At the Presentation, why does Simeon say that a sword will pierce Mary’s heart?

When Mary and Joseph bring the infant Jesus to the temple, Simeon tells Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many may be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul, too.” (Luke 2:34-35) These words warn Mary that she will suffer along with her son as he fulfills God’s work. Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical letter Redemptoris Mater, explains it this way: “While this announcement on the one hand confirms [Mary’s] faith in the accomplishment of the divine promises of salvation, on the other hand it also reveals to her that she will have to live her obedience of faith in suffering, at the side of the suffering Savior, and that her motherhood will be mysterious and sorrowful.”

As a mom myself, these verses really speak to me. There’s no denying that when you love a child, you open yourself up to pain – everything from vicariously experiencing their scraped knees to, in rare and terrible cases, having to see your child die. Simeon’s words are a kind of prophecy for Mary, a little note to prepare herself that being the mother of Christ will involve not just joy, but also pain.