Mother of Sorrows; Mother of Mercy
by Fr. Rufus Pereira
Mother of Sorrows: Way back in 1979, I was giving a retreat to the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (ICM) at their Provincial House. This was followed by another retreat to lay people organized with great interest by the same Sisters in their convent, for the first time in the history of their community. On the third day of the retreat, a teacher in the higher Secondary School, hailing from a very devout Catholic family came and asked me to pray for her husband, who had been like her a fervent Catholic but was now very much antagonistic to the Catholic Church. The reason was because, having returned for duty at the beginning of the new scholastic year after the annual vacations unfortunately one day late, his holiday time was considered as leave without pay. Added to the great financial loss, he felt that the penal action of the Principal of the College was unjust, and he developed a great hatred towards him and the Society of Jesus.
Before leaving the counseling room the woman just mentioned to me that she had been suffering from an unbearable pain in her right shoulder which no medical treatment was able to alleviate. She had planned to go to Kerala for ayurvedic treatment immediately after the retreat, but she now asked me casually to pray for her pain, which I did - not very seriously. The next morning however she came to tell me that the pain had vanished instantly and completely, and so she had come again with great hope to ask me to pray over her ten year old son who was in the VI standard. In answer to my query about his problem, she said that he had been hitting his forehead repeatedly for years. But that's not a problem, I countered, He can continue doing so. She insisted however that it was some sort of sickness and begged me again to pray for him. I refused at first since the boy was not a retreatant, and I felt the prayer would not be effective. But the headmistress of the school, Sister Bernard, pleaded on his behalf. So the mother sent a telegram to her husband asking him to bring their son to Dindigul immediately, and in any case before the retreat would end.
That afternoon, just as we were about to begin the last session of the last day of the retreat, her husband turned up with their son and daughter, just to please his wife and to see the place. I looked at the boy and there on his forehead was a huge protruding hard lump more than an inch wide and black in colour. She explained how this had happened. Her son, then a student in the first standard, was beaten very badly on his head by his class teacher for some reason. That same night he developed a high fever and began to have fits and so was admitted to a local hospital.
But after being discharged he developed a bizarre behaviour pattern. Whenever he looked towards the sunlight, he would feel some weird irritation on his right forehead and he would start tapping or beating on top of it with his left hand repeatedly, and would at the same time be kicking his left leg on the ground. He would do this for some time, would then stop and be back to normal, but again and again he would repeat the action. This made his life very uncomfortable. If while playing cricket he would look up to strike the ball and if his face would then be exposed to the sunlight, he would all of a sudden drop the bat and start tapping his forehead, while the ball would hit the wickets. He must have tapped or struck his forehead thousands of times to have caused that big ugly black protruding lump. His friends now shunned him as being odd, called him nick names, like 'mad fellow', 'lefty', and would not take him in their games. On his part he felt that he was good for nothing, and that nobody cared for him. He was not sent to school for quite some time and was often even confined to a dark room in his own house.
When he came to the VI standard, his knee joints and his toes started swelling and he couldn't move his legs even a little. His father would often rush him to the doctors carrying him on his shoulders screaming with pain. His father too became sad, impatient and short tempered, behaved rudely to others, and lost all hope in life, while the son was frightened to see the angry face of his father. Only his mother was faithful to God and devoted to the Church, in spite of her many trials. She reminded me of the Mother of Sorrows.
I first tested to see whether what was told to me was true. I took the boy out into the sunlight and made him look in the direction of the sun. Immediately to my amazement he started to beat his forehead with his left hand and to stamp his left foot on the ground repeatedly. I asked him why he was doing such an odd thing. "I don't know", he replied, "but now I feel nice". I once again directed his face towards the sunlight and again he reacted in the same strange way.
From Calvary back to Cana: Hearing all this and seeing all this, I did not know what to do and felt helpless. But I had noticed a picture of our Lady, Mother of Sorrows, and another of our Lady, Mother of Mercy, in that convent. In the prayer, the 'Hail Holy Queen', we hail her as the 'Mother of Mercy', and we invoke her "Turn then thy eyes of mercy towards us". That is why, in John's Gospel, the first sign of the Paschal Mystery is at Cana. Mary's presence and intercession, as the Mother of Mercy, results in an abundance of wine, the best the steward had ever tasted, the symbol of Paschal joy, at an hour, which was still not Jesus' final and best hour, but the beginning of his carrying his cross all through his ministry (Din 2:1,4,10,11). The final sign will be on Calvary, with Jesus tasting the sour wine of sorrow (Din 19:28-30), and Mary once again present, but now as the Mother of Sorrows, in prayer with her Son, (both the real and the adopted), but in his own hour of the crucifixion, the best and final hour, which would lead him to the joy of the resurrection (Din 19:25-27).
That is also why the universal Church, realizing from the Gospel that, as Jesus was born to die (Jn 3:16; Jn13:1), concludes that Mary his mother and first disciple, was also born to suffer, in imitation of her Son and to be a model for her other children (Lk 2:35; Jn 19:25). In John's Gospel again, we read that a lance pierced the heart of Jesus, soon after his death, (Jn 19:34-35; Zech 12:10). But not long after his birth, a sword had pierced the heart of his mother Mary also. (Lk 2:35). If God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us, Jesus in his turn did not spare his own Mother, but gave her to us not only as a mother, but as a victim, a patient and suffering mother, standing at the foot of the Cross with her heart pierced by a sword, and gazing at her Son nailed to the Cross with his heart pierced with a lance (Rom 8:32; Lk 2:35; Jn 19:34,37).
When we too find ourselves burdened in such difficult situations, we will receive both solace to our hearts and the solution to our problems as we contemplate Mary, both as the Mother of Sorrows, the woman born to have her soul pierced with the sword and to stand at the foot of Calvary's Cross, looking up at her Son, nailed to the Cross, his side pierced with the spear; and as the Mother of Mercy, seeing the distress and predicament of Cana's Couple, and looking down at her Son seated at table with his apostles, and telling him, They have no wine, and telling them, Do whatever he tells you to do.
Mother of Mercy: I led the boy to be prayed over but not in front of the retreatants, for I did not wish to have their faith shaken if nothing happened. Instead I took him aside to a separate room, along with his parents and three Sisters, while I urged the Sisters and other participants to support us in prayer from the lecture hall. I applied blessed oil on his forehead and placed my hand prayerfully over the lump. I noticed that he had now started sweating all through his body and especially on his head. He then told me that he felt something sitting in the lump. We intensified our prayers and he now said that his head felt so light and the lump very cool. I then took him out into the bright sunlight, - but to our wonder there was no tapping on his forehead and no kicking on the ground. I asked him to look in the direction of the sun, - and again nothing of that sort took place. I even held his face and turned it towards the sun. Just nothing happened.
The parents wrote to me soon after about the great change that had taken place in their son's life and the total change in their home. When they returned to their town after the retreat, all the townspeople who knew the boy's condition stared at him in utter disbelief, and even came to his school to check for themselves whether he had been totally and instantly healed. (Theirs was the only Christian family in that Hindu locality.) The pain in his knee joints also disappeared instantly even though they hadn't asked for that healing. When some months later I was passing by Usilampatti, where they lived, the family came to the railway station to greet me. I asked them, "But where is that boy with that huge lump on his forehead?" They joyfully pointed him out to me, but now without the protruding lump which had gradually disappeared. I could hardly believe my eyes!
Years later, in October 1994, I received an unexpected visitor at the Sacred Heart Theological College in Shillong, where I was lecturing in Scripture for the MTh post graduate course. You can imagine my surprise when he introduced himself as the boy with the lump healed in 1979. He began by sharing with me that even while being taken to the retreat centre then, he was feeling something in his heart which he could not explain. He shared this with his father, who just smiled and passed it off. But he now knew that the intercession of the Mother of Mercy had begun to work, as at Cana, in answer to his mother's prayers of mercy.
For the first time in his life he experienced love, joy and peace in his heart, and the Lord has been guiding and blessing him in everything ever since. He won many medals for his school in sports and scored distinction in his school board examination. He was now here in Shillong doing his Ph.D. in Physics in the North Eastern Hill University. The Lord had blessed his entire family too. His second brother finished his B.E. in mechanical engineering and joined the army as a commissioned officer. His sister completed her M.Sc. in chemistry and his youngest brother was now doing his B.Sc. in Zoology. This was all the Lord's doing, for before his healing his family was in complete ruin and now it is built on Christ the Rock.
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