MARY, THE MOTHER OF THE MAN OF SORROWS
Stabat Mater dolorosa
iuxta crucem lacrymosa.
dum pendebat Filius.
OUR LADY is near to Christ and like to Christ. She is near to Christ, for she is His Mother. She is like to Christ, for she is the Mother of Mercy—her heart overflowing with compassion for the miseries of men. She is our mother.
In no way are this nearness and this likeness to her Divine Son manifested more convincingly than in the immensity of Mary's sorrows. The Eternal God bore our griefs and sins upon the Cross ; beneath the Cross during three long hours stood, heartbroken, His human Mother, the Virgo Dolorosa. In His own person our Lord has experienced to the uttermost all that man is capable of enduring; our Lady's soul a sword has pierced that " out of many hearts thoughts may be revealed." (Luke ii. 35.) Kneeling not only before the Crucifix, but also before the image of the Sorrowful Mother with her dead Child in her arms, long generations of Christian mourners have found the only consolation worthy of the name upon this earth — the consolation which comes from the Mysteries of the Christian Faith.
How often have not men. watching the agony that is round about them, sometimes torn asunder by the agony that is lacerating their own souls within them, been tempted to ask the question : " If God loves, how is it possible that He does not suffer too, as He beholds the manifold sufferings of the children of men ?" Sometimes the woe seems to reach a monstrous climax, as in the course of a great war — when it appears like to some unreal nightmare, though we know it in fact to be most real, from which we can only turn away our eyes or we should faint with horror at the hideous sight.
Never can sorrow altogether be absent from any life. In pain we all enter the world, in pain we say our last farewell to the things of time. The sorrows of humanity encompass us and beset our course as we travel from the cradle to eternity : " Man born of woman, living but a short time, is filled with many miseries." (Job xiv. i.) Who will gainsay it ? As the world grows older, the sob of humanity which finds expression in its earliest literature, loses nought of its overwhelming pathos. The Book of Job, as regards its essential heart-ache, might have been written yesterday. The burden of the world becomes no lighter as the shadows lengthen and mankind advances to the eventide. Is there then no remedy ? Are the burdens in truth unbearable ? Does not God care ?
To such questions as these Christianity, and Christianity alone, claims to afford an answer. There is a remedy. The burdens can all be made tolerable, can be lightened, until (strange paradox) an unearthly joy is found in the bearing even of the heaviest burdens, since God does care, and has Himself borne our burdens in His own Body as though they were in truth His own. The burden of her Child was the joy of Mary's life as she carried Him in her arms; the burden of His Cross flooded our Saviour's Soul with sunshine as He toiled up the Hill of Calvary. Even so, in some measure and degree, may it be with us if we will but believe practically in our Religion.
All this, however, is a lesson very hard to learn. God is a Spirit, and (to use the language of theology) a Pure Act incapable of change. As such, He cannot suffer in His Divine Nature. But as the only means of making us understand a real truth, it is said of Him in Holy Scripture, making use of analogy and metaphor, that He grieved, repented, was angered, rejoiced, and the like. Using then feeble human words, we say rightly that, beholding the sufferings of man, He grieved. It is certain that He determined Himself to share those sufferings both in Soul and Body. To effect this God assumed human nature—taking a Body that should be capable of enduring pain—together with a Soul that should be afflicted even as we are afflicted. This He did freely and out of love. The Father so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son. In the recesses of the Divine Nature—so we dare to write (once more employing human language)—the Gift of God involved a sacrifice. Far less can we fathom such a mystery as this, than a worm could hope to understand the mysteries of the human heart. We know this much at least, that thus to give—as God gave— unstintingly was not without its cost. The Father gave His Son. The Son, hastening to do His Father's Will, emptied Himself—that is, shrouded His Godhead, that He might give Himself to man. The Holy Spirit rejoiced at the Gift—the Gift poured out through love, binding that which had been broken, renewing human hearts and lives—by means of which He might sanctify their souls. " Through the tender mercy of our God, whereby the Dayspring from on high hath visited us."