On The First Dolor: Of St. Simeon’s Prophecy
(Reflections on each of the Seven Dolors of Mary in Particular)
From The Glories of Mary by St. Alphonsus de Liguori
IN this valley of tears, every man is born to weep, and every one must suffer those afflictions that daily befall him. But how much more miserable would life be, if every one knew also the future evils which are to afflict him! Too unhappy would he be, says Seneca, whose fate was such. The Lord exercises his compassion towards us, namely, that he does not make known to us the crosses that await us; that if we are to suffer them, at least we may suffer them only once. But he did not exercise this compassion with Mary, who, because God wished her to be the queen of dolors, and in all things like his Son, and to see always before her eyes, and to suffer continually all the sorrows that awaited her; and those were the sufferings of the passion and death of her beloved Jesus. For St. Simeon in the temple, after having received the divine child in his arms, predicted to her that this Child was to be the mark for all the opposition and persecution of men; “Set for a sign which shall be contradicted;” and that therefore the sword of sorrow should pierce her soul: “And thy own soul a sword shall pierce.”
The holy Virgin herself said to St. Matilda, that at the announcement of St. Simeon all her joy was changed into sorrow. For, as it was revealed to St. Theresa, the blessed mother, although she knew before this that the life of her Son would be sacrificed for the salvation of the world, yet she then learned more particularly and distinctly the sufferings and cruel death that awaited her poor Son. She knew that he would be contradicted in all things. Contradicted in doctrine; for instead of being believed, he would be esteemed a blasphemer for teaching that he was the Son of God, as the impious Caiaphas declared him to be, saying: “He hath blasphemed, he is guilty of death.” Contradicted in his reputation, for he was noble, of royal lineage, and was despised as a peasant: “Is not this the carpenter’s son?” “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?” He was wisdom itself, and was treated as an ignorant man: “How doth this man know letters, having never learned? As a false prophet: “And they blindfolded him and smote his face …. saying: Prophesy who is this that struck thee.” He was treated as a madman: “He is mad, why hear you him?” As a wine-bibber, a glutton, and a friend of sinners: “Behold a man that is a glutton, and a drinker of wine, a friend of publicans and sinners.” As a sorcerer: “By the prince of devils he casteth out devils.” As a heretic and possessed person: “Do we not say well of thee, that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil?” In a word, Jesus was considered as so bad and notorious a man, that no trial was necessary to condemn him, as the Jews said to Pilate: “If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up to thee.” He was contradicted in his soul, for even his eternal Father, in order to give place to the divine justice, contradicted him by not wishing to hear him when he prayed to him, saying: “Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me;” and abandoned him to fear, weariness, and sadness, so that our afflicted Lord said: “My soul is sorrowful even unto death.” His interior suffering even caused him to sweat blood. Contradicted and persecuted, in a word, in His Body and in His life, for He was tortured in all His sacred members: in His hands, in His feet, in His Face, and in His Head, in His whole Body, till, drained to the last drop of His Blood, He died an ignominious death on the Cross.
When David, in the midst of all his pleasures and royal grandeur heard from Nathan the prophet, that his son should die “The child that is born to thee shall surely die” he could find no peace, but wept, fasted, and slept upon the ground. Mary received with the greatest calmness the announcement that her Son should die, and peacefully continued to submit to it; but what grief she must have continually suffered, seeing this amiable Son always near her, hearing from Him words of eternal Iife and beholding His holy demeanor. Abraham suffered great affliction during the three days he passed with his beloved Isaac, after he knew that he was to lose him. Oh God! not for three days, but for thirty three years, Mary had to endure a like sorrow. Like, do I say ? A sorrow as much greater as the Son of Mary was more lovely than the son of Abraham. The blessed Virgin herself revealed to St. Bridget, that while she lived on the earth there was not an hour when this grief did not pierce her soul: As often, she continued, as I looked upon my Son, as often as I wrapped him in his swaddling clothes, as often as I saw His hands and His feet, so often was my soul overwhelmed as it were with a fresh sorrow, because I considered how He would be crucified. Rupert the Abbot, contemplating Mary, while she was suckling her Son, imagines her addressing Him in these words: “A bundle of myrrh is my beloved to me, he shall abide between my breasts. Ah, my Son, I clasp Thee in my arms, because Thou art so dear to me; but the dearer Thou art to me, the more Thou dost become to me a bundle of myrrh and of sorrow, when I think of Thy sufferings. Mary, says St. Bernardino of Sienna, considered that the strength of the saints was to pass through death; the beauty of paradise to be deformed; the Lord of the universe to be bound as a criminal; the Creator of all things to be livid with stripes; the Judge of all to be condemned; the glory of heaven despised; the King of kings to be crowned with thorns, and treated as a mock king.
Father Engelgrave writes, that it was revealed to the same St. Bridget, that the afflicted mother, knowing all that her Son would have to suffer, suckling him, thought of the gall and vinegar; when she swathed him, of the cords with which he was to be bound; when she bore Him in her arms, she thought of Him being nailed to the Cross ; and when He slept, she thought of His death. As often as she put on Him His clothes, she reflected that they would one day be torn from Him, that He might be crucified; and when she beheld His sacred hands and feet, and thought of the nails that were to pierce them, as Mary said to St. Bridget: “My eyes filled with tears, and my heart was tortured with grief.”
The evangelist says, that as Jesus Christ advanced in years, so also he advanced in wisdom and in grace with God and men. That is, He advanced in wisdom and in grace before men or in their estimation; and before God, according to St. Thomas, inasmuch as all His works would continually have availed to increase His merit, if from the beginning grace in its complete fullness had not been conferred on Him by virtue of the hypostatic union. But if Jesus advanced in the esteem and love of others, how much more did He advance in Mary’s love! But oh God, as love increased in her, the more increased in her the grief of having to lose Him by a death so cruel. And the nearer the time of the passion of her Son approached, with so much greater pain did that sword of sorrow, predicted by St. Simeon, pierce the heart of the mother; precisely this the angel revealed to St. Bridget, saying: “That sword of sorrow was every hour drawing nearer to the Virgin as the time for the passion of her Son drew nearer. ”
If, then, Jesus our King and His most holy mother did not refuse, for love of us, to suffer during their whole life such cruel pains, there is no reason that we should complain if we suffer a little. Jesus crucified once appeared to sister Magdalene Orsini, a Dominican nun, when she had been long suffering a great trial, and encouraged her to remain with Him on the Cross with that sorrow that was afflicting her. Sister Magdalene answered him complainingly: “Oh Lord, Thou didst suffer on the cross only three hours, but it is more than three years that I have been suffering this cross.” Then the Redeemer replied: “Ah! ignorant soul, what dost thou say? I, from the first moment I was conceived, suffered in heart what I afterwards suffered on the Cross.” If, then, we too suffer any affliction and complain, let us imagine that Jesus and His mother Mary are saying to us the same words.
Father Roviglione, of the Company of Jesus, relates, that a certain youth practised the devotion of visiting every day an image of the sorrowful Mary, in which she was represented with seven swords piercing her heart. One night the unhappy youth fell into mortal sin. Going next morning to visit the image, he saw in the heart of the blessed Virgin not only seven, but eight swords. As he stood gazing at this, he heard a voice saying to him, that this sin had added the eighth sword to the heart of Mary. This softened his hard heart; he went immediately to confession, and through the intercession of his advocate, recovered the divine grace.
O my blessed Mother, not one sword only, but as many swords as I have committed sins have I added to those seven in thy heart. O, my Lady, thy sorrows are not due to thee who art innocent, but to me who am guilty. But since thou hast wished to suffer so much for me, O, by thy merits obtain for me great sorrow for my sins, and patience under the trials of this life, which will always be light in comparison with my demerits, for I have often merited hell. Amen.