Love Amidst Pain: A Reflection on the Journey to Calvary Through Mary’s Eyes

Abstract of holding the crossAs my infant son struggled with a difficult medical condition over the last few years, I found myself in the midst of caregiving like I had never experienced before. During that time, I stumbled across an old devotion: the Seven Sorrows of Mary. So, finding a connection with the Blessed Mother in my sorrow and hers, I found myself meditating on the Passion and Death of Jesus in a new way. 

Amid Mary’s great Passion-related sorrows, we can find consolation, just as in the middle of a dark night, we find illumination in the stars. That consolation is that Jesus could see Mary standing there along the road to Calvary. Her presence was a comfort to him, as it was for me facing grief and sorrow in my own life.

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Their meeting is not recorded in the Bible, but we know it happened by tradition. Their meeting was likely brief, just after Christ’s first nasty fall, and in that moment, Mary witnessed all the wretchedness that the people around her son put him through. Yet, what was wretched for her was also a moment in which Jesus could see that he wasn’t alone. Her presence showed him that someone loved him, that someone grieved his fate, and that Mary shared his suffering in her heart.

So even though Mary witnessed all the grotesque details of Jesus’ torture, she perhaps saw too the glimmer of relief in his eyes — just for a moment, that she was there.

Sometimes, our presence is not enough to console someone we love. But in certain, beautiful moments, it can. Even during the most difficult times, God offers us small graces. Like Mary, then, we can keep going.

Right after Mary and Jesus were forced to part, the soldiers recognized that he might not make it all the way to Golgotha alone. I wonder if Mary saw Simon of Cyrene from behind, and saw him help Jesus carry the cross as she longed to do. This too, was both a sorrow and a consolation, for now he had some help, but he was getting farther and farther from Mary, and closer and closer to death.

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Isn’t it funny how intimately sorrow and consolation are linked? The other side of sorrow is joy, and the other side of love is loss. As a caregiver, I’ve learned acutely that in life, we walk the razor-thin edge between the two sides, feeling both in their time as we wobble between them. It’s the sorrow of sitting at the bedside of a suffering loved one, intermingled with the joy of being in their presence, the joy of loving them with a depth that only such suffering uncovers. To flee one – sorrow or joy – is to flee the other. We can accept joy in our lives only when we accept sorrow. We can accept love only when we also accept loss.

This is the drama of our fragile, human lives. It is my drama in caregiving, and, I imagine, in all the permutations of life in which we live our days for the sake of another. Perhaps it is why Jesus told us to take up our crosses, that we may take up our joys in their time as well (Matthew 16:24). Perhaps it is why the man who avoided suffering “went away sad” (Matthew 19:22).

Mary’s sorrow is different from sadness. It is founded on faith, given momentum by hope, and is the interwoven brother of love. Sorrow is deep, like roots that probe deeper and deeper so that the tree above can bear abundant fruit. It is like the chaff that grows up with the grain; to remove sorrow now would threaten the harvest, but one day, God will separate the two (Matthew 3:12). Sorrow will be forgotten, and we’ll be left with the abundance and joy of Easter.

Editor’s note: This article is an edited excerpt from Theresa’s book, “Caring for a Loved One with Mary: A Seven Sorrows Prayer Companion” (OSV 2023).