By Christina Mayeux
Anxiety and depression are on the rise. Even people who are faith-filled, devoted Christians often face difficulties with anxiety, fear, and sadness. However, we are not alone when we experience the inner anguish of mental suffering. Jesus himself sweat blood in the Garden of Gethsemane as he immersed himself in prayer, preparing himself for his impending Passion and death on the Cross. Our Blessed Mother also encountered much suffering, sorrow, and anxiety, as the prophet Simeon announced at the Presentation of Our Lord. “And you yourself a sword will pierce,” he forewarned Mary, predicting that she would feel the effects of the suffering her Son was to endure. Undoubtedly, much of the suffering of Jesus and Mary
would have been affliction of the soul, as they endured the trials and tribulations of their lives on earth and the devastating effects of Jesus’ Passion and death. Having experienced this suffering, they can certainly understand and relate to the hardships of those of us who suffer in mind or spirit.
Our Lady lived her life in perfect obedience to God’s plan of salvation, even when she endured moments of sorrow and anxiety during her life on earth. Because she steadfastly remained at the foot of the Cross with her Son, she experienced a share in the suffering which he encountered in the Passion. She is the perfect image of faithfulness and devotion to Jesus, and she gives us a perfect example of how to suffer faithfully and well. We can be sure that she also accompanies us whenever we endure painful trials and tribulations.
The Church honors Mary under the title of Our Lady of Sorrows on her feast day, September 15. We remember not only her sufferings at the Passion and death of Our Lord, but also the seven dolors, or sorrows, she experienced throughout her life that were foretold by Simeon at the Presentation. What are these Seven Sorrows of Mary? They are events from the life of the Blessed Virgin in which she suffered alongside her Son Jesus and participated in his redemptive mission.
They are as follows:
- The Prophecy of Simeon (Luke 2:34-35)
- The Flight into Egypt (Matthew 2:13-21)
- The Loss of Jesus for Three Days (Luke 2:41-50)
- The Carrying of the Cross (John 19:17)
- The Crucifixion of Jesus (John 19:18-30)
- Jesus Taken Down from the Cross (John 19:39-40)
- Jesus Laid in the Tomb (John 19:39-42
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) affirms that Mary cooperated fully with the sacrifice of Christ and remained in union with him throughout his act of redemption: “Mary’s role in the Church is inseparable from her union with Christ and flows directly from it. “This union of the mother with the Son in the work of salvation is made manifest from the time of Christ’s virginal conception up to his death”; it is made manifest above all at the hour of his Passion:
“Thus, the Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross. There she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, enduring with her only begotten Son the intensity of his suffering, joining herself with his sacrifice in her mother’s heart, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this victim, born of her: to be given, by the same Christ Jesus dying on the cross, as a mother to his disciple, with these words: ‘Woman, behold your son. ” (CCC, 964)
How can the Seven Sorrows strengthen and console us when we are going through difficult times? Throughout the trials of my own life, I have been uplifted and consoled by considering the suffering of Mary under the title of Our Lady of Sorrows. After hearing the testimony of Rwandan genocide survivor Immaculee Ilibigaza and Our Lady’s urgent message to return to prayer, I began praying the Seven Sorrows Rosary. In her approved apparitions to the visionaries in Kibeho, Our Lady urged them to spread this devotion, which had been forgotten by many over the years. Meditating on Our Lady’s Seven Sorrows has given me a sense of unity with her during my own sufferings and trials, and has, over time, obtained for me a new sense of peace and confidence, or fortitude, in the midst of difficulties and hardships. Because Our Lady possesses these virtues herself, she is able to help us to imitate her and to grow in holiness. I am certain that she is the one who obtains these graces from her Son Jesus in response to our petitions in the Seven Sorrows Rosary. Like generous gifts to her poor beggar children, she graciously bestows her favors on us when we take the time to reflect on her Sorrows and ask for her guidance and assistance.
Our Lady assured St. Bridget of Sweden of the following promises to her children who would practice this devotion:
- “I will grant peace to their families.”
- “They will be enlightened about the divine Mysteries.”
- ”I will console them in their pains and will accompany them in their work.”
- ”I will give them as much as they ask for as long as it does not oppose the adorable will of my divine Son or the sanctification of their souls.”
- ”I will defend them in their spiritual battles with the infernal enemy and I will protect them at every instant of their lives.”
- ”I will visibly help them at the moment of their death– they will see the face of their mother.”
- ”I have obtained this grace from my divine Son, that those who propagate this devotion to my tears and dolors will be taken directly from this earthly life to eternal happiness, since all their sins will be forgiven and my Son will be their eternal consolation and joy.
These are wonderfully comforting and consoling promises to those of us who experience mental suffering on earth! We can have confidence that our loving Mother walks alongside us and strengthens us in these trials.
Having anxiety and depression does not mean that a person is any weaker or more sinful than those who do not suffer with these conditions. Just as physical ailments such as diabetes and cancer affect many people, some of us, due to many factors, encounter mental suffering. Just as those with diabetes and cancer seek medical treatment for their illness, those with mental illness should not be ashamed to seek help from a professional when their anxiety, depression, or other condition interferes with their ability to function in their daily life.
In addition, the Church community should embrace and welcome those suffering with mental illness. The Corporal Works of Mercy require us to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and visit the sick, among other charitable actions. This includes caring for and encouraging those who carry the burden of mental illness. Our children’s Catholic school service club participates in feeding and performing acts of service for the local SOMI, or Survivors of Mental Illness, organization. This is one way the Church can reach
out and make a difference in the lives of the mentally ill. There are many individuals who walk among us carrying a hidden cross of anxiety and depression, fearful to disclose their suffering because of the stigma associated with mental illness. With an increase in love and compassion for the multitude of people who endure anxiety and depression, perhaps more people will be emboldened to share their struggles with the Church community, and we, as a Church, can help facilitate healing for this group of silent sufferers.
We must remember that everyone, even the sinless Virgin Mary, endures suffering on this earth, and that our patient and cheerful endurance can produce much fruit and assist us in our salvation and in the purification of our sins. Meditating on and considering the Seven Sorrows of Mary can give us strength and consolation in knowing that she walks beside us as she walked beside her Son during his Passion. We are not alone in our difficulties; Jesus and Mary accompany us and help us to carry our crosses.
An image of the Seven Sorrows of Mary, daggers piercing her heart, depicts the pain that Our Lady must have endured during the darkest moments of her life. Her somber demeanor and the sorrow in her downcast eyes remind us that perfect happiness will not be found here in this life, but in eternity with God in heaven. His Kingdom is truly not of this earth, or else he and his sinless Mother would not have endured such suffering. We can weather the storms of life and triumph one day in heaven if we turn to Our Lady of Sorrows, asking her to accompany us on our journey through life and to give us a share in her faithfulness and courage. Most importantly, even in suffering, we should keep our eyes focused on the Resurrection of Christ and his triumphant entry into heaven where he reigns forever, reminded that after a faith-filled life of dedicated service to him and with a spirit of unquelled perseverance, we will surely experience eternal joy with him. For it is written that, “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Cor. 2:9)