(On September 15, the Church celebrates the Feast of Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows. Our Lady of Sorrows is the patroness of the Congregation of Holy Cross. I will be posting one of the seven sorrows each day leading up to the feast day. This is only part of a larger reflection that has not yet been published. The stories are meant to encourage your own reflection about each of the sorrows found in the gospels.)
The Third Sorrow: The loss of the child Jesus in the Temple
Each year his parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom.
After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.
Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers.
When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart.
Searching backward to belong
Jake sat across from me in a neighborhood coffee shop and slowly sipped his way through some horrifying moments of his story. While his coffee was still hot, he began to tell me that his mother sold him as a child to men for sex so she could get money for drugs. I noticed Jake’s hand beginning to tremble as he recalled the details he held only in his mind. I felt deeply humbled to receive even a piece of his story in the busy, music-filled room.
During the next several years over many cups of coffee, I learned more about his search to heal. Jake has searched his entire life to find his father and to put the broken pieces of his past together. He is so aware that those pieces are so shattered and devastating. Nevertheless, he wants to make sense out of his past, to finally feel and ponder the truth in his heart, no matter how painful the truth might be for him.
Jake was tortured and raped by many of those men that purchased him for sex. He was also bounced around to several foster families where the sexual abuse continued. His body carries the scars where men would beat him or tie him up. He was deemed “unadoptable” by the state as a child after he was gang raped in a barn by a group of teenagers. Jake still longs to find peace in his life after years of violence and neglect.
People made fun of him as a child because he was physically small and effeminate and so emotionally lost. Other kids called him, “Mary”. He was bounced around even over state lines and there was still no peace for him, no healing so that he could have a decent childhood. As Jake grew older, he became a heroin addict like his mother to escape his pain. His addiction was inevitable because that is all he knew growing up from the adults around him. He began to sell his body so that he could support his own heroin addiction. His adult life became a continuation of his childhood.
Jake found his way somehow to the Church as a young adult. His search for real parents led him to seek God. He found God through Mary. Jake came to believe that Mary would not abandon him. Jake knew that Mary had searched for her lost son. He wanted that for his own life. Jake discovered that Mary would search for him even when he was so wasted from drugs and alcohol. He believed that Mary could find him even on those nights that he had sold his body one more time. God drew him into the Church slowly and miraculously.
Jake overdosed on heroin just before his scheduled baptism at an Easter Vigil in a parish somewhere in the South. He was later washed in the Holy Spirit several weeks later during the Easter season after he had a few weeks of sobriety. To mark his entry into the Church, he had a large tattoo inked in elaborate calligraphy on his chest, “MARY.” This tattoo marked his body for the woman who walked with him to baptism, Mary the Mother of God. Jake’s tattoo was also a statement that he was claiming his own power from having been made fun of during his childhood. He wanted to own the fact that he had been made fun of and repeatedly called, “Mary.”
Jake turned to Mary because she could not explain to Jesus about his real, heavenly father. Jake believed that Mary would help him forget about his own mother and console him about not knowing and not understanding his biological father. He wanted a relationship with Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows because he wanted Mary to chase him down, to finally find him in his misery and call him back to his boyhood.
Jake’s adult life is consumed in hatred for his parents and his childhood. Jake’s suffering continues because he also lives with AIDS from the many years of sex and sharing needles. Jake is still addicted after many years of entering various recovery centers. His pain is too intense to forget. He holds on to Mary in his heart, however, even on the many days where his addictions scream at him to take his own life.
Jake’s story breaks my heart. I realize in the many years that I have listened to him that this scene of Mary and Joseph searching for the child has profound meaning across generations and places. The unexpected loss of a child for Mary becomes a rich and powerful story for so many people in our day and age that feel lost and separated from parents and family. This story is ongoing in so many people’s lives, especially for people who have been abused and neglected by their own parents.
I have no idea what happened to Jake. I do not know where his mother lives or if his father is still alive. I take to heart his story when I read again this Third Sorrow of Mary because the search for intimacy and union is life long; the search is profound in ways in which I cannot comprehend. Mary is the mother of a lost child, a broken relationship that lasts for even just a moment in time. The fact of this severed relationship offers hope to many people who search backwards in time to make sense out of their childhoods in order to find a place on earth in the present in which they can belong.
Have you ever been “lost” from a person you loved?
How do you turn to God when you feel lost from other people?