walked out of her parents’ home. She was on her way to class at Illinois Central College. When she left the house, her mother told her goodbye and told her that she looked beautiful.
The young college student obviously had not seen the train prior to crossing the railroad tracks. She lived with her parents in a rural area and there were no flashing lights or gates that came down when a train was approaching.
When I met the parents, the father of the girl seemed like he was getting along alright, but the mother was still completely numb. Even though it had been more than a year since the accident, the mother continued to visit her daughter’s gravesite every day. Most days, she would spend more than an hour at the cemetery crying.
About eight years ago, a young man whom I knew died from an aneurism in his brain. At the time of his death, he was in his early 20s. His mother had so much trouble dealing with his death that she was put on medication to help her cope. The last I heard, she was still taking medication to manage the ongoing depression that was caused by the death of her son.
Whenever I think of the fifth of the Seven Sorrows of Mary, the death of Jesus on the cross, I think of the two women I just mentioned. If you ask a mother about a child she has lost, regardless of the amount of time that has passed, she cannot help but relive the suffering she experienced when her child died.
We know from Saint John that Mary was at the foot of the cross when her Son was crucified: “Meanwhile, standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala.” John 19:25.
Commenting on the suffering Mary experienced when she witnessed her Son’s death, Saint Bernard said, “Mary was a martyr, not by the sword of the executioner, but by the bitter sorrow of heart.” Saint Alphonsus Liquori wrote that Mary was the “Queen of Martyrs” because her martyrdom was longer in duration than that of all the martyrs, and it was also “the greatest in point of intensity.”
Saint Antoninus said that “while other martyrs suffered by sacrificing their own lives, the Blessed Virgin suffered by sacrificing her Son’s life, a life that she loved far more than her own; so that she not only suffered in her soul all that her Son endured in His body, but moreover the sight of her Son’s torments brought more grief to her heart than she had endured all in her own person.”
Saint Bridget wrote that “even after the death and ascension of her Son, whether she ate or worked, the remembrance of His passion was ever deeply impressed on her mind, and fresh in her tender heart.”
In addition to the suffering she experienced from seeing her Son tortured and murdered, the Blessed Mother also suffered as a result of listening to others taunt Him. She observed people whom her Son came to save accuse Him of being a thief and an impostor. She heard them yell out comments such as, “If He is the King of Israel, let Him come down from the cross.” and “He saved others, why can’t He save Himself?” Every comment ended up being a razor-sharp sword that pierced her heart.
Can you imagine what she thought when she heard Him call out to His Eternal Father, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” Her agony had to be extreme. Although she wanted to embrace and comfort Him, she had no choice but to stand in silence, grieving.
In a comment on the suffering Mary endured, Saint Bernadine of Siena said, “The grief of Mary was so great that were it divided amongst all men, it would suffice to cause their immediate death.”
Despite being forced to endure her own martyrdom, Mary lovingly accepted God’s will. What kind of person would you be if you had the ability to accept suffering with the same level of humility, faith, and courage that Mary had when she was confronted with her Son’s death?
The Catholic Church has taught us that prior to Jesus dying on the cross, He made Mary the mother of all mankind: “When Jesus therefore had seen his mother and the disciple standing whom he loved, he said to his mother: Woman, behold thy son. After that, he said to the disciple: Behold thy mother. And from that hour, the disciple took her as his own.” John 19:27-27.
The Church has interpreted this passage to mean that Saint John was a representative of each and every one of us. When Jesus identified him as a son of Mary, He also identified each one of us as her son or daughter.
As our perfect mother in heaven, Mary has the ability and power to assist us in all our needs, including our suffering. There has never been a mother who has traveled a more horrific road than the road to suffering that she traveled.
She is waiting for you and me to call out to her in prayer. The moment we call her name, she will be at our sides to assist us with our suffering.