By Sister Isabelle, O.C.D.
A few months ago, I received word from my mother that my Aunt had been found without a pulse in the inn where she was staying. She had already passed away several days before they found her and we still do not know how she died. My beloved aunt, with whom I shared many a joyful memory from my childhood, suffered from Bi-polar disorder, and her relationship with my family was strained at times due to her mental illness.
This news pained my heart greatly. She was alone when she died, I thought. The details of how they found her disturbed me. I remember feeling like my heart was going to burst, like I could not take the pain that I was experiencing inside. As I attended Holy Mass the morning after I found out, I tried to place everything on the altar. God reached out to me with His healing touch later that morning through my sisters. I experienced great relief after being able to share my sorrow with several of them who held my hand, embraced me and listened with empathy. I could not bear this sorrow alone but needed someone to be there with me. It is amazing how one gesture of love can relieve so much internal suffering.
This experience opened my mind to a greater understanding of Our Lady of Sorrows. She suffered greatly at the violent death of her Son, our Lord Jesus. Her own suffering heart still longs for the consolation of souls who will sit with her in prayer and ponder her seven sorrows: Simeon’s prophecy of the sword that would pierce her heart, her flight along with Joseph and the Baby Jesus into Egypt, the loss of Jesus in the temple, her meeting with Him after His first fall on the way to Calvary, His crucifixion, the piercing of His side by the soldier’s lance, and His burial. Over the centuries, Holy Mother Church has encouraged us in this devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows.
Several days after I had received the news about my Aunt, I remember finding myself standing by a replica of Michelangelo’s Pieta in our garden. I was looking, looking intently at the beautiful, serene face of Christ as He lay in Mary’s arms. This was a deep healing moment for me. The turmoil and pain that I felt inside about my Aunt and her suffering was relieved by the peace of Christ and His Mother, my Mother. I realized in that moment, that Mary’s greatest moment of sorrow became her greatest moment of hope, because of her trust in God.
Although Mary’s Immaculate Heart was being pierced intensely at that moment by the sword which Simeon prophesied, she did not give in to discouragement or despair. Mary kept hoping in God’s goodness and her hope was not disappointed. The darkest moments in our lives, like my Aunt’s passing, can become great moments of hope in God’s goodness. When we continue to turn to Him in prayer, trusting that He has a bigger plan for our lives and the lives of our loved ones, and that He is always working for our greatest good, our salvation, we can find a deep peace in Him. He can change the sorrow of Good Friday into the Joy of Easter. He can help us see through our sorrow, as Mary did, that there is something good in the cross which He is permitting in our lives, just as there was something very, very good taking place through the suffering of Jesus and Mary on Good Friday. My hope is that my Aunt was not alone when she died. I believe that God and His Holy Angels were with her, bringing her home to God’s loving and healing embrace in Heaven.