Updated: Sep 4, 2021
The month of September is traditionally dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows. We can show particular love for this honorific title by praying the Seven Sorrows of Mary, the seven moments of the Blessed Mother's life where she shared most intimately in the life, suffering, and death of her Son.
We are no strangers to sharing in our children’s suffering. Let us turn to this devotion to reflect on our journeys as parents of these extraordinary children, whose lives are beacons of grace, who invite us to share more fully than most in the powerful redemptive work of the Cross.
1. The Prophecy of Simeon (Luke 2:22-35)
Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
Do you remember the exact moment when you learned that your child’s life would not follow the usual path? I sure do.
Mary surely understood already that her child, the Son of God, would not follow the usual path. But Simeon’s words of foreshadowing began to prepare her for her own role in his redemptive story: You yourself a sword will pierce. It is impossible to raise and love children without sharing in their sufferings. When your child has more sufferings than most, we do well to face that knowledge with the same resolute commitment that our Blessed Mother showed.
Our Lady of Sorrows, help us to receive the piercing blows of the sword with grace and trust.
2. The Flight into Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15)
When they had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you.”
Our children’s stories are harrowed by unexpected twists and last-minute changes of plans. Maybe you’ve had a vacation cut short by a medical emergency. Maybe you’ve had late-night ER visits when you were already exhausted. Maybe you’ve made an early exit from a party, a dinner, or even Mass.
Whenever our own plans are interrupted by the need to protect and care for our children, we can ask Mary and Joseph to help us pivot, as they did when they fled to Egypt with Jesus in the middle of the night, carrying only the barest necessities.
Our Lady of Sorrows, help us to conform ourselves to the challenges of each day, to respond to changes in our plans and our children’s needs.
3. The Loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:41-52)
[H]is mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
Children with special needs and disabilities have gifts and talents, just as the rest of us do. They are called to holiness and even perfection. God has a plan for their lives.
Sometimes, I find my own plans for my children getting in the way of God’s… and then chagrined when the two conflict. But God’s plans for our children’s lives are always better than ours, even when they are more -- more intense, more confusing, more difficult.
Our Lady of Sorrows, help us to perceive our children’s gifts and talents and to support their call to holiness, even when it challenges us.
4. Mary Meets Jesus on the Way to Calvary (Luke 23:27-29)
A large crowd of people followed Jesus, including many women who mourned and lamented him.
Parenting a child with special needs is a daily walk of accompaniment. While we can never live our child’s experience, we show them by our continued presence that our love will not fail, no matter how arduous the walk.
We listen. We minister with words, deeds, and prayers. We offer our compassion. And while it may never be enough to completely lift the burden of the crosses our children carry, by these small works of mercy we can ease their walk.
Our Lady of Sorrows, help us to minister to our children when they are experiencing difficult moments, and make our words and actions a balm.
5. Jesus Dies on the Cross (John 19:25-27)
Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala.
It can be difficult to be present to someone who is suffering -- fully present, with your whole heart, body, and mind -- when you know there is nothing more you can do. But just as Mary walked the Way of the Cross with Jesus, so she stood with her son at the end, powerless to help him.
While we may not all lose our children to death, they do face crosses every day, and we face those crosses alongside them. The ministry of standing firm in your powerlessness and refusing to look or walk away from the darkest places is one that Mary lived intimately, and one where she stands with us, too. We unite our suffering, offering it to complete and perfect the sacrifice Christ made for us all.
Our Lady of Sorrows, help us to die to ourselves as we stand witness to our children’s participation in the work of the Cross.
6. Mary Receives the Body of Jesus in Her Arms (John 19:38-40)
They took the body of Jesus and bound it with burial cloths along with the spices, according to the Jewish burial custom.
Jesus’ suffering is over, and Mary’s worst work of grief is just beginning.
After a terrible trial (even if not death, perhaps a grueling procedure or emergency), we take up our children’s bodies and hold them. Often, this is the starting point for a much longer process of sense-making. Parents of children with special needs may face depression, anxiety, or PTSD over their children’s experiences. Mary knows these hardships, too.
Our Lady of Sorrows, help us as we grieve our trauma as parents, so that we can continue the redemptive work of self-giving love in the world.
7. The Body of Jesus is Placed in the Tomb (John 19:41-42)
So they laid Jesus there because of the Jewish preparation day; for the tomb was close by.
And sometimes, unbelievably, the worst happens and we are called to give our children back to their Father in heaven. I have not experienced this loss myself and would not presume to offer advice to anyone who mourns a child. (I will only extend this reminder to the friends and family of the bereaved: stay present at the foot of their Cross).
If you have lost a child, please know that I and others in this community are praying for you. And so is Our Lady of Sorrows.
Our Lady of Sorrows, help us to mourn our lost children with total surrender to the will of the Father and total abandonment to the hope of the Resurrection.
Christy Wilkens, wife and mother of six, is an armchair philosopher who lives in Austin, TX. She writes about disability, faith, doubt, suffering, community, and good reads. Her first book, Awakening at Lourdes: How an Unanswered Prayer Healed Our Family and Restored Our Faith, a memoir about a Lourdes pilgrimage with her husband and son, will be released by Ave Maria Press in October 2021. Find her at christywilkens.com.