THE SEVEN SORROWS OF MARY AND CODEPENDENCY
by Bruce G.
The devotion to the Seven Sorrows of Mary (“Seven Dolors”) originated in thirteenth century Italy, with the establishment of the Order of Friar Servants of Mary (OSM) by seven professional lay men of Florence. The Servites devoted their prayers to the Rosary of the Seven Sorrows of Mary. During the 14th century, St. Bridgette of Sweden also promoted this devotion, at Our Lady’s request. In recent times (1982), Our Lady appeared to the seers in Kibeho, Rwanda and taught them to pray the Rosary of the Seven Sorrows for repentance and conversion of hearts.
The Rosary of the Seven Sorrows recalls the sorrows the Virgin Mother of God endured during Her life, particularly Her compassion for the suffering and death of Her Divine Son. The Seven Dolores are taken from Tradition and from Scripture events, and the devotion has a long history, and developed gradually. Before Pope Pius VII’s formal approval of the Seven Dolors in 1815, the Servite Order had permission in 1668 to celebrate the Feast of the Seven Dolores, because the Order was instrumental in popularizing the Seven Sorrows Devotion.
What is true in a general way for the Christian faithful who contemplate the Seven Sorrows of Mary can certainly be true, and perhaps especially so, for those of us who are grateful for the gift of recovery from the codependency of alcoholism, or any of the other codependencies of addiction. We well understand the notion of accompanying a loved one on a painful journey!
The following pages contain suggestions for meditations geared especially for those who are striving on, a daily basis for, “codependent recovery.” Ours is a multifaceted disease, afflicting us mentally and spiritually, and perhaps even physically. Recovery entails emotionally sobriety; living the ideal of “detachment with love” one day at a time. Perhaps these thoughts will contribute in some modest way to serenity in our lives, and a bit of spiritual enrichment as well.
MARY’S EARLY SORROWS
Mary’s first three Sorrows come from the time of Jesus’ youth, and in them Mary exemplifies the virtue of Humility.
1. Mary’s First Sorrow: The prophecy of Simeon. (Lk 2:34-35)
The First Sorrow belongs to a new mother who is totally in love with her child. Mary and Joseph present the infant Jesus to the priest of the temple in accordance with Mosaic Laws dealing with first-born male children. In the Catholic devotion of the Rosary, the fourth of the “Joyful Mysteries” celebrates “The Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple.” But we hear in Luke’s account, that an elderly gentleman was inspired to recognize the child as the promised Messiah. This man, Simeon, praised God for the gift of this special encounter. He spoke of the contentious life to which the baby was destined. He then looked at Mary; she too would suffer as he prophesied: “You yourself will be pierced by a sword” (Luke 2:35). His words were prophetic, but a broken heart is so often the reality for those who endure the agony of a loved one’s addiction. Spouses, parents, children, friends, co-workers and those in any relationship with an active alcoholic are not simply “affected” by the affliction of their significant other. We are heart-broken, and in some cases, hurt time and time again.
In the First Sorrow, Mary is a picture of utter powerlessness that stands as our focal point for reflection. As friends or loved ones begin to struggle with substance abuse, we would do well to reflect on Mary’s behavior and attitude at the time of the Presentation. She recognizes her powerlessness over Simeon’s words, and she remains silent, not engaging in debate. We, too, would do well not to listen to the advice or opinions of others, and not engage. Simeon’s prophesy that a sword will pierce Mary’s heart troubles Saint Joseph, but Mary remains unperturbed and in the present moment with her Son. She does not anticipate “the train wreck of the future,” as perhaps the guardian and protector of the Holy Family does. Her interior peace is not disturbed; she retains her serenity. The Baby is a gift from God which Mary accepts, both the joy and impending sorrow, in accordance with God’s Will.
2. The flight into Egypt. (Mt 2:13-14)
The Second Sorrow is caused by anxiety for the safety of the precious Child. As we read in Matthew, Herod seeks to destroy Jesus, a threatening future ruler of Israel. As Herod is unable to find Jesus, he becomes furious and overreacts to the perceived threat by initiating the Slaughter of the Innocents. In 12-Step recovery, we learn that, like Herod, our alcoholics and addicts often attempt to provoke us to anger and fear, so that the ensuing chaos might justify their drinking and drugging. We often give into this provocation, and the downward spiral of codependency becomes a vicious circle.
Mary and Joseph recognize that they are powerless over Herod’s actions. Rather than succumbing to fear, or becoming angry, they heed the message of an angel and they distance themselves from the impending chaos. Their life together in Egypt could not have been easy, as rootless parents of a newborn. Yet, they come to believe in a power greater than themselves, and they entrust themselves to God’s care. Mary and Joseph’s life eventually regains some sanity, as Herod eventually dies and they are able to return to family in Galilee.
3. The loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple. (Lk 2:43-45)
Anxiety for the welfare of the Child returns, this time brought on by His disappearance. The anxiety is deeper, as the Child is older and is missing for unknown reasons. In our codependence, we might find ourselves deeply engaged in trying to figure out our alcoholic’s or addict’s motives. We may seek answers among family and acquaintances, as Mary and Joseph sought Jesus among their company as they departed Jerusalem. But Mary and Joseph did not waste time and energy seeking Jesus, or clues about Him, where He was not. Instead, they quickly and rationally concluded that He must have stayed behind in Jerusalem, and they try to find him there. In a sense, the Holy Parents attempt to deal directly with their Son’s actions and their consequences, without drama and without recrimination or accusation.
In the end, Mary and Joseph must have felt some frustration, in addition to worry, when they could not find Jesus the second day. Not despairing, they made a decision to turn their problem over to the care of God. Had they not turned to God, they likely would not have been at the Temple on the third day, and
Jesus likely would have remained missing. Do we, in our codependence, take too long to turn it over, completely exhausting our emotional and intellectual energy, before we let go and let God?
Once Jesus is found teaching in the Temple, Mary and Joseph both experience joy at finding Him. They are perplexed by His actions, but they remain calm. Mary, in particular, demonstrates her love for Jesus, listening to what He has to say about His unexpected absence. She does not criticize or judge His actions, and she does not think of herself first. Rather, the Blessed Mother expresses her concern for St Joseph’s feelings, and she tries to understand Jesus message about the necessity of being in His Father’s house. Both Mary and Joseph come to see that Jesus has His own relationship with God the Father, and that He must act accordingly. Their discussion ends with trust restored.
Relationships with alcoholics or addicts are not so easily restored, particularly if consequential damages have been done. But, on the other hand, how readily do we accept that those with whom we struggle have their own recourse to God? Focusing first on our relationship with God, and then turning to Him for aid in discerning when and how to help (and when to do nothing), might prove the best course of action in the early stages of the disease.
MARY’S LATER SORROWS
Mary’s final four Sorrows come from the time of Jesus’ Passion, and in them Mary exemplifies the virtue of Compassion. Jesus took all of our sins upon Himself, including all the sins wrapped up with alcoholism and drug addiction. Well might we consider the Cross as a metaphor for addictions of all sorts, with Jesus representing the alcoholic or drug addict. Mary then represents all of us in our codependency, yet she does exhibit any codependent behavior. Instead, she models behavior that does not ignore alcoholism and drug addiction, but rather transcends codependency.
4. Mary’s Fourth Sorrow: Jesus meets His afflicted Mother Mary on the Way of the Cross.
There is no scriptural basis for the meeting which, Tradition asserts, took place in the winding streets of Jerusalem. Yet, we well might imagine the grief which swells Mary’s heart as she first sees Jesus, beaten and scourged, and carrying a heavy wooden cross, an instrument of further torture and certain death. But she does not cry out at the sight of her Son, nor does she wail in protest at the injustice. As mother and son’s eyes meet, we might do well to contemplate the expression on both faces; pain, self-giving love, fortitude, sorrow, and understanding. Compassionately, in the fullest sense of the word – accompanying Jesus in his Passion – Mary then follows her Son to Golgotha.
In this first stage of a loved one’s alcoholism or addiction, how many of us are tempted into making excuses for the drinking and drugging? A son or daughter, husband or wife, father or mother would never purposely cause us this pain. The family disease is an injustice – we can fix it. Ignoring the truth, we don’t see how we have been taken hostage by ties of blood and love.
Mary remains calm and does not directly interfere with Jesus. She is supportive, just by her loving presence, and in her prayers to the Father. Jesus is permitted the dignity of carrying His cross, even as
He falls repeatedly and is finally stripped of all He possesses. Mary’s prayers are heard by the Father, and He does ease Jesus’ physical burden through Simon of Cyrene, and His emotional burden through St. Veronica. Still, the Cross is something between Jesus and the Father; there is no triangulation involving Mary.
5. Mary’s Fifth Sorrow: The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus.
There are passages in all four gospel accounts which converge with the tradition of the Crucifixion and Death of Jesus. When the sad and painful procession had moved outside the gates of the Holy City of Jerusalem to the hillside of Calvary, Jesus is brutally nailed to the harsh wood of the Cross. Mary stands compassionately at the foot of the cross throughout the entire ordeal, as Jesus is totally incapacitated. Mary undoubtedly feels all of Jesus’ pain, to the point of nearly breaking her heart.
Our loved ones, too, can become totally incapacitated – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Jobs are lost, finances are ruined, legal troubles mount, and despair, leading to suicidal thoughts, might appear. In these situations, the temptations of codependency are many – working more or longer hours to pay the bills, hiring lawyers, signing for bail bonds. And since the drinking and drugging not only persists, but intensifies, we increase our efforts at monitoring, inhibiting, restricting, and denying the alcoholic’s or addict’s consumption. We become equally incapable of engaging in our own lives because of our attachment to the alcoholic or addict.
Mary, in contrast, deepens her prayers to the Father. The gospel accounts mention seven instances (“words”) when Jesus spoke during this agony. Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, in a slim volume entitled Seven Words of Jesus and Mary: Lessons from Cana and Calvary, provides us with a clue as to how Mary might have prayed at the foot of the Cross. In Bishop Sheen’s reflection, each of Jesus’ utterances from the Cross evokes a response from Mary’s heart; a recollection of words mother and son shared earlier in life. For example, in Jesus’ Forth Word, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me,” Mary recognizes Psalm 22 and recalls her own Magnificat, spoken to Elizabeth at the Visitation. Bishop Sheen draws the lesson of “confidence in victory” from these paired words, even at what could have been the greatest moment of despair. This lesson, this deepened pray of Mary, calls us to confidence in our own codependent recovery. In all seven instances, Jesus’s word produces a positive lesson for us via Mary’s response.
We are not the Immaculata, and our alcoholic or addict is not the Son of God. Looking at our alcoholic or addict on their cross might evoke negative memories in us that might lead to resentment. One way to overcome these painful memories and resentments might be to engage in something called empathetic repentance. Through Al-Anon, we are all familiar with the concept of taking someone else’s inventory. We also have learned that, “if you spot it, you got it.” Empathetic repentance makes profitable use of our tendency to “inventory” others. Empathetic repentance consists of inviting God to show me in my life the workings of a negative tendency or bad habit that I see in someone else’s life. I may then repent of this habit after the Holy Spirit shows me how it manifests itself in my life. As I make strides in overcoming this bad habit myself, the other person’s bad habit will no longer remind me of my own, and therefore it will no longer bother me personally. Then, a mysterious thing happens. As Al-Anon
promises, “Our situation is bound to improve” as we focus on ourselves and our own recovery. When we repent of a weakness we see in others, that person sometimes changes for the better without our ever saying or doing anything. By practicing empathetic repentance, we learn to detach with love.
6. Mary’s Sixth Sorrow: The taking down of the Body of Jesus from the Cross.
The Blessed Mother pours out her love for her Son from her pierced heart, as she caresses His broken body. In her arms, as in her heart, He is again the beautiful babe in the manger. For those of us in recovery from codependence, we would do well to mediate on Mary’s unconditional love for Jesus. Our goal should be to imitate this mother’s love, sooner rather than later. Even if we are only partially successful, that may be enough for our loved ones’ condition to improve.
As Mary mourns Jesus, even as she wipes the blood and filth from his body, she also provides us with a reminder of the power of unilateral forgiveness. Jesus is not in need of forgiveness Himself, but representing an alcoholic or addict in our meditation, he most certainly needs forgiveness, as we all do. At this point in the Sorrows, Jesus is unable to pray himself, so Mary prays for Him as she cleans his wounds. We can well imagine Our Lady begging the Father’s forgiveness, even as she herself forgives. This prayer calls to mind the petition from the Our Father, and in a special way, it reminds us of the Last Supper’s opening scene in which Jesus washes the apostles’ feet. Both Jesus’s body and the apostle’s feet have been in direct contact with this world, and by wiping them clean, sins are symbolically forgiven. Mary’s example reminds us of Jesus’ instruction to do this for one another – forgive unilaterally.
7. Mary’s Seventh Sorrow: The Burial of Jesus.
In our reflection, alcoholism, drug addiction and codependence have wounded our hearts, much like a lance or a sword. Like us, both the Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart have been pierced by these weapons. For Our Lord and Our Lady, though, this piercing had become both the source and the sign of the Union of their Two Hearts. Dare we also believe that this horrible disease might ultimately bring us closer together with our loved ones? Through meditation on this Sorrow, we are reminded that there are Two Unified Hearts placed in one tomb. Jesus is Mary’s treasure, and where one’s treasure is, so is one’s heart. Her only consolation, at this point, is that Jesus will no longer suffer. The union of the two hearts in burial signifies Mary’s total abandonment to God’s Will. In our codependence, if we follow Mary, we must also “let go and let God,” to the point of total abandonment.
The tomb is dark and cold. It invites us into the stillness and seeming finality of the moment, a moment of unknowing in which only pure Faith is of any avail. And still the Blessed Mother loves and she prays. The Seventh Sorrow points us toward the true depth of Step 11 in which we seek “to improve our conscience contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His will for us.” The tomb calls us to trust beyond abandonment, and pray that God will take care of our loved ones, either in this life or the next.
My Calix meeting shares start with, “Hi my name is…and I am a repentant sinner, grateful for….” After praying the Rosary of the Seven Sorrows during Lent, and after writing the above recovery mediation, I am still a repentant sinner, and I am grateful for having had the opportunity to pray, write and also reflect on Mary’s Seven Sorrows as a whole, in their totality. Now, I begin to see them for what they really must be – a set of real memories from the heart of a real woman whom we are privileged to call our Blessed Mother. And as I see Mary more clearly in her sorrow, as she leads me to her Son. And in each of the Seven Sorrows, I realize Jesus has taken my rightful place. He bears my sins, and He bears my cross.
In my mind’s eye, I see myself where I really belong in each of Mary’s Sorrows. And I notice that Mary does not complain about me at my baptism, even though I am bound to be trouble. And She stands by me as I begin to rebel in my youth. When I leave the Church, Mary intercedes for me with Her Son, and patiently awaits my return. As I stumble and fall, carrying my cross, She is there for me. As life gets really tough, and I feel the anguish of abandonment, Mary obtains mercy for me. Finally, through grace from Her hands, I surrender to the Just Judge. Once I accept His Mercy, Jesus frees me from my cross and He hands me to Mary, who sees to it that I am cleaned and prepared to start life anew. And in Her field hospital, I await the good pleasure of the Divine Physician and His prescriptions. In the end, through Her ministrations; through water and wine, bread and fish; my health returns. Fully restored, I am ready for service under the banner of Jesus Christ for the City of God.