As the scandalous revelations of clerical abuse and cover-up increase and climb further up the hierarchy, most of us are experiencing copious amounts of anger. Voices from every quarter are pouring in on top of each other straining to capture most perfectly the just outrage of betrayed laity and clergy alike. Yet as necessary as public outcry is to effect change, I find myself wondering if much of the vitriol freely flowing through the Church is nothing more than that ancient tool of the enemy: noise.
Having long had a devotion to the Seven Sorrows of Mary, I am struck at this moment of outrage to recall that Mary has always been called the Mother of Sorrows, not the Mother of Anger. More than any person in history besides her Divine Son, the Virgin Mary was wronged. She too was betrayed and persecuted. She alone of the human race was not guilty of Christ’s death, yet she alone suffered the most from it. No one in history has more right to outrage than she. Yet we are not left with any record of so much as a bitter word.
Instead, the figure which has come to us through the centuries from Calvary is the Mater Dolorosa. How significant is it that Mary responded to the supreme injustice of the ages, not with anger, but with sorrow. Like most of Mary’s words to us in the gospels, her example of sorrow is spoken silently, but it is a hard word all the same.
No doubt already many readers are muttering about righteous wrath, and the example of Jesus driving the thieves from the temple—an apt comparison for our times. True, wrath has its place, and I doubt whether the corruption of the Church will be solved except by a dutiful application of wrath by those with the power to change things. But the examples of Jesus’ wrath are few and brief, the examples of his patience under injustice many and lasting.
“But,” I still hear, “something must change. What good will rolling over dead and being sad in a corner do. Now is the time for action!” This thinking appeals to us, especially as Americans. We get angry at injustice. We destroy it. We fix it. End of story. But Mary’s example is not one of ineffectual lament. Mary, Queen of Heaven and Earth, Refuge of the Faithful, Terror of Demons, Queen of Victory, etc., is not an ineffective person. Thus, her sorrow was somehow more effective in the scheme of salvation than anger, and I believe our sorrow can be too.
Mary’s sorrow is well worth contemplating because of how unique it was both in scale, and in quality. Mary, possessing perfect faith, never doubted that God’s will would triumph in the end. She never ceased to believe in his goodness or presence to her and her Son. If most of us were possessed for a moment with the intensity of her faith in God’s final victory, and the final beatitude we will enjoy in it, we would probably cease to be bothered by the momentary afflictions of Earth. Yet just as Jesus wept before raising Lazarus, our Blessed Mother still felt the death of her soon-to-be-resurrected Son more deeply than anyone else has ever felt anything. Why? Because Mary, like her Son, was not most sorry for herself, or the apostles, or even per se for Jesus as her son. She was sorry most of all that evil had marred what God had created so good. She perceived more than any the goodness God had intended, and lamented more than any the offensive done to it, and God, by sin. And because of this her sorrow was redemptive.
It may sound heartless in the face of such grave human suffering to mention that sin hurts God still more. Yet it is true. We teach after all that sin, being directed against an infinite being, constitutes an infinite offense, but this teaching doesn’t stir us much. Who can picture an infinite offense? Much easier to stick with the brutal, but still finite harms done to us and our fellow men. But Mary, through her union with Jesus, came closest to truly feeling the weight of sin as God feels it, and that weight brought forth sorrow, not anger.
Anger, when it is just, spurs one to correct injustice, as Jesus did in the Temple. But humans have no capacity to truly mend the rifts of sin. The offense and the horror is too great. Sorrow, while it appears more passive, is more fruitful, because it brings one into relationship with the wounded person. It brings one into relationship with God, who alone has the power to mend. Mary, participating in the Divine sorrow of the cross, became another bridge between God and the broken race of man, a bridge over which grace and salvation flow freely. Mary shows that only human sorrow, rather than human anger, can adequately respond to the mystery of sin and suffering.
We cannot of course simply decide to be sorrowful instead of angry, but we can take actions to weed out ineffective anger and replace it with redemptive sorrow. Meditation on Mary’s own sorrow, and her union with Jesus on the cross can spur us on, as can exercising an increased charity and patience with those who irritate or wrong us personally. In public and private we should spend more energy encouraging each other in faith and healing the hearts of the wounded than brooding on the evil men who hurt them. If the wounds of the Church hurt us, they hurt the Bridegroom infinitely more. We may do much more good fleeing to his side to share his suffering than raging against the dark in protest of it.
Finally, sorrow at its highest is an act of trust. Mary, at the foot of the cross allowed herself to suffer freely because she believed that the one she suffered with would have his day. Psalm 50 foretells, “Our God comes, he keeps silence no longer.” Whatever human justice we achieve on Earth is only a placeholder for that awesome and terrible judgment which will satisfy every demand of justice at the end. Jesus, through St. Faustina, repeatedly begged mankind to trust him. How much more does he desire our trust now in the midst of horror and sin than when we felt secure in our virtue? Neither the Pope, nor the bishops, nor us and all our rage were ever going to save the Church. We see that now. But Jesus was, he is, and he will.
Jesus, we trust in you. Maria, Mater Dolorosa, ora pro nobis.