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It was in another lifetime. I was so impressed by the sensitivity of Dr. Elizabeth Kubler Ross and in fact, we exchange brief correspondence. Over 50 years ago I taught one of the first university graduate-level courses in grieving. Despite that, it never dawned on me to apply what I knew to Mary’s “grief process” (The term itself seems so cold and clinical.)

For the past few days I have been thinking about the new universal feast instituted by Pope Francis – Mary Mother of the church. He deliberately chose the first Monday after Pentecost.. It is not actually a new devotion. The Church has long recognized Mary the Mother of the Church. He just attached great prominence to it.

The connection with Pantecost got me thinking of her in the Upper Room. Now I just wish I had the wisdom to make the connection with Mary’s many griefs earlier. Walk with me as I share what amounts to the “back story” of the feast of Mary Mother of the Church.

Mary’s Grieving

There are few people who have not thought of Mary’s grief as the limp and mutilated body of her son was returned to her momentarily before being wrapped in the funeral shrouds. Few visitor’s to this site have not seen and been moved by Michaelangelo’s Pieta.

However, I think we have tended to freeze her in that excruciating moment. But there is much more. Let me share some of the connections I should have made long ago.

Sometimes researchers speak of “complicated grief” in contrast to a supposedly normal grief process which moves through somewhat predictable stages. Anger, denial,  bargaining, depression and acceptance are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with the loss of someone we love. They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. But they are not stops on some neat linear timeline in grief.

Just because Mary was the Mother God and free from the stain of sin would not mean that she did not experience any of these feelings. On the contrary, her grieving process involved so many layers.

Any time a person we love dies we feel that loss acutely. Just ask any husband or wife or son or daughter about this. We also recognize that the death of a child seems so very unnatural. When a parent dies it is bad enough. But we expect children to outlive their parents.

Mary’s grief goes even further. Maternal grief is in a special category. A son’s death is the death of what been literally part of her and who she had shaped in formative years. Not did her only son die. He suffered brutally and innocently. So many layers of grief!

There are even further complications! Anyone who has been to the funeral of a young person can feel the often palpable bewilderment and pain of their young friends. It is even further complicated if it is the first death they have experienced. With a mother’s instinct for comforting the grieving mother often sets aside as best she can her own grief to comfort and reassure her son’s closest friends.

All these layers of grief Mary brought with her to the Upper Room. And still there is more!

While certainly over-joyed at his appearance to the disciples she must have hungered for some private time with him. Perhaps he made special visits with her. We have no record of any. But I suspect even such visits would have ripped open the pain with each separation.

And then there is the Ascension! I suspect many have thought of the Ascension as the wonderful event it was. But at another level. She would never see him again during her lifetime!

As I write this I realize that Mary’s sorrows and grief were accurately described with the word’s spoken to her shortly after his birth… your heart will be pieced!

Mary in the Upper Room – Then and Now

I fear that we forgotten that Mary brought all the experiences with he as she and the Apostles waited for the Spirit as Jesus told them to done.

It is pure imagination on my part but I can picture her in that Upper Room with the fresh scars of all these feelings … “mothering” her son’s closest friends. She was there with them in the midst of them with all their fears, anxieties about what was to happen next.

Just as she brought all that to the Upper Room I believe she brings all these experiences to the Church today! We have just as many moments of confusion, fear, and hope today as we wait for the Spirit. If anyone knows our anxieties as Church today it is Mary!

In his letter for the feast of Mary Mother of the Church Pope Francis prays.

…Beloved Mother, help us realize that we are all members of one great family and to recognize the bond that unites us, so that, in a spirit of fraternity and solidarity, we can help to alleviate countless situations of poverty and need. Make us strong in faith, persevering in service, constant in prayer.

Mary, Consolation of the afflicted, embrace all your children in distress and pray that God will stretch out his all-powerful hand and free us from this terrible pandemic, so that life can serenely resume its normal course.

To you, who shine on our journey as a sign of salvation and hope, do we entrust ourselves, O Clement, O Loving, O Sweet Virgin Mary. Amen.

…We fly to your protection,
O Holy Mother of God;
Do not despise our petitions
in our necessities,
but deliver us always
from every danger,
O Glorious and Blessed Virgin.

 “We fly to your protection, O Holy Mother of God”.

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