Sorrowful Mysteries of Virtue

JMJ

DURING THE SPIRITUAL STRUGGLE (ascesis, podvig, jihad) to acquire the virtues there are three opponents that must be defeated: the world, the flesh, and the devil. In the course of this battle, the self is also conquered, but it cannot be so until the other three are defeated. Of course none of these can be defeated without the help of the graces offered by Our Lord in his Church and through the intercession of our brothers and sisters, especially the saints – especially the All Holy Theotokos and Blessed Virgin, Mary. Our Lady has offered many weapons to her knights in this crusade, most especially the Rosary. By way of meditation, here are the Sorrowful Mysteries considered as part of this battle.

This comes as a meditation and prayer for those who are working in the Courage Apostolate, but it may be of use for others.

I

In the Garden we struggle to understand what is happening. In the Dark Night we have to discern the three enemies and beg God’s grace to fight them. The death of what we think or imagine to be ourself is upon us. We must learn to see the false self, also, as an enemy. In fact we are called to slay this shadow before we can even offer our own gifts upon the altar. This will be the first (but not final) sacrifice. We must ask for courage, yes, and we must also accept the humility of obedience. Not my will, but thine be done.

II

At the pillar we face the Devil: who presents us with our own desires, memories, cravings. By the impiety of our straying he has power over us. As the Book of Common Prayer puts it: …we have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done; and there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. In the course of all that we have have seared our conscience and can only hear the whisperings of evil. All that we thought (previously) as “good” we must discard. What we face is the lashings of our addictions, the chemical imbalances we have created in our own brains by our actions. Eventually, as mentioned, we realize this means even our own ideas of who we are and what we have become. We must let these false goods die so that the real good may rise.

Of course the three things against which we struggle are never present alone. If one is there the other two are near. If one feels strongest the other two are just waiting to tag in. And so the world and the flesh are here as well. For what we have learned is engraved in our flesh and what we have learned we have learned from the world.

III

Under the Crown of Thorns we face the World and most especially we face the mockery of the world. In some cases we may be blessed to suffer actual persecution, but mostly mockery. We may suffer the relatively gentle mockery of allurements, or the fierce mockery of former compatriots in our sins. We may find our brows bleeding from the smiting of coworkers who reject us. We may feel the spittle of angry political opponents.

Most especially, we may find our hearts wounded by fellow Catholics who, rejecting Church teaching, try to lead us astray. We must offer this mystery especially for these who often defend our sins as cover for theirs or, perhaps, they feel they are doing a favor by “speaking out” when they are only speaking the voice of the World and not the Church and the heart of Christ bleeds for them too.

The devil tempts us all in our weakness and our flesh more but increasingly less willingly caves in. We find ourselves continually trapped in a three-way battle over ourselves.

IV

At the last carrying the cross we face the Flesh but always, really, we fight on all three fronts continually. Here, at last, though the victory is won in patience. We must learn to only keep going, to only just carry on. Here, no fall is too great as long as we only get up again and keep on keeping on. The flesh becomes stronger in virtue as its vices are weakened. Here each time we lift the cross again, it rises easier and easier. Yes, we must still die on it, yes that final sacrifice is coming, but here we are being prepared to make that offering.

The devil calls us back to our flesh. The world says Don’t leave me. Schylla and Charibdis seek to destroy us, but only keep on, one foot in front of the other. In the end the victory is death. But it is glorious.

V

The triumph is the Crucifixion. We have finally destroyed all our false selves. Now, at last, we can be crucified. For to crucify something false is to offer strange fire. Here at last is the final victory over the world, the flesh, and the devil. Death removes us from their power struggle. Death also opens us to God. Every little death is a prefiguring of this final sacrifice. Every little death takes us farther from them until at last we can be entirely God’s own. It is possible in life even for if you die before you die then when you die you will not die. But for most this death continues after death until, at last purged of all death, we can live, finally.

At the Cross her Station Keeping

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JMJ

Today’s readings:

“Behold, your mother.”
After the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (yesterday) comes the commemoration of Our Lady of Sorrows, noting, as St Simeon prophesied, a sword has pierced Our Lady’s heart.  Mary stands at the foot of the cross experiencing loss, a deep painful loss that anyone can understand if they have seen a parent mourn the loss of a child: especially a young child, but any child dying before the parent at all triggers this grief. I think it’s something we all can see – the thought that “I should not be here, parents are supposed to die first.” 
And this adds to Jesus’ pain as well, God knows this grief, the pain of watching his own mother suffer, of being unable to help her, to comfort her.
But Mary knows the grief, also, of a widow. There is this image at my parish of the Death of St Joseph, that is so tender, so loving. Joseph laying in Mary’s arms, while Jesus commends Joseph’s soul (in the form of a dove) to heaven. God, too, has experienced this grief: of watching a parent die; of being unable to help his mother even then.
And so this goes on: When God reaches adulthood and must leave home, must leave his widowed mother alone. And her in the keeping of the family, perhaps, or maybe just alone with people to look in on her from time to time. God has things to do, the Cat’s in the Cradle, as the song goes. It’s time to move on, there are things to do: taking care of Mother has to be left as a lesser good. And she knows this – but both feel the pain.
Our Lady knows our pains as well as her divine Son does. She is faithful through them. When she said yes to the incarnation she opened the door to all this pain, all this sorrow. She didn’t know about this stuff at that point. It was all coming though, site unseen she accepted it.
That is our lot as well.
Baptism is a road, a journey. As Bilbo said to Frodo, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
We may bite off more than we think we can chew. Or we may find ourselves alone – quite literally – with no one except God.
And in the end.. what? What comfort in knowing that Mary and Jesus have a sense of this?
I’ve been obsessed for the last few weeks with this line from the Catholic Stuff You Should Know podcast; this image from after the first Easter, maybe after the Ascension, or some other point… of Jesus meeting Abba Yosef in heaven… and just… crying. Hugging. Abba… Daddy.  Although the Second Person of the Trinity was never parted from the Father on the Throne of Glory in Heaven, the baby, Jesus, did not have the brain, the words, the mental skills to know anything (for he was Fully Human) to see aught but the Momma, and the Daddy. And when formulating an image for others of God the Father, Abba Yosef would have been part of that… and they meet in heaven. There is joy and love.

Then a few cosmic moments laters – years later on Earth – when Mary arrives and there is a reunion of the family, the Holy Family, and like the Patriarch Joseph in Egypt, all of God’s household knows and there is rejoicing.
And in the time of all the things, where we are, in the space where there is real sadness and pain, God has stood here and known it intimately. All of our sorrows, all of the swords in our hearts lead only to our salvation. They have been turned from our pain to our healing, by this love, this divine Charity, that doesn’t undo our damage, but repurposes it. The deep magic can’t be undone, but the deeper magic from before time can change and redirect it.

Mary stands weeping at the foot of the Cross – as do we – and in that weeping: salvation.

Love wins.