Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Monday in the 24th Week of Ordinary Time
Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows
Beyond the Eating Contest

Readings: 1 Corinthians 11:17-26, 33; Psalm 40:7-8a, 8b-9, 10, 17; John 19:25-27 or Luke 2:33-35
Picture: CC Daniel Leininger

Some of us may know people whose eating habits attract nicknames like garbage bin or vacuum cleaner. Whenever they come near food of any sort, all of their attention is immediately focused on consuming it. It’s as though they are participating in an eating contest. Nothing can distract them from their purpose. They seem intent on disposing of everything in sight in the shortest time possible. We’re not saying, of course, that there is anything morally wrong with such a habit. Not necessarily. What we’re more concerned with is to consider how such an approach to eating sometimes seems quite similar to the way in which some of us approach the spiritual life.

Isn’t it true that some of us do sometimes approach religious rituals and devotions as a glutton would a buffet table? At the sight of the rich spiritual food laid out before us, our eyes widen, our mouths water, and we immediately set out to polish off as much of the delicacies, and as quickly, as we can. Sometimes, this tendency is quite understandable. Perhaps we may be suffering in some way, or facing a crisis of some sort. We may be crying out most pitiably to God for help. Can we not be forgiven – especially when we find ourselves in such dire straits – if our attention becomes focused solely on our own needs? Can someone with a bad toothache, for example, really be expected to think of anything, or anyone, else other than relief from his/ her own pain?

And yet, our readings and the feast that we celebrate today invite us to consider the possibility – indeed, even the necessity – of another approach. In the first reading, Paul reminds the Corinthians that when they come together for the Eucharistic meal, and think only about filling their own stomachs, they show contempt for the Church of God. It is not the Lord’s Supper that they are eating. In other words, in their urgency to satisfy their own hunger, they defeat the whole purpose of the celebration. They eat judgment rather than redemption upon themselves.

In contrast, the gospel presents us with a strikingly different image. Here, even as he struggles to breathe his final painful breaths, the crucified Christ’s attention stretches far beyond his own pain. Not only is he providing a place for his mother, but he is also inaugurating a new context of relationships for us all. He shows us that the ties that bind unto eternity will be those that go beyond the blood ties of familial kinship. Instead they will be rooted in the blood that he is shedding on the Cross – the blood of the New Covenant, the blood of the meek Lamb of God, obediently led to the slaughter. Woman behold your son… behold your mother…

Here then is the sorrow that we dare to celebrate today. Here is the sorrow in which Mary shared so fully, the sorrow that leads our hungry hearts to the eternal joy, the final satisfaction, of the Kingdom. It is a sorrow that is shared rather than selfish. It is a sorrow that is compassionate rather than insensitive. It is a sorrow that knows how to be patient even when satisfaction seems late in coming. In the words of Paul, when you come together to eat, wait for one another…

Today, how are we being invited to share more fully in this sorrow of Mary, and even to partake of it unto eternal joy?


  1. What does it mean to share in Mary's sorrows?

    Is it the sorrow for a family that does not realise the presence of God's love in their midst?

    Is it the sorrow for family relationships that are fractured?

    Is it the sorrow for a wayward child lost in the woods of material pursuits and self-gratification?

    Is it the sorrow for a friend suffering from the ravages of end-stage cancer or end-stage marriage?

    Is it the sorrow for a sister who is looking for love in all the wrong places and end up getting hurt over and over again by men who really do not love her?

    Which is the more loving thing to do? To share our sorrow with another or to "protect" them from our grief and struggles?

    The prayer of St Francis of Assisi comes to mind in all these questions. We can choose to be a channel or instrument of peace for another. And how much more valuable when we can be a container for another's sorrow and pain. Not an inanimate container but one that is flesh and blood, and feels the pain that is being shared.

    Perhaps Jesus knows better than all of us that it is not suffering onto death that is unbearable but suffering alone without another's love that is the greatest burden.

    When I open my pain to another, and receive the pain of another, and the God of Love comes to dwell more fully in our relationship;
    in times like these, am I being even more of a friend than one who can only share in the joys and good times?

    How are we called to be a "lady of sorrows" for one another in the footsteps of our Blessed Lady?

  2. Gee-whiz! Fr Roderick (or was it the Simpsons?) got it right: We Catholics are a peculiar bunch indeed! Besides obviously happy events, what else do we celebrate when we are together?
    * The death of our Lord and God, Jesus
    * The beheading of Jesus' herald, John the Baptist, for daring to confront a king with his sin
    * Interruptions in our life
    * The sorrow of Jesus' mother at losing her beloved son
    * The deaths of our beloved relatives, friends, priests and religious...

    For we believe that "it is in dying that we are born again".

    In light of this, a number of things become easier to understand. For example, why Catholics try so hard (or are continually exhorted) to be stoic in the face of suffering (or what looks like great suffering to the world):
    * NO to pre-marital sex, even when the temptation is so great.
    * NO to abortion, even when the unborn baby is expected to be such a burden.
    * NO to divorce, even when the couple feels that being together is such a pain.
    * NO to mercy killing, even when the sick has become such a burden....

  3. Sometimes sorrows can be bitter sweet, an oxymoron to describe how we often overlook that sunshine after the rain liberates us with new insights. Are we capable of being sorrowful until death, as Christ did?
    And although we cultivate a sense of empathy towards others in our actions; being imperfect, the resultant outcome may not match our expectations. If we are attuned to the plight of those less fortunate, the hired foreign workers, the marginalized; then we can learn to be more sympathetic to the prejudices that cause them the pain of being discriminated.
    Behold your mother, this is a reminder that I look to the immaculate lady that continues to succor those that seek her help. It reminds me of the sorrows she endured as the wounds inflicted on her son, stabbing deep in her heart. She kept these 'sorrows' within her without a single word of complaint.
    Can I emulate the Holy Mother in enduring pain and sorrow when confronted with events that seem so unjust, motivated by power, and perpetuated with impunity. It’s an uphill task!

  4. Fr Chris, I can understand the part about Jesus "even as he struggles to breathe his final painful breaths, the crucified Christ’s attention stretches far beyond his own pain." And I'm amazed by his love and selflessness. But how did Mary share her sorrow? There's no indication in the bible on this.

  5. Oh wait, you mean that Mother Mary shared fully, compassionately and patiently in Jesus' sorrows (of being betrayed, reviled, scorned, rejected, killed...) and not that Mother Mary shared her sorrow (of losing a son) with someone else (like the beloved disciple at the foot of the cross, or with us), don't you?

    And when something similar to what Anon 3 has described, "that sunshine after the rain liberates us with new insights" (renewed strength, unity, love, etc.), that's how "the sorrow.. leads our hungry hearts to the eternal joy, the final satisfaction, of the Kingdom"?

  6. When Jesus chose Mary's womb as his first "home" on earth, and lived close to her heartbeat for 9 months, their lives were forever linked with each other and the whole world past, present and future. This is perhaps why the Feasts of Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary are so closely linked.

    Those of us who are mothers understand a little of this linkage with our child's life for we do feel pain when our child is in pain.

    But more than this, what all mothers share with Mary is a universal bond of "knowing" the common sufferings of motherhood and holding the concerns of all our children in our hearts as Mary does. In this way, we, together with Mary bring the concerns of all our loved ones to our Lord by the love we have for our children.

    And since every child on this earth has a mother, every child is also linked to one another through the universal bond shared by all mothers.

    By giving Mary and St John to one another as Jesus hung on the cross, we know that we are all linked to one another through the great gift of motherhood.

    God's blessings to all. :)


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