Feast Day of Our Lady of Sorrows – Parish Celebration – Sunday 17 September 2023

As we appreciate, our Parish community has been on a remarkable journey in these recent years as we consider what it means to be Church in the city. We have developed our Parish Mission – Bringing the Light of Christ to the City:  We Love, We Serve, We Grow – and now together as a Parish-in-Council we have begun to reflect on how we might put this into practice going forward.

When we talk about being Church in the city we are, of course, not simply talking about this magnificent building. We are talking about Church as a living community of faith. And yet, our church building is not incidental.  It is the symbol of our life together. It gives form to our existence; it gathers us together and it sends us out. It is here we celebrate the Eucharist to which we bring all we experience, by which we are fed, and from which we go back out to the myriad places we live and work.

And this place, this magnificent building which we hope one day may even be designated as a basilica, has been entrusted to the patronage of Our Lady of Sorrows, Mary at the foot of the Cross. 

We may be tempted to say, “What’s in a name?” The names of things and even of people may not have a great deal of significance for us. And yet, names are not incidental. For the people of the Scriptures, names meant everything. They signified a person’s entire orientation in life. That is why when someone received a new calling their names changed. We think of Abram to Abraham, Jacob to Israel, Simon to Peter.

The name of our community therefore is important. Being named a certain way, brings with it a certain vocation. The name we bear brings with it a responsibility to show forth its meaning.  This is why the feast day of our parish is important. It becomes an opportunity every year to think again on who we are and who we are to become. We have been given the title, Our Lady of Sorrows, Our Lady of Dolours, the one who stands at the Cross not as an idle participant enwrapped in her own grief which must have been immense, but the one to whom the care of the living Body of the Risen Christ is entrusted through the disciple John. Why is the mystery of Mary’s motherhood of the Church given at Calvary, and not at some other time? It is in fact the new Annunciation. Just as the Annunciation intimates the life that is to be conceived in Mary so that she becomes the mother of Jesus, now at the Cross she is committed to care not only for the physical life of Jesus, but for the resurrected life of her Son that is about to be conceived through the Cross. Her maternal vocation does not cease at the death of Jesus but now is given universal significance. The living body of the Risen Christ, the Church, is being entrusted to her.

The two archetypal images we have of Mary are on the one hand the Madonna and Child, and on the other the mother enfolding her dead son with her love in the Pieta. These two images speak deeply to us about the two central considerations of life: birth and death. The image of the Madonna and Child speaks of life’s new beginnings, of life’s possibilities. It speaks of hope and promise.  The Pieta brings us to that harsh recognition: the reality of suffering and ultimately of death. The Madonna and Child restores us to our innocence; the Pieta encapsulates the deepest question about suffering and its meaning. Why must we suffer? And is there anyone there for us in our suffering? Must I suffer alone? 

Depictions of the Pieta seek to address this in various ways. We think of Michelangelo’s Pieta in St Peter’s in Rome – the surrender of Mary as she receives her Son in trust and serenity. We think of the Coustou sculpture in Notre Dame Paris preserved through the recent destruction by fire, depicting Mary’s anguish and ardency. And we think of our own Pieta here in our church which speaks uniquely and distinctly of the tenderness, the concern, and the caress of Mary for her Son.  

And if this be how she holds her Son, it is how she holds each of us, members of the Body of the Risen Christ for which she is mandated to care. On this our feast day I invite us to spend time before this remarkable sculpture and to draw its lessons into our heart. We will know who we are as a particular community of faith only as we stay present to this beautiful work of art. In its form, it holds the soul and meaning of our vocation as a community.

In Tradition, there are seven sorrows linked to Mary. 

  1. At the prophecy of Simeon in the Temple: “You yourself shall be pierced with a sword – so that the thoughts of many hearts may be laid bare.” (Luke 2:35).
  2. At the flight into Egypt; “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt.” (Mt 2:13).
  3. Having lost the Holy Child at Jerusalem; “You see that your father and I have been searching for you in sorrow.” (Luke 2:48).
  4. Meeting Jesus on his way to Calvary;
  5. Standing at the foot of the Cross; “Near the cross of Jesus there stood His mother.” (John 19:25).
  6. Jesus being taken from the Cross;
  7. At the burial of Christ.

Each of these, however, corresponds to expressions of suffering in each of our lives. Time won’t allow us now to explore this, and yet, it is worth us reflecting upon these deep in our hearts.  Yet, the link between them is the powerlessness that underscores and permeates all suffering.  And so we come to her, so acquainted with powerlessness, with our own. How powerless do we feel when the future is uncertain, when we cannot affect the lives of our children in the way we wish, when we have to stand by the suffering of those we love without an answer; at times of failure, disillusionment, loneliness, in the silence that greets the questions of our heart. 

We come to Mary at the foot of the Cross, holding the agony of our own hearts and lives, however it may express itself. We bring the body of the crucified One in those parts of our own heart that are broken, and in those whom the world has abandoned. We hunger for the tenderness that understands.  That tenderness may not be able to take away our suffering; it does not offer an easy solution. Yet, it is present to what we are going through, and our suffering is not the same as a result.  We come away stilled, centred, assured . . . we are able to continue the journey. That moment of companionship can make all the difference in our world.

We hope and we pray that our church, and that our Pieta, my hold this possibility to the many, many people that discover this oasis. They come with their own cross, their own question about the suffering they experience in their lives, as we do. May they not leave more troubled but rather through the presence of Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, in the heart of this city find a new possibility even in the midst of their suffering.

And so, we pray:

Mary, Mother of the Lord, you experienced overwhelming grief and powerlessness in the face of the pain endured by your Son, Jesus. You bore his suffering in your soul. From the Cross he gives you as our Mother, too. Now you see in us the image of your suffering Son. You long to aid us, as you do your Son. You are with us in what we suffer, and with what we struggle to bear.

By your maternal care, help us not to lose heart in the midst of whatever difficulties we have. In your companionship with us, may we find the courage to continue to make decisions for faith and for love. May we hear the murmur of hope within our hearts.

Awaken in our own hearts awareness of the suffering of others, especially to those nearest us. As we allow ourselves to be touched by the pain of others, stir within us our desire to be a companion to others in their needs. Inspire us to act always with creative and courageous compassion so that, leaving selfish ways behind and through our attention to the suffering of others, our world may be transformed by the pattern of love we see in your Son. Enable us to become a community of care for others in which people of every background find welcome and their wounds healed. 

May your presence in our midst be our constant guide. Amen

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