Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows
(I Timothy 3:1-13; John 19:25-27)
It is tempting to hear these nearly final words of Jesus as an only son’s concern for his widowed mother after he dies. However, the context calls for a different and perhaps richer interpretation. Throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus does not look back to his childhood family but beyond to his divine one. Here we can see him giving his mother to his beloved disciple and his beloved disciple to his mother so that they too might be part of God’s eternal family. Their coming together will initiate the community called Church as they become adopted children of God and heirs of places in the heavenly household. When Jesus expires, John says that he “hand(s) over his spirit.” We may consider his mother and beloved disciple as the recipients of that spirit springing the Church into existence.
Yet Mary is still “the Mother of Sorrows.” Artists never depict this moment of church formation as a happy one. Rather they show Mary with tears in her eyes and, sometimes, John too distressed to show his face. It is not that they, or we in similar moments of loss, are too much part of the world to feel satisfaction that their loved one is heaven-bound. Rather, Jesus has loved them both so long and so well that being deprived of his presence will test their endurance. Thus, the scene provides us with a lesson about love. Worthy human love always makes us want to be united with the object of our love. Such love (eros in Greek) grows into divine love (agape in Greek or caritas in Latin) when God’s grace enables us to give the beloved back to God knowing He will reunite him or her to us forever.