A Reflection on the Church as the Sorrowful Mother
Reflection on the gospel for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Pre-Vatican II calendar). Taken from The Liturgical Year by Dom Gueranger.
This is the second time during the year that holy Church offers this Gospel to our consideration; we cannot be surprised at this, for the fathers selected by her as its interpreters tell us,on bothof these occasions that the afflicted mother who follows her son to the grave is the Church herself.
The first time we saw her under this symbol, of a mother mourning for her child, was in the penitential season of Lent. She was then, by her fasting and prayer (united as those were with her Jesus' sufferings), preparing the resurrection of such of our brethren as were dead in sin. Their resurrection was realized, and we had them, in all the fullness of their new life, seated side by side with us at the Paschal Table. What exquisite joy on that feast of feasts, inundated the mother's heart, as she thus shared in the triumphant gladness of her divine Spouse! Jesus was, by His one Resurrection, twice over the conqueror of death - He rose from the grave, and He gave back the child to the mother. The disciples of this risen Lord, who follow Him closely by their observance of the evangelical counsels, they, and the whole multitude that associated themselves with the Church, glorified Jesus for His wonderful works, and sang the praises of God who thus vouchsafed to visit His people.
The mother ceased to weep. But since then the Spouse has again left her, to return to His Father; she has resumed her widow's weeds, and her sufferings are continually adding to the already well-nigh insupportable torture of her exile. And whence these sufferings? From the relapses of so many of those ungrateful children of hers, to whom she had given a second birth, and at the cost of such pains and tears! The countless cares she then spent over her sinners, and that new life she gave them in the presence of her dying Jesus - all this made each of the penitents, during the Great Week, as though here the only so of that mother. What an intense grief, says St. John Chrysostom, that so loving a mother should see them relapsing, after the communion of such mysteries, into sin which kills them! 'Spare me,' as she may well say, in the words which the holy doctor puts in to the apostle's mouth. 'Spare me! No other child, once born into this world, ever made his mother suffer the pangs of child-birth over again!' To repair the relapse of a sinner costs her no less travail than to give birth to such as have never believed.
And if we compare these times of ours with the period when sainted pastors made her words respected all over the world, is there a single Christian still faithful to the Church, who does not feel impelled by such contrast to be more and more devoted to a mother so abandoned as she now is? Let us listen to the eloquent words of St. Laurence Justinian on this subject. 'Then,' says he, 'all resplendent with the mystic jewels wherewith the Bridegroom had beautified her on the wedding-day, she thrilled with joy at the increase of her children, both in merit and in number; she urged them to ascend to ever greater heights; she offered them to God; she raised them in her arms up towards heaven. Obeyed by them, she was, in all truth, the mother of fair love and of fear; she was beautiful as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in array. She stretched out her branches as the turpentine-tree, and beneath their shadow she sheltered those whom she had begotten against the heat, and the tempest, and the rain. So long, then, as she could she laboured, feeding at her breasts all those she was able to assemble. But her zeal, great as it was, has redoubled from the time she perceived that many, yea very many,had lost their first fervour. Now for many years she is mourning at the sight of how, each day, her Creator is offended, how great are the losses she sustains, and how many of her children suffer death. She that was once robed in scarlet has put on mourning garments; her fragrance is no longer perceived by the world; instead of a golden girdle, she has but a cord, and instead of the ruch ornament of her breast, she is vested in haircloth. Her lamentations and tears are ceaseless. Ceaseless is her prayer, striving if, by some way, she may make the present as beautiful as times past; and yet, as though it were impossible for her to call back that lovely past, she seems wearied with such supplications. The word of the prophet has come true: " They are all gone aside, they are become unprofitable together; there is none that doth good, no, not one!" ... The manifold sins committed by the Church's children against the divine precepts show that they who so sin are rotten members, members alien to the body of Christ. Nevertheless the Church forgets not that she gave them birth in the laver of salvation; she forgets not the promises they then made to renounse the devil, and the pomps of the world, and all sin.Therefore does she weep over their fall, being their true mother, and never losing the hope of winning their resurrection by her tears. Oh what a flood of tears is thus every day shed before God! What fervent prayers does this spotless virgin send, by the ministry of the holy angels, up to Christ, who is the salvation of sinners! In the secret of hearts, in lonely retreats, as well as in her public temples, she cries out to the divine mercy, that they, who are now buried in the filth of vice, may be restored to life. Who shall tell the joy of her heart, when she receives back living, the children she mourned over as dead? If the conversion of sinners is such joy to heaven, what must it be to such a mother? According to the multitude of the sorrows of her heart, so will be the consolations, giving joy to her soul.
It is the duty of us Christians, who by God's mercy have been preserved form the general decay, to share in the anguish of our mother, the Church; we should humbly but fervently co-operate with her in all her zealous endeavours to reclaim our fallen brethren. We surely can never be satisfied with not being of the number of those senseless sons who are a sorrow to their mother, and despise the labour of her that bore them. Had we not the holy Spirit to tell us how he that honoureth his mother is as one that layeth up to himself a treasure, the thought of what our birth cost her would force us to do everything that lies in our power to comfort her. She is the dear bride of the Incarnate Word; and our souls, too, aspire to union with Him. Let us prove that such union is really ours by doing as the Church does; that is, by showing in our acts the one thought, the one love which the divine Spouse always imparts to souls that enjoy holy intimacy with Him, because there is nothing He Himself has so much at heart; the thought of bringing the whole world to give glory to His eternal Father, and the love of procuring salvation for sinners.