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.