"To what shall I compare thee? To what shall I liken thee, O daughter of Jerusalem? To what shall I equal thee, that I may comfort thee, O Virgin daughter of Sion? for great as the sea is thy destruction." (Lament, ii, 13.)
WHO is this virgin of whom the prophet speaks in such mournful accents? Why is her sorrow so deep, that it can be compared to no other sorrow? Certainly we should hesitate to believe that it is of the Immaculate Mother of Jesus that Jeremias spoke, were it not for the Gospel narrative, which portrays her standing by the cross of her dying Son. (John xix, 25.)
Yes, it is indeed Mary, the peerless Virgin of Juda, whose pure soul was never sullied with the slightest stain of sin, upon whose head, however, sufferings without number were heaped. In predestining her to be Mother of the Word, God had also decreed that she should become Queen of Martyrs, for it behoved her to share all the pains which her Divine Son endured during the thirty-three years of His mortal life, and to unite her own sufferings with those of the Incarnate Word, for the salvation of the human race.
With Jesus, Mary tasted the sorrows of exile, and with Him she quaffed the last dregs of that bitter cup prepared by the malice of men for the world's Redeemer. The outrages leveled at the God-Man recoiled upon her and she became in truth the most afflicted of mothers. She offered to God on Calvary the Holy Victim, and endured without flinching the bitterness of death. Finally, her last and supreme sorrow was to accompany the adorable body of her Son to the tomb: then her desolation reached its climax: "He hath made me desolate, wasted with sorrow all the day long." (Lament i, 13.)
When we pause to consider the things of this world, we perceive that this earth is a place of toil and trouble, not of joy and rest. The afflicted form the greater part of mankind, and the rare consolations which come to us are not without their dash of bitterness.
For the worldly-minded man, bent only on pleasure and enjoyment, the law of pain appears exceedingly hard: he cannot bow to it, it irritates him, and he is forever in pursuit of
the fleeting image of happiness which evades his grasp.
The man of faith, on the other hand, accustomed to regard all things by the light of God's grace, recognizes an admirable disposition of Providence in the law of suffering. Far from rebelling against this law, he submits to it, adores it and humbles himself beneath the chastening hand. He blesses this fatherly hand no less when it strikes, than when it bestows favors and graces. The man of faith understands that God smites only to heal, that this earth is not our true country, and that suffering is necessary to expiate sin. Now, are we not all sinners? Let us not, then, wonder if we are called to suffer.
O Mary, inseparable companion of Jesus Crucified, teach me the secret of this divine law of pain, that, in thy school, I may learn, by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ and thine own, to submit with a willing heart to the dispositions of Providence in my regard.
Mary being exempt from all sin, was not naturally subject to the law of pain; like Adam in the garden of Eden, she should never have experienced aught but joy and gladness. And without doubt, so it would have been, had she been an ordinary creature. But in the designs of God, Mary was predestined to become the masterpiece of grace, and it behoved her to pass through suffering, in order that she might attain to the perfection to which she had been called.
Furthermore, as Mother of the Redeemer, Mary was to cooperate as much as a creature could do so with Jesus Christ, in the work of our redemption, just as Eve in the earthly paradise had had a part in bringing about our ruin; and as the Saviour was to restore us by suffering, so Mary must drink the bitter chalice with Him.
Besides, since Mary was destined to be the Mother of the human race, it was necessary that she should know sorrow, in order that she might compassionate the miseries of her earth-born children.
Mary's soul was therefore overwhelmed and plunged in bitterness surpassed only by that of her Son. "O all ye that pass by the way, attend and see, if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow!" (Lament, i, 12.)
Example - Venerable Anna Juliana Gonzaga
Anna Catharine Gonzaga belonged to the band of those privileged souls who love to contemplate the mystery of the sorrows of Mary and endeavor to follow her on the royal road of the cross. While yet a child she used to fast every Saturday in her honor and she continued this devout practice to the end of her life. On the death of the Archduke Ferdinand I, her husband, Anna, renouncing earthly grandeurs, refused to marry again.
After having restored the Servite Order in Austria, she chose to hide herself with her eldest daughter and some other noble gentlewomen in a convent of this Order which she herself had erected at Innsbruck. At her reception of the habit she took the name of Sister Anna Juliana, in honor of St. Juliana Falconieri, the glorious Foundress of the Servite Third Order.
So glad was Sister Anna to see herself clothed in the somber habit of the Servants of Mary, that kissing it devoutly she would exclaim: "O Mother most holy, how have I merited so great a favor, as to be clothed in the habit of thy sorrows? How have I been worthy to deserve this great treasure hidden to so many others? What wealth or what rank could equal so excellent a boon? To consecrate myself wholly to thee is not enough, I am not worthy to thank thee sufficiently. Do thou therefore, most Holy Mother, render thanks for me."
When she received the news that Anna, her second daughter, had been crowned as Empress, taking in her hand the holy habit, she said to the messenger: "May my daughter Anna enjoy her royal crown; for me this habit with which I have been honored by the Queen of Heaven, is a thousand times more dear to my heart."
In order to induce her Sisters to bear ever in their mind the memory of the bitter passion of Jesus and the sorrows of Mary, the Venerable Anna Juliana prescribed among other practices that they should begin and end the Office of Our Lady with the invocation: "May the passion of Our Lord and the compassion of our blessed Lady be ever in our hearts and in our bodies. Amen."
Desiring, moreover, to partake of the sufferings of Mary, she begged to be allowed to share in the sorrows which overwhelmed her maternal heart at the foot of the cross, and her prayer was granted. Thus, having tenderly compassionated the Queen of Martyrs in this life, she was called to the joys of heaven, in the year 1620. 1
O Mary, most sorrowful Virgin, I compassionate thee in thy woe. Thou shouldst never have known suffering, thou the most innocent of creatures, had it not been that, like Jesus, thou wouldst bear the punishment of our sins. Obtain for me of thy Son, I beg thee, the grace to hate sin with all my heart, as the sole cause of thy sufferings and of the passion of Jesus Christ. Amen.
1 From the Annals of the Order of the Servants of Mary.