I was blessed this weekend to go on a SILENT retreat at Mater Dolorosa Retreat House in Sierra Madre. It is ran by Passionist Priests and Laity and is beautiful (as you can see from this arial shot.)
The weekend is silent on our side, but there is an amazing retreat team that guides you through a theme. This was my 4th time attending a retreat here and it didn’t disappoint! The grounds are amazing and immediately set the tone of peace and reflection. You can sit in front of the tabernacle of the Lord inside or outside. The back wall of the chapel is glass and the tabernacle is right next to it.
Mater Dolorosa also has the best stations of the cross that I have ever seen. The distance between the first station and the last station is about how far Jesus walked from the temple where he was condemned to the place he was crucified. It is even the same change in elevation!! It is a wonderful meditation on how much Jesus loves us. They also have a beautiful replica of Lourdes, France where our Lady appeared to St. Bernadette and numerous lookout spots that help put one in the right frame of mind to listen to our Lord speak
However, my favorite spot is the Garden of the Seven Sorrows. I had never heard of the Seven Sorrow before visiting Mater Dolorosa. It is stations of the cross “like”, but the meditation is on the 7 swords that pierce Mary’s heart. Never heard of it? I will try to and walk you through the wonderful meditation with pictures of the mosaic tiles from the garden.
The first Sorrow is is the prophecy of Simeon (Luke 2:34-35) “and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” Imagine being Mary, holding the babe Jesus in your arms. You are so happy and proud. You brought Him to the temple only to hear a tragic prophecy about Him. I think I would have wanted to run away and cry. Knowing me I would have gotten into an argument with Simeon. Surely you are wrong! This is God’s son, surely he will be protected. Or maybe I would have wanted to know exactly how my heart would be pierced. I mean, I did say yes to the Angel Gabriel, wouldn’t I be protected from hurt. I am sure all of those thoughts must have gone through her mind, yet she put her trust in the Lord.
The Second Sorrow is the flight into Egypt (Matt 2:13-14) “When they had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.” Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt.” How scary it must have been to be jolted awake in the middle of the night by Joseph and told you need to leave now! The fear of someone finding you sneaking out of town. If they did hear you, you would all be put to death. It was your job to keep Jesus quiet in the middle of the night. I think fear would have frozen me in my place. Yet that horrible adrenaline rush sets in and you go into go mode. Holding the precious Jesus, I know I would be doing the right thing, but I would be questioning what God was doing. Not Mary, she rose and did what Joseph told her.
The third Sorrow is the loss of the Child Jesus in the temple (Luke 2:43-45) “After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him.” How scary this must have been for Mary. She was entrusted Jesus, by God and she loses him. It wasn’t one of those, I wasn’t paying attention moments, but everyone thought Jesus was with the other person. This is a parents biggest nightmare!! There have been a few times my children where out of my sight for a few minutes and I was panicked!! It took them 3 days to find Jesus. When Mary and Joseph find Jesus in the temple she says, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” (48) His answer, I was doing my father’s business! What a sharp reminder that He is not hers, but God’s.
The fourth sorrow is the meeting of Jesus and Mary on the way of the cross. Mary was in the crowd as they shouted for Jesus’ crucifixion. She watched as he walked on the road to Calvary. Their eyes met, no words were exchanged except the pain of the moment. I’m sure she recalled the prophecy of Simeon and knew this was what he was saying. Mary was on that path with Jesus, but she never interfered. Her heart was breaking, the son she loved, the one she took care of was about to die. The pain and anguish only a mother could feel.
The fifth sorrow is the Crucifixion and Death of Jesus (John 19:25) “Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala” She was right there at the foot of the cross watching him in die. She never left his side, just as any brave mother would have done. Her heart was breaking. Jesus spoke few words on the cross, but in John 19:26-27 it says “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” Jesus saw his Mother and knew her heart was breaking. As He was being crucified, he makes arrangements for her welfare. The love they had for each other was strong and intense.
The sixth sorrow is the taking down of the body of Jesus from the Cross. The famous statue of the Pieta shows Mary holding her dead son, Jesus. There are no words I can think of to describe this. She watched the crowd condemn Him and then kill him. Even though it was so painful, she finally got to wrap her arms around Him and cradle him. I think my heart would have exploded.
The seventh sorrow is the burial of Jesus. Mary helped prepare Jesus’ body for burial in the tomb. I am sure she didn’t know what would happen in a few days. She said her final good-byes. He sweet son was laid to rest in the tomb.
Ok, now that you just want to curl up in a ball and cry, why would this be my favorite place at Mater Dolorosa? Well, as a mother myself, I can relate to Mary and know how much I can learn from her example. I love my children and shutter at the thought of anything like this happening to them. I am fairly sure my kids won’t be crucified, but I do have to sit and watch my children carry their own crosses. I look to Mary as the perfect example of the 1st Christian. She became the 1st Christian when God chose her to be the Mother of His Son. She said yes to God even when it was going to hurt and she didn’t understand how it was going to turn out. Oh my! I have a ways to go in being that submitting to God. I ALWAYS want to know the outcome, especially when it comes to my children. I think I would have been tempted to flee with Jesus and keep him all to myself. As I read the news more and more I just want to run and hide my children from all the worldly things that threaten them. Yet, Mary with confidence in God, followed His will. So I must have confidence in God, too. Mary knows what it feels like to lose a child. She knows what it is like to search for them. She knows what it is like to watch them suffer, die, and to bury them. She stood by helpless to intervene, yet never leaving Jesus’ side. I can only pray for the grace to never leave my child’s side because it is too painful to watch. Her sorrowful example is one I wish to emulate. Yes, these are traits that I can learn from Jesus, but I am so grateful that at the foot of the cross He gave us his Mother.