"You aim at a devout life, dear Philothea, because as a Christian you know that such devotion is most acceptable to God's Divine Majesty," says St. Francis de Sales in his book "Introduction to the Devout Life".
And we can all be Philotheas, as St. Francis notes: "I have made use of a name suitable to all who seek the devout life, Philothea meaning one who loves God."
I thought this homily by Fr. Eric Andersen was especially edifying. He read my mind, as I, too, was trying to make sense of "celebrating sorrow". So, even though Saturday is almost gone and the feast over, I still want to share this with you.
A homily by Fr. Eric M. Andersen, St. Louis Parish in St. Louis, Oregon
Sept 15th, 2012 The Seven Sorrows of Our Lady
A couple of years ago, I met a couple who said that they live in Our Lady of Sorrows Parish, but that the tone of the parish is a downer because of the title of Mary under which it is consecrated: Our Lady of Sorrows. So, they go to another parish where the mood is lighter. I have pondered that conversation. Can one celebrate the Sorrowful Mother in a joyful way? Can one celebrate sorrow? Recently, I found a key to the answer.
In his book, In Tune with the World: A Theory of Festivity, the German philosopher Josef Pieper asserts that “underlying all festive joy …there has to be an absolutely universal affirmation extending to the world as a whole, to the reality of things and the existence of man himself” (26). This means an affirmation of sorrow as something good; sorrow as something to celebrate.
Sorrow is not something obvious to celebrate, so let’s look at something more obvious. When we think of bliss, we think of celebrating something with “heartfelt assent, to find that something specific is good, wonderful, glorious, rapturous – a drink of fresh water, the precise functioning of a tool, the colors of a landscape, the charm of a loving gesture, a poem – our praise always reaches beyond the given object, if matters take their natural course” (26-27). In other words, when we are parched for awhile, that drink of fresh water is bliss.
But our celebration of it reaches beyond the water itself to the One who created it. We affirm the creation as a whole, by celebrating the fresh cold drink of water.
But we cannot affirm the fresh cold drink of water unless we acknowledge that there exists water which is foul. If we were to pretend that such water did not exist, or to shut it out of our consciousness because it is unpleasant to think about, then we would have no reason to celebrate the good water, because we would not be contrasting it with water which is foul.
Pieper writes that shallow optimism is not festivity. Affirmation of something good and worth celebrating “is not won by deliberately shutting one’s eyes to the horrors in this world” (27).
A martyr, for instance, who is suffering greatly, is still capable of joy. A martyr, “In spite of everything…finds the things that are very good; therefore in spite of everything he remains capable of joy and even, as far as it concerns him, of festivity” (27). I will quote the following from Josef Pieper:
Festivity lives on affirmation. Even celebrations for the dead, All Souls and Good Friday, can never be truly celebrated except on the basis of faith that all is well with the world and life as a whole. If there is no consolation, the idea of a funeral as a solemn act is self-contradictory. But consolation is a form of rejoicing, although the most silent of all – just as catharsis, the purification of the soul in the witnessing of tragedy, is at bottom a joyful experience. …Consolation exists only on the premise that grief, sorrow, death, are accepted, and therefore affirmed, as meaningful in spite of everything. (28)
So by the affirmation of sorrow as something good and meaningful, we can celebrate Our Lady of Sorrows without becoming bogged down. We affirm the importance of sorrow as a contrast to bliss, and so we can experience bliss because we have experienced sorrow. Sorrow does not endure forever. We can give thanks to God for sorrow because by it, we know that bliss is just around the corner.
Our Lady enjoyed sorrow. Can we now understand that? Her inner peace and joy was not disturbed by sorrow. Sorrow was called for, and she allowed her heart to be pierced by seven swords of sorrow. She did not avoid it or shut it out. She embraced that sorrow. She could only do so because her soul magnified the Lord and her heart rejoiced in God her Savior. She knew that her sorrow had great value for the salvation of souls. She knew that Our Lord, her own Son, wished that she would take part in the salvation of mankind, including her own salvation.
But when we celebrate Our Lady of Sorrows in September, we wear white. We wear a Marian Vestment, not violet, nor black. What does that say about Mary’s sorrow? It says that Mary’s sorrow is altogether different from ours. Mary is in the highest heights of heaven. In Dante’s Paradiso, Mary is at the summit of the Mountain. She is surrounded by heavenly light, whiter than any white vestment; more brilliant than any gold thread. Her sorrow is still profound, but it is not a purgatorial sorrow. It is a heavenly sorrow. It is a beautiful, transfigured, heavenly sorrow that we cannot even comprehend in our earthly minds.
For more homilies by Fr. Andersen, click on the tab at the top of the page.