Our Lady of Sorrows is the Cause of Our Joy

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.

Through the Eyes of the Saints | Saint Monica

Claire Dwyer | October 22, 2019

Feast Day: August 27

The canonized women who are mothers add to our altars a special kind of incense – a two-fold fragrance of motherhood, both natural and spiritual. The very definition of their sainthood reveals that the life of the soul was sacrosanct to them, and that while they nurtured the physical life of their children, it was eternal life which they desired to impart above all.

Of these special women, St. Monica is among the most famous, and that is because of her son. What we know about her is almost completely from the Confessions of St. Augustine, who is as well known for his unruly early life as he is for his later saintliness and preaching as Bishop of Hippo, in Northern Africa. Now a Doctor of the Church, he started out life steeped in impurity and pride, rejecting morality and Christianity for mistresses and error. His loose living was a tremendous cross for his devout mother.

Monica was no stranger to family crosses. Raised Christian in the fourth century, she had married a violent and unfaithful man, Patricius, who refused to allow her to baptize their three children. While in deep personal pain, her faith was her unshakable anchor. Other women began to notice. It was a common scenario for suffering wives to come to her for strength and comfort in their own difficulties. Years of patient love and powerful prayers paid off in the end, when Patricius converted to the faith a year before he died. 

But the seventeen-year-old Augustine had yet to reform. In anguish, Monica implored the local bishop for help convincing Augustine to surrender both the mistresses and Manichean heresy he had taken up. God’s time will come, the bishop reassured her, but she was so persistent he finally urged, Go now, I beg you. It is not possible that the son of so many tears should perish.

And so the widowed Monica redoubled her efforts as she followed Augustine to Italy when he left home to continue his education. Although Augustine tried to lose her on the way, she resolutely came after her brilliant but sinful son, first to Rome and then to Milan. All the while, she was pulling down favors from heaven by fasting and praying as only a Christian mother can. Augustine, looking back on those days in the Confessions, remembers the rivers flowing down from my mother’s eyes, by which, before (God) and in my behalf, she daily watered the ground beneath her face.

One answer to her prayer was the friendship of a holy and gifted bishop, Ambrose, who came to admire Monica’s devotion and easily won the trust and admiration of her son. Largely through his influence, Augustine was able to finally embrace the faith and desire to be baptized. His conversion had been a tremendous struggle. In the end, it was a voice from heaven urging Augustine to take up and read the Scriptures which broke his resistance and flooded his soul with grace 

It was a grace won with Christ’s blood and a mother’s tears.

During that Easter vigil in 387 Monica witnessed the birth of eternal life in the son she had delivered into earthly life. It was what she had hoped for all those years. Overjoyed to be of one mind and heart at last, mother and son prepared to go home to Africa. Before they arrived, Monica died from a sudden illness and her 33-year-old son sorrowfully closed her eyes – the eyes which, he said, had wept more for me than mothers weep over their child’s dead bodies.

This time, it was the son who wept.

I cannot tell clearly enough, Augustine emphasized, what love she had for me, and how with greater anguish she brought me forth in spirit than she had given me birth in the flesh.

St. Augustine closed his memories of his mother by asking his readers to pray for her. Now, as a Saint, it is she we ask for help, turning in our own times of anguish to her for intercession for our marriages, for the return of wayward children, and for the flourishing of supernatural life in the souls of all those entrusted to us. 

No doubt she has a few spiritually fertile tears left for us, too.

St. Monica, mother both natural and spiritual, pray for us!

What is Spiritual Motherhood?

Christine French | October 22, 2019

Question: Many of us have heard the term “spiritual motherhood”. What does this mean to you? What does spiritual motherhood look like?

I have a wonderful mother who raised me in the Catholic faith and has been Catholic her whole life. But as I was growing up I struggled with faith and asked a lot of hard questions about the Church and not satisfied by answer around me. I was drawn in by many other deeply faithful Catholics in college, a wonderful chaplain and a very motherly Campus Minister, Alecia, who listened to me for hours in her office as a worked through struggles. Alecia is the first spiritual mother I was really open to receive from, but had many others before and since that time with her in college. Now I am a campus minister back at my high school.

When I began to organize our parishes first Endow group with a friend and mentor out of the prompting of the Lord on JPII’s Letter to Women, we initially assumed that it would be a group for 20 to 30-year-old women from our parish. Then one woman I really admire from our parish text me, Mary (as in Our Blessed Mother) told me to contact you for consolation. We met and as we were talking I had an overwhelming desire to invite her to join our Endow group, even though she was older than our original age range. She was a religion teacher for the parish’s middle school, ran the Confirmation program, and had already contributed to my life personally. After talking to my co-leader and praying about it more we invited her to join us.

As a result of this women joining our Endow group we invited two other older women. All three are mothers and have their own children ranging from 6th grade to out of college. As we began our first study I was deeply moved by the entire group that the Lord brought together we were all different and unique but seeking the Lord and wanting to grow in holiness and in community.

One quote in the study by Saint Edith Stein says, “Woman naturally seeks to embrace that which is living, personal, and whole. To cherish, guard, protect, nourish and advance growth is her natural, maternal yearning.” Over and over again I saw this lived out concretely in the support our group provided for one another: a listening ear, remembering an important date/milestone, prayers, and food.

When I was struggling a lot one day after Mass a woman from the group came over and knew something was upsetting me and just began to pray over me out loud and a different day another woman offered a hug and a listening ear when I was believing Satan’s lie that I was all alone. I got texts and dinner invites, lots of laughs when I was getting too serious, and I had people who could see through the masks I put up and allow me to be vulnerable and grow in trust first of them, then of God. I then got to share my enthusiasm with others, my knowledge of evangelization, particularly with today’s teens, and encourage people to get a spiritual director and lead spontaneous prayer, lectio divina, etc for our group. We were present for each other. This is what it means to nourish the spiritual growth of others. And the joy and other fruits of the Holy Spirit were so present as we recognized the fruitfulness of our yes to the Lord that contributed to the growth of our sister in Christ.

The study says, Consecrated women’s willingness to love all Christ’s children as their own is an ongoing witness to the truth, the power, and the beauty of the feminine genius (P. 81). For nearly 2 years prior to starting this study I had been discerning consecrated life, but this study was one of many ways the Lord confirmed I was moving on the right path and helped give me the courage to respond to the Lord’s promptings and move in with the Apostolic Oblates, lay consecrated women that take vows of poverty, obedience, and chastity with a promise of apostolic availability. I am currently in the first step, The Experience before even starting formation, but receiving a lot from the Lord here. Getting to tell my spiritual moms from the group about my day of prayer that led me to take this step was so exciting and their encouragement and support helped me stay grateful for this move even when other people in my life were not as excited for me as I begin this journey.

The beautiful thing is that the Lord will use us right where we are, in our state of life and varied circumstances to bear spiritual fruit and be a spiritual mother if we are open to His voice and promptings.

Celebrating Moms

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/.

Healing from Miscarriage

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.