May 8, 2022 — Early in St. Ignatius’s pilgrim journey, the newly converted – and very scrupulous – soldier-turned-eventual-saint comes upon a man who insults the Blessed Mother. Ignatius is so thrown by this event, so angry – both at the man’s words and his own apparent inaction in defending Mary’s honor – that Ignatius lets go of his steed’s reigns and makes this pledge: If the horse, of its own accord, decides to follow after the man, Ignatius will chase him down and kill him. If the horse continues along the other path, Ignatius will go along and leave the offending man alone. Fortunately, the horse wanted no bloodshed that day.
It’s a humorous – if near fatal – story that gives us insight into how Ignatius viewed the Blessed Mother: Like other women of the day, she was someone in need of a knight’s chivalrous protection. But for me, this story is another reminder of how near Mary is to each of us in our own lives, in our unique and particular time, culture and language. Mary – guided by God’s Holy Spirit – meets us where we are in our brokenness and sorrow and hurt and gently brings us back to ourselves.
We see Mary everywhere – no apparition required. We see her in the single mother raising her young children; we see her in the old lady at the nursing home reaching out a hand of fierce love to her adult children; we see her, too, in the countless women caring for all of God’s people, regardless of bloodlines and birth.
We see her all over the world, a reflection of God’s beautifully diverse human family. Our Lady of Guadalupe. Our Lady of Kibeho. Our Lady of Knock. Our Lady of Fatima.
I wonder, though, as we begin this month of May – a time to honor Mary – and as we prepare to celebrate Mother’s Day amidst an ongoing pandemic, war in Europe and violence and heartbreak all over the world, does Mary desire to draw near to us in a very particular title, Our Lady of Sorrows?
We know from Scripture that Mary is told by the prophet Simeon that her heart will be pierced as though by a sword, foreshadowing the brutal death of her son. And, on Good Friday, we stand with Mary at the foot of the cross and witness that sorrow.
This year, since last May, last Mother’s Day, so many of us have buried our mothers, our grandmothers, our stepmothers and our godmothers. Whether this year or many years ago, that goodbye feels raw and fresh – particularly as we prepare for this weekend’s celebration. We’ve said goodbye to so many maternal figures in our lives – and that sword pierces our heart anew.
So, too, have countless mothers said goodbye to their children, their grandchildren, those young people entrusted to their care. Perhaps this year; perhaps years prior. Nonetheless, that same sword pierces their heart, too.
This Mother’s Day, too, may be a time of sorrow for what has not yet been. Infertility. Miscarriages. Failed relationships. Anxiety and worry. These, too, are swords that pierce the heart of many.
The love of a mother is generative – it breathes new life into the world. This happens literally – the cries of a baby ringing in our ears – but also figuratively, as the hungry are fed, the naked clothed, the lonely visited and the sick cared for. And we are all called to that work.
Our Lady of Sorrows cries with us this Mother’s Day, this whole month of May, as we mourn those who have gone before, as we mourn those opportunities we have not yet had. And yet, Our Lady of Sorrows does not stay at the foot of the cross. She gets up; she gets about the generative work of God’s love.
She needs no chivalrous knight to defend her honor. She needs only companions in God’s mission. Companions with whom she will cry and mourn – but whose tears she will also wipe away and turn to laughter.
Eric Clayton is the author of Cannonball Moments: Telling Your Story, Deepening Your Faith and the deputy director of communications at the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. He lives in Baltimore, MD with his wife, two young daughters and their cat, Sebastian. Follow Eric’s writing at ericclaytonwrites.com.