So often in counseling or the confessional I come across grieving mothers. Mothers who are so terrible concerned for their children who are straying–mothers upset about their childrens’ loss of faith. Mothers worried about their children’s choice of spouse, their grandchildren’s religious education, their children’s career choice. You name it.
The typical male response is, “Get over it.” But I realize that the mother has a bond with the child that the father doesn’t really understand. Mama finds it difficult–very difficult to let go.
There’s a little line at the heart of Arthur Miller’s play, The Death of a Salesman where Willy Loman’s wife, Linda sits on the stage alone. Her sons have both turned out to be losers. One she hasn’t heard of for years. The other one is a layabout and a phony. Then her husband commits suicide. In her grief she says, “Life is a casting off.”
So it is. Life is about letting go, not grabbing. We must, in the end, let go of all things and go out of this world naked and alone–just as we came into it. Life is a preparation for this final letting go, and therefore we should start practicing how. Throw the lumber overboard! Life is a casting off.
This is where the devotion of the Seven Sorrows of Mary can help women. In the seven sorrows the Blessed Mother struggles to cast off. Of all women she has an even closer bond to her child than others. Because she has the perfect bond with her son, the tearing away of motherhood is even more poignant and painful. Identifying with her sorrows through this devotion can help women make sense of their own suffering with their families.
How does this work? Like this: First sorrow–the prophecy of Simeon that a sword would pierce her own heart also. Women who are suffering begin to realize that this special mother’s suffering is a way to draw closer to Christ and through their suffering a sword will pierce their own heart, and that this is part of the mystery of being one with Christ.
Second sorrow is the flight into Egypt. We realize that life is a pilgrimage. It is a casting off. It means not putting our tent pegs in too deep. There’s a part of the Christian life which is nomadic. In other words, build a wonderful home and family, but don’t invest too much in it emotionally because even this good thing is not permanent. If you make your home and children and family your god, then you will be disappointed. Even our loved ones must be cast off to follow Christ. Our home and family and earthly loves are temporary. They are provisional. The flight into Egypt reminds us that we are all spiritually speaking–refugees.
Third sorrow is losing the Christ child in the temple. At the age of puberty the child is starting to leave you. Don’t cling to him or her. Parenting for teenagers is a different task than parenting children. Once they start to become adults the parents’ job is to enable and empower their transition to independence. When your teens seek independence and privilege grant them responsibility with it. Help them transition into the independence they need. It hurts because many mothers want to keep their kids in that earlier child like stage. It doesn’t work. You’ve got to let them go, and help them fly the nest.
Fourth sorrow is meeting Christ on the way of the Cross. When kids suffer mothers suffer. When kids go wrong. Mothers suffer. Mary walks in the way of the cross with her son. Often when kids get into trouble the best thing for Mama to do is to simply be there–to go through the problem with them and suffer with them. When Mothers step in to make things better and solve all the problems very often they make them worse. Instead, we sometimes have to simply go with the problems and accept the suffering and bear the burden with the child and let them work it out–even when we see them messing up more.
Fifth sorrow is the death of her son. There are all sorts of ‘death’ besides physical death, and all Mary can do is watch and grieve and give it to God. So with irrevocable bad choices which our children make which we feel are a kind of death–maybe they marry the wrong person or they commit some terrible crime or leave the faith altogether–all we can do is observe. We can do nothing about. They have free will. They must choose. All we can do is offer it up and give it to God and hope somehow, some way in his wonderful and loving providence he will turn it around to the good and bring salvation and redemption out of the tragedy.
Sixth sorrow is the Blessed Mother taking down the body of her son from the cross. This is the pieta. Once again, all Mary can do is accept and grieve and give it to God. Here in the depth of sorrow she is one with her son. This is why the pieta–with the sorrowful mother cradling her dead son is so poignant and powerful. A sword has pierced her own heart also. Simeon’s prophecy is fulfilled and she suffers a kind of death in his death. Likewise, when our children ‘die’ either literally or spiritually and socially, we die with them and can only accept it and make sense of it inasmuch as it takes us more intimately into the death of Christ our Redeemer.
Finally, Mary helps to lay her son to rest. This is the final ‘casting off’. She has handed him back to God who gave him to her in the first place. So with our children. They belong to God. He gave them to us to be stewards of his children of light. They were given to us as our most precious gifts and at the heart of our devotion to him we will have to hand them back. But in this exchange God returns them to us in a greater and more cosmic union–the union and re-union we all have within the mystical body of his Son.
The practical way to connect with the seven sorrows of Mary is through the devotion of the Seven Sorrows (aka the Seven Dolors) You can learn how to practice this devotion here. It consists in saying a chaplet like a rosary with particular prayers. Using the rosary in this way to connect with the events of our ordinary lives and bring Christ’s healing into our lives is also the subject of my book Praying the Rosary for Inner Healing.
What intrigues me is that the Catholic Church has a powerful healing ministry. Through the traditional devotions the Holy Spirit can work to touch the deepest areas of our lives and transform us into the whole and complete saints God wants us to be.