Claire Dwyer | October 22, 2019
Our Lady of Sorrows Feast Day: September 15
This week we’ll celebrate two important feasts: the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, on September 14, and the following day, September 15, we’ll remember Our Lady of Sorrows. Two days linked forever in meaning, inseparable, poignant.
September 15 also happens to be my birthday. And for a long time, as long as I was old enough to realize who I shared the day with, I felt a little – cheated. I mean, it’s a bit of a downer to liturgically commemorate all the bitterness in Mary’s life on a day for celebrating your own. Not that I ever thought it should be all about me, but as a child, it just didn’t seem quite fair. To enter the world as Mary grieved at the Cross.
Eventually I made peace with it. And then I considered it an honor to be born on a Marian day, whichever one it may be. Forever I’ll be tucked into that title, a little footnote on her calendar. And as I got older, the meaning of suffering, hers and my own, took on its own strange beauty and could be appreciated. At least, I reasoned, I have a patroness in all the little crosses I drag reluctantly as I shuffle along, hopefully heavenward.
But today I came to love it.
Suddenly, in my Suburban. A flash of clarity at a stoplight, that came, like most good things, while meditating on the rosary. It was this: Our Lady of Sorrows is the Cause of Our Joy.
These are both ancient titles of Mary, but I had never held them together in my heart before, each one like a mirror reflecting the other, returning its own light. Each one meaningless, really, without the other. There is no value in suffering without its little Sunday at the end, and there is no joyful redemption without the cross. There just isn’t. It’s one of those paradoxes our faith is famous for.
First, Our Lady of Sorrows, the woman who tasted bitterness at the prophecy of Simeon, when she hears that a sword would pierce her heart, already fear stabbing her. But then, as always, a yes. Each sorrow a yes. Specifically, we remember seven: The Prophecy of Simeon, the Flight into Egypt, the Loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple, their Meeting on the Way to Calvary, Jesus’ Death on the Cross, Mary’s Reception of His Body, And the Placing of His Body in the Tomb. Those are the big ones. And all the little piercings, too, each step he took away from her, into the crowds that would kill him, each soul that rejected him, each sin she saw, each one was an ache. But every time there is the yes, the giving away of herself into the will of God. Every sorrow was sealed with a “fiat” that gave it eternal power. Until finally it would culminate at the foot of the Cross, with her leaning into that will with a silent agony we can only imagine.
And then. In that darkest hour, in the horrible silence as heaven held its breath, He spoke. “Woman, behold your son…behold your mother.” In that extreme grief, there was yet another yes. And we all flooded into her heart, hollowed out by humility and suffering. The day he wrenched eternal life back for us, he gave us the source of his own human life – he handed us his Mother.
And we won twice.
So that’s one reason she’s the Cause of Our Joy. Because in another act of generosity only possible for God Himself, she is ours. Our Lady. In the most anguished hour of all her sorrows, we received a gift that the angels would envy if they could envy. We share her with them as a Queen, but only to us can she be a Mother. In all things she shares our life and loves us with unspeakable tenderness. Once we have become her children, we feel the warm gentle weight of her gaze that makes life bearable even in its most difficult days. “Our faith tells us that here below, in our present life, we are pilgrims, wayfarers,” says St. Josemaria Escriva. “Our lot is one of sacrifices, suffering, and privations. Nonetheless, joy must mark the rhythm of our steps. ‘Serve the Lord with joy’ – there is no other way to serve Him.” Every shimmering joy, each a foretaste of the eternal that awaits us, is from her spoon.
She is also the Cause of Our Joy because, by the design of God, it is only through her that He came. Christ, our salvation, came through this little vessel and we are so forever grateful. From the first, the big “Fiat” spoken to Gabriel, divinity took flesh within her and finally, our salvation was underway. She is the first chapter in the book of eternal life. Joy itself comes to the world, and only through Mary. St. John the Baptist was the first to feel it, leaping with joy as an unborn baby as he felt their presence, even as she herself exclaims, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” (Luke 1:47)
Appropriately, then, we rejoice too because she is honored in heaven and earth. She is given a seat next to her son, she is crowned Queen of Heaven, the final victory is given to her. “A great marvel appeared in the heaven: a woman, dressed with the sun, with the moon at her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” (Revelation 12:1) If our Mother is Queen, then we take heart. St. Josemaria Escriva reminds us that we are prompted to “acknowledge the basis for this joyful hope. Yes, we are still pilgrims, but our mother has gone ahead, where she points to the reward of our efforts. She tells us we can make it. And, if we are faithful, we will reach home.” So she is the Cause of Our Joy because she is a sign of our salvation. What we hope for she holds high as a promise fulfilled.
Finally, and this is the difficult part, but what brings it all full circle – Our Lady of Sorrows is the Cause of Our Joy because, Fr. John Hardon said, “She enjoyed the happiness of suffering with Christ, suffering for Christ, suffering like Christ. How the meaning of happiness is taught us by the mother of God…happiness on earth is a measure of our living lives of sacrifice as Our Lady did. When we address Our Lady as the Cause of Our Joy, we mean it…She is the Cause of Our Joy because our joy will depend on how faithfully we allow Mary to teach us what it means to be happy.”
What he’s saying is this: if joy is union with God, then there’s a cross in it for us. No cross, no joy. We can run away from it, and maybe there’ll be a little relief in the distractions of the world, but no real joy. Only by leaning in, as she did, can true joy be found, and once we do, we find that being so close to a God who suffered takes on a certain sweetness. No Sunday sunrise without Friday’s slow fade. No Queen of Heaven without the Sorrowful Mother.
I guess then, it is a “happy” birthday after all. In the most joyful sense of the word.
Katherine Meeks | October 20, 2019
This Mother’s Day, join Endow and the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles in celebrating all mothers the moms who gave us life and the spiritual mothers who have carried us through it. If you need help showing your mom a little extra love this Mother’s Day, we’ve got your back. Here is a little DIY bouquet tutorial we’ve put together from Endow woman, Colleen Monroe and founder of https://floraloom.com/.
Dr. Christine Wood | October 20, 2019
Question: As Director of the Office of Evangelisation and Catechesis in the Diocese of Hobart, what are 1) the challenges of living out the Catholic faith for the average modern woman? 2) The fruits of the faith in your diocese?
Australia is becoming a very secular society. Our Christian heritage was originally brought here by the British and Irish settlers, and later in the early twentieth century by European immigrants. More recently, we have seen immigrants arrive from very diverse cultures embracing a variety of religions and moral values. Various social changes have pushed Christianity out of the public square for the same sort of reasons as it has in North America and Europe. The number of people who claim no religion is rapidly rising.
This secularised culture brings a number of challenges to the faithful living of the Christian life. It seems to me that the main challenge is apathy, arising from different causes including extreme busyness, lack of spiritual havens to nourish one’s faith, and an aggressive culture that says all religions are equal and, depending on one’s philosophy, all people will attain the same end of either happiness or nothingness.
So where does this place Catholic women now? The average Catholic woman in Australia who seeks to live out her faith does so by connecting with bible studies and prayer groups that she finds online, or in locations outside her local parish community. She is usually able to foster a healthy sacramental life in her local parish, but the communal aspect of parish life is far from active.
Those women who are striving to live a faith-filled Christian married life do so by honouring their spouses, catechising their children at home (or at the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd if they have an atrium nearby), and worshipping together as a family. Catholic women are increasingly aware of the need for fatherhood programs which help husbands to find their true place in the Christian family. Marriage enrichment initiatives are popular for couples who need to get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life to reflect on God’s plan for their marriages.
World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008 was a boost in faith practice for young people. Single Catholic women have begun small prayer groups in their homes or at university. Students have established pro-life student groups on college campuses offering support for pregnant women, and raising awareness of life issues. Others have initiated youth outreach events like annual retreats and conferences that seek to evangelise, connect, and form young people in their Christian faith.
Some diocesan and parish initiatives include the use of faith formation programs like those developed by the Augustine Institute in Denver, or Alpha in a Catholic Context, or bible studies from the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology or Jeff Cavins. These initiatives give women the opportunity to connect with other people in the parish, to share and grow in their faith, and to develop a fuller Christ-centred life.
We have begun Endow Groups in the Archdiocese of Hobart in order to bring faithful women together, to share their faith, and to support one another through prayer and the friendships that will develop in these groups. The older women in our groups are able to mentor the younger ones in the Christian life, and the younger ones bring enthusiasm and hope for the future.
I’ve found that if women are able to develop a Catholic worldview, that is both Christ-centred and sacramental, they see the world with the supernatural eyes of faith. This enables them to break through our secular culture to seek the things that are above, loving others with a Christ-like love, and bearing the fruits of the Kingdom of God in their everyday lives.
October 20, 2019
Question: As a single woman in college, how can my roommates prepare me for marriage?
I came to realize that, even as a single woman in college, God provided me a very real means of preparation for marriage and family life in having roommates. It is in the intimate space that you come to think of as home, where other people come to know you your virtues and vices and you can come to know theirs. Living with roommates offers a glimpse into the daily life of marriage calling you to stretch and grow in ways that dating cannot.
Loving Through the Little Things
More than ever before, I have come to see my personal weaknesses, wounds, and vices. When I was able to humbly step outside of myself and take an objective look at the circumstances, I came to recognize not so much my roommates accumulating unwashed dishes, for example, but my love that was so little, weak, selfish, and impatient. I was, and continue to be, challenged time and again to love as I am called to love with patience, kindness. Most of the time, sitting down and learning to articulate these seemingly unimportant bothers helped me and my roommates avoid big fights. It stretched us in our ability to serve charitably, to be more thoughtful of one another and our shared spaces, to respect boundaries and differences, to be patient with one another, and to sacrifice little preferences in order to reach a compromise.
Communication Learning the Love Languages
In time, my roommates and I also came to recognize differences in our love languages and charitably navigate how to best. Some of my roommates were more assertive and direct and some were more silent and less likely to speak their mind. I had to learn to be more aware of how I perceived the communication of my more outspoken roommates, and how to gently encourage more communication from the more cautious roommates. Communication enabled us to share our thoughts and feelings to one another, as well as to express our love which also had many different ways of being given and received. It is easy to love another in the way that I most easily express and receive love. However, unfortunately, assuming that another person receives an action or word as loving when they do not receive it as such, has left me wondering why they don’t seem to notice my effort, and has left them feeling unloved. It was important for me to love each individual roommate in the way that they receive love. It was also helpful when I could recognize that, even if I don’t feel loved in a particular way, my roommate was going out of their way and making an effort to love me so that I was able to thank them and affirm them for their efforts to love me.
Prayer the School of Love
There is so much more that can be learned and so many more ways that living with roommates can prepare you for marriage. It forces you to stretch yourself and grow in humility, patience, sacrificial love, and your ability to communicate, compromise, and love in the little ways. There is one aspect of this experience that is imperative for living with roommates, and for a healthy married life prayer. Prayer is the only way that I have been able to live with other women. I need the grace of Christ, so that He can love through me, and for His grace to be poured forth on the hearts of those I lived with as well, so that, where we were, He would remain in the midst of us.
Claire Dwyer | October 20, 2019
If you are busy woman juggling family, friends, work, and prayer, trying to balance works of mercy with your daily duty, prayer time with household chores, and marriage with ministry, then let today’s saint be an inspiration. There are few women who can’t relate to her in some way- she was a wife, mother, friend, prayer warrior, champion of the sick and poor, and founder of a religious community. But most of all, she was a daughter of the Church who lived both her marriage vows and baptismal promises to the full. March 9 is the feast day of St. Frances of Rome.
Her story could be an epic movie. Born to a noble family in Rome in 1384, she wished to be a nun from a young age, but her parents had planned a marriage to a wealthy nobleman, Lorenzo Ponziani. Devastated, the young teenager stubbornly objected and prayed that God would intervene. Her confessor challenged her: Are you crying because you want to do God’s will or you want God to do your will?
Humbled, she accepted her parent’s wishes and married. Lorenzo was kind and good and powerful in fact, he was the faithful commander of the papal troops in Rome during the time of unrest and division within the Church. Together they had three children, and Frances, while devoted to her family, found the life of a noblewoman difficult. Parties and fancy clothes had no appeal for the girl who still longed for a life of prayer. Confiding her secret wishes to her sister-in-law, Vonnozza, Frances found a spiritual companion and life-long friend. Together, the two women would pray in the chapel they had set up in a tower of the family home, attend mass, and visit hospitals and prisons. Always, however, they put their family’s needs first. When her mother-in-law died, Frances, only sixteen, successfully took over administration of the large household.
And then began a time of severe trials. With the feuding in Rome at a fever pitch, violent threats to their family drove Lorenzo out of the city for his own safety. While he was away, invaders overtook their home, kidnapped her oldest son, killed the servants, and destroyed the house. Shortly afterward, the plague took the life of her other children.
With incredible fortitude, Frances redoubled her efforts to serve the poor and turned her ruined home into a hospital. One patient was her own husband, who returned home later a broken man. She cared for him and in gratitude and love he gave her his blessing to begin a lay order of women called the Oblates of Mary. While remaining in the world, these women promised deep devotion to God and service to the poor.
Eventually, the Oblates opened a home for their widowed members, where Frances became the superior upon her husband’s death. Her childhood dream of religious life had finally been fulfilled but in God’s own perfect time.
St. Frances of Rome is a model of self-surrender, obedience to the will of God, faithfulness to marriage, motherhood, and daily duty, service of neighbor, and the discipline of a rigorous spiritual life. She is patroness to many causes, including drivers (because her guardian angel used to light her way on night-time visits to the poor and sick) but she has also been appointed by the Church as one of the patronesses of all women. May her prayers help our own feminine vocations to bloom in this new springtime of the Church, in the words of Pope St. John Paul II.
St. Frances of Rome, pray for us!
Michaelene Fredenburg | October 20, 2019
Question: My friend just had her second miscarriage and is understandably devastated. I myself have not experienced this and don’t know how to be there for her other than to bring her dinner and check in. I feel useless and it hurts to see her pain. Any suggestions on how to help women heal from this experience?
Dear sister in Christ,
I’m so sorry for your friend’s losses. The helplessness that you are expressing in the face of her pain is quite common. Since our culture typically treats loss after miscarriage as a non-event, we often find ourselves unsure what to do and how to support family and friends. However, what you are doing acknowledging the loss of her children verbally and showing your love and concern by providing for her practical needs is most likely exactly what she needs. And this is something that she, and her husband, will need for some time to come.
If you aren’t already doing this, you may want to make yourself available to spend time with your friend and allow her to share about the loss of her children. It can be awfully hard to listen to such deep pain; however, this is one of the greatest gifts that you can offer her. Think back to a time when you lost someone close to you. I imagine that it was a relief to be able to talk about that person and all that they meant to you. In addition to talking about your loved one, there may have been other times that you simply needed someone to sit with in silence. Your friend needs the same opportunity to use as many or as few words to express her grief. So although you have not experienced a reproductive loss, you have experienced other losses that will provide some insight into how to help.
Assuring your friend that what she is feeling is normal will also help her quite a bit. If it’s appropriate, you can share with her that everyone experiences grief differently that there isn’t a right or wrong way to grieve and that there isn’t a set timeline to grieve. You can also feel confident assuring her that although it doesn’t feel this way right now, things will get better. Your friend will never forget her children, but remembering them will be less painful as time goes on. (Something again that you can probably personally relate to when thinking about a loss in your life.)
And finally, don’t forget to express your condolences to the baby’s father and ask how he is doing. As you can imagine, men are often completely forgotten in the midst of loss due to miscarriage. Although men tend to show their grief differently, studies indicate that they are equally impacted and that their grief often goes unresolved due to the lack of support from family and friends and the culture at large.
Sister, it sounds like you are doing a terrific job supporting your friend. In addition to what you are already doing, you and your friend may benefit from visiting MiscarriageHurts.com. This anonymous healing website features activities to work through the grieving process, as well as a place to memorialize, and a place to find further help and support.