I will never know the depth of enduring pain felt by a mother who watches helplessly as her child suffers and dies. As a priest I have buried too many children and young people, and witnessed the torment of the anguished parents.
Today’s feast of Our Lady of Sorrows reminds me of the ancient (13th century) and beautiful hymn that begins with Mary standing at the cross of her son: “At the cross her station keeping, stood the mournful mother weeping, close to her son to the last.“Stabat Mater Dolorosa”
So many of the phrases and words in this hymn evoke the pain of human suffering, yet the hymn is an inspiring and uplifting reflection, concluding by shifting our gaze beyond our human experience of suffering to the real and lasting joy for which we were created: “While my body here decays, may my soul Thy goodness praise, Safe in Paradise with Thee.”
So much of our life is spent trying to avoid and escape from suffering in the conviction that our human happiness is achieved when we are free from all that is unpleasant and painful. While it is a good thing to steer clear of unnecessary and avoidable suffering, most of what burdens us is often beyond our control. While our bodies instinctively want to run from what is painful, our healthy souls remind us that there is no reason to fear for nothing can separate us from the love of God. Facing our struggles and anxieties in confident knowledge of the strong and constant love of Christ for us and presence of Christ with us provides a life-giving environment, even in the midst of present burdens.
The Stabat Mater prayer has been set to some of the beautiful melodies ever composed. One of my favourite is by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (d.1731). You can listen at this link.