On June 14, 2022, we installed a new bronze statue of Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows on an outside wall of Sacred Heart Church. In the bulletin for June 26, I reflect on the image and the devotion.
Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows: Sculpture by Joel Ernster
For nearly fifty years, I have prayed with the image of Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, the Patroness of the Congregation of Holy Cross. This image of Mary speaks tenderly to me amid people’s suffering. I have turned to her in times of personal anguish. Her response to Jesus’ suffering helps me stand alongside the suffering of so many people in our parish. Her life helps me know that I am not alone when people experience the death of a child, or loss of a long-time job, or a devasting divorce, or a new diagnosis of cancer.
I have learned in my years of formation in Holy Cross and in pastoral ministry that I cannot control suffering or the reality of loss in our human condition. In faith, I entrust such experiences to Jesus Christ. Mary, along the way, offers a model to all of us to stand with hope, to pray with courage, and to believe that all suffering brings us closer to the person of Jesus Christ.
I recognize Mary’s role in suffering. I live this daily. She did not control suffering. She did not change it. She did not ignore it or wish it away. She pondered it all in her heart. I must believe this, especially in the constant reality of pain over which I have no control. I cannot change such pain. I am called to pray with the reality of what is, and not how I wish life to be. This devotion to Mary is not pious nonsense. Her place at Jesus’ side helps us all to stay involved in human anguish and to remain believers in God who has created us and will never abandon us. Mary stood next to Jesus’ passion out of love. We do the same among those we love. Love is the force that strengthens faith.
In my nine years as pastor, I have spoken many times about Our Lady of Sorrows. I painted an image of her that hangs in our vestibule of Sacred Heart Church. Her heart is painted in the reredos near the tabernacle. So, now I leave you with one more image of Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows. This new sculpture created by Sacred Heart Parishioner Dr. Joel Ernster, speaks to our life as a parish community. As we enter the church, we see the invitation to stand among the suffering of people in our world. I leave you with this image as a reminder that we are a community formed by the tradition of the Congregation of Holy Cross. This devotion is not reserved for priests only. This devotion is meant to be lived by the People of God.
I invite you to take Mary to heart. I want you to fully understand Mary’s role in the suffering of her son, Jesus. To do so, you must pray for the real needs of people. We are all faced with public grief. There is so much to grieve in our world today: mass shootings, wars, violence, heartaches of divisions and neglect, poverty, and mental illness. Life can be overwhelming. However, this is where our faith comes to our aid. The person of Jesus Christ is our center, our way of life. To help us heal, we have Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, who walks with us, who shows us we are not alone.
Why is Our Lady of Sorrows depicted with swords? Well, the image comes from the First Sorrow, the moment of Jesus being presented in the Temple. Simeon suggests to Mary that her life will never be the same. A sword will pierce her heart as she journeys with her son, Jesus. It is a foreshadowing of Jesus’s passion and death.
The Seven Sorrows of Mary are represented in the sculpture by seven swords. These are the seven moments in the gospels that create this devotion. In these seven scenes in the gospel, Mary witnesses the suffering of her son. She holds such suffering in her heart. The Seven Sorrows are: The First Sorrow: The Prophesy of Simeon, Luke 2: 27-35. The Second Sorrow: The Flight into Egypt, Luke 2:27-35. The Third Sorrow: The Loss of the child Jesus in the Temple, Luke 3:41-50. The Fourth Sorrow: Mary meets Jesus on the road to Calvary, Luke 23: 27-30. The Fifth Sorrow: Jesus dies on the cross, John 19:25-30. The Sixth Sorrow: Mary receiving the body of Jesus in her arms, Mark 15: 42-47. The Seventh Sorrow: The body of Jesus is placed in the tomb, John 19: 40-42.
Please learn these moments in scripture and take them to heart. Know the places in the gospels that are there as scenes of grace to console you. It is worth the time, believe me.
I want you to pray with this sculpture. I want you to use this sculpture as a place for public grief in moments of tragedy. I want you to find this space outside our church as a place to put flowers or notes or cards or prayer requests. This magnificent piece of art demands a response by us who pray. I leave you this idea and desire for you to pray.
As I ponder the new sculpture outside our church door, a couple of things strike me. First, the image reveals itself in our parking lot. Even as we enter the block, the beauty of this piece speaks to us of faith. As we walk down the sidewalk by Saint Andre House, it keeps revealing something new, in different light. When we approach, the plaque offers us an explanation of Mary. Then, when we get close to the sculpture, Mary’s tear is revealed. I believe the essence of this sculpture is Mary’s tear. When we get close to her in prayer, she also sees our tears. She is one with all humanity. She cares for us who seek her son, Jesus. There is only love in her tear.
On the first day the sculpture was installed on June 14, I came back to the parish after dark to see how the lights of the yard would shine on the art. As I approached the sculpture, there was a man sleeping on the sidewalk. I must believe Mary cares for what we care about, the well-being of all humanity. I leave you, the parish community, under the protection of Mary, Mother of Sorrows.
Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us.
Sacred Heart of Jesus, console your people.