Our tour guide brought the group to Santo Stefano Rotondo Sul Celio on my recent pilgrimage to Rome. A wedding was underway inside this small but exquisite church dedicated to the martyr Saint Stephen of Hungry. I was able to visit the interior of this church and its artwork quickly. The fresco of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin by Tempestra and Circignani in which the seven swords are depicted which pierced The Immaculate Heart of Mary caught my attention. This fresco which I photographed has become a valuable source of reflection and prayer focus for me since this trip. It is a vivid reminder that no one can bypass the effects of evil and its association to the pain and sorrow it causes us in this life. Our Lady and Jesus were not immune to this suffering. I am not discrediting Jesus' suffering but instead saying that since I am a woman and mother, I can embrace and empathize with her sorrow on a fundamental level.
I share this fresco and thoughts with you because Our Lady being without sin, would never choose sin; however, she was able to be affected by others in their choice of sin. People don't like to think about evil; it seems these days. The current culture whitewashes evil and pretends it doesn't exist in its many manifestations. My focus is not on sin right now but on the effects of evil which is pain and suffering caused to another. As I mature, “get older," I have developed a sensitivity to the piercing of my heart. Recently, the evil of illness and disease has hit my heart in a significant way as I watch my sister’s family attempting to cope with my niece’s diagnosis of brain cancer. I companion my niece as she contemplates her existence, seeks treatment, and begins to understand the new medical language of data-driven outcomes and probabilities. She talks of her mortality and spirituality. She feels that God is near and with her during this journey. I wish with all my heart, as Mary did for her son, that my niece would not have to go through this, and yet I am sensitive to God's hand working in this cancer mess. The ending is unknown, but hope is alive, and we must endure the pain and suffering. God draws us near if we allow Him when we are pierced and broken so that he may apply the grace to comfort and sustain us in the awfulness of pain and suffering.
Sometimes I feel more minor punctures like knives or daggers in my heart, especially if it is by someone I love or when someone attacks you personally for your ideas or beliefs. These piercings cause me to think about my response. Will I respond in kind and jab back? What “self-justified” verbal response will I make out of anger? Will I go with the passive-aggressive comment? Will I withdrawal love and go into isolation? I want to say that I would do the holy and righteous thing and turn the other cheek, but sometimes righteous anger is a good thing. We are not allowed as Catholics to stand by and let something immoral or unethical occur without trying to do or say something about it. The phrase "to each their own" is not living up to your obligations. It is being complicit, which is a grave offense. It's a cop-out to use an old term.
The fine art of a charitable or loving response is the spiritual gift to ask for in prayer. It reminds us that every person is made in the image and likeness of God even if you don’t like them or someone is despicable to you for their deeds or thinking. You are not charged with being friends with everyone but praying for their conversion of heart is your Christian duty. This seems like a small thing; however, praying for the conversion of ones' heart is huge! Our Bless Mother asks us to pray for the conversion of hearts all the time. Nothing happens without a person changing their heart. God works through the heart, and we are connected to His through the sacred heart of Jesus. All God needs is a crack, and He can work a miracle of change.
Coming back to the suffering and sorrow of Our Blessed Mother, she was able to endure these swords because God drew her in closer to His being and sustained her with grace. She is a model for us to follow. It is a concept I have reflected on since seeing this fresco. Our hearts are pierced over and over again in this life to various degrees. It is the response we choose that is key. Does this evil act cause us to reach out to God in our agony for sustenance, or do we reach out to our brand of evil for retaliation, thus risking isolation from God? God always gives us a choice. Mary has given us a model.
Peace be with you.
P.S. If you go to my Spirituality tab on the website, I have linked an interesting article which invites us in a prayerful way to honor Our Blessed Mother for enduring these sufferings on our behalf.