Mary and Heroic Patience
Growing up I thought patience was just waiting peacefully for something to happen. Everybody has to wait for something. We wait in traffic. We wait for our significant other or children to get ready for a night out. We wait on food delivery, to be seen at the doctor’s office, or on hold for customer service. The list can go on for days. It has been said that “good things come to those who wait.” Is the essence of patience simply the ability to wait peacefully without complaint?
A few years ago I was reading St. Louis de Montfort’s True Devotion to Mary, and in it he mentions the ten virtues of Mary. I was immediately intrigued by one of the virtues: heroic patience. This was a virtue I did not possess but desperately desired to have! I remember thinking, “Mary was free from sin and her child was perfect. How much patience did she really need to practice?” My understanding of patience was underdeveloped. I had not yet grasped the true depth of patience or what made Mary’s practice of it heroic.
Patience falls under the cardinal virtue of fortitude, which helps us overcome fear in doing what is right and just. Jesus says that if we choose to follow him, we must pick up our cross. Experiencing adversity is unavoidable, especially when we choose to follow Christ and His Church. One needs fortitude to do the will of God. However, once we have committed to this way of Christ, our resolve to remain faithful disciples can be easily worn out by disturbances, pain, fear, or suffering. “Patience,” wrote St. Thomas Aquinas, “safeguards the mind from being overcome with sorrow.” The danger of ridicule, suffering, and death can withdraw man from pursuing the good, but patience gives man the ability to endure such trials with peaceful perseverance, trusting in the goodness of God’s plan.
Aside from Jesus, Mary is a perfect model of patient endurance. Enduring our own share of suffering is difficult enough, but watching others suffer, especially our children, is heart- wrenching. Mary displays, for all who look upon her, a strength of will and commitment to Christ that is truly heroic.
Becoming a mother myself awakened in my soul a profound respect for the Blessed Virgin. I knew in general that there would be some challenging times with my children, but I was not prepared for the depth of pain I would experience when my children suffer. When they are physically ill, my heart hurts. When they suffer the disappointment of failure, my heart hurts. When they experience rejection, my heart hurts. My children are still very young, and I know that there are many more moments of suffering that lie ahead. Throughout the entirety of their lives they will experience suffering in both body and soul. Parents would drive themselves mad thinking about all the different ways their children may experience pain and suffering. In all of this, the best example of how to stay faithful to God’s will amid trials is our Mother, Mary. Among the many titles of Mary are “Comforter of the Afflicted” and “Mother of Sorrows,” since she understands the language of suffering and sorrow. From the moment Mary said “yes” to God, she had many trials to endure:
● She had to travel a good distance while pregnant.
● She gave birth in a stable.
● She was told by the prophet, Simeon, that her own soul would be pierced.
● She fled to safety because King Herod was seeking to destroy the life of her only son.
● For days she suffered the agony of a mother whose child has gone missing before findingJesus in the temple.
Of all the trials Mary endured, the most difficult was witnessing the passion and death of her
only Son. Mary has, with reason, been referred to as the Queen of Martyrs, for she shared in all the sufferings of Jesus. When reading The Glories of Mary by St. Alphonsus Liguori, I came across many saint quotes highlighting Mary’s martyrdom:
“While other martyrs suffered by sacrificing their own lives, the Blessed Virgin suffered by sacrificing her Son’s life, a life that she loved far more than her own; so that she not only
suffered in her soul all that her Son endured in His body, but moreover the sight of her Son’s torments brought more grief to her heart than if she had endured them all in her own person.”— St. Antoninus
“Mary was a martyr, not by the sword of the executioner, but by bitter sorrow of heart. If her body was not wounded by the hand of the executioner, her blessed heart was transfixed by a sword of grief at the passion of her Son; grief which was sufficient to have caused her death, not once, but a thousand times.” — St. Bernard
“Every torture inflicted on the body of Jesus was a wound in the heart of the Mother.”— St. Jerome
“The Cross and nails of the Son were also those of His Mother; with Christ crucified the Mother was also crucified.” — St. Augustine
“Love inflicted on the heart of Mary the tortures caused by nails in the body of Jesus.”— St. Bernard
“At the same time that the Son sacrificed His body, the Mother sacrificed her soul.” — St. Bernardine
“This great torment, then, which Mary endured for us—a torment which was more than a thousand deaths—deserves both our compassion and our gratitude. If we can make no other return for so much love, at least let us give a few moments this day to consider the greatness of the sufferings by which Mary became Queen of Martyrs.” — St. Alphonsus Liguori
Through all the pain, fear, and sorrow of the events in Mary’s life, her love and fidelity to Christ never wavered. I often wonder if my faith would be strong enough to withstand the trials Mary had to endure. All of us are called to follow God’s will faithfully regardless of the challenges. Imitating her patience will preserve in us that which is truly good against the sorrows of this life. Imagine for a moment you are standing beside Mary at the foot of the cross. While her soul is stricken with incomprehensible grief you hear Christ on the cross tell you, “Behold your mother.” You look into her eyes, filled with great sorrow but also with great love for you. She embraces you like only a mother can. When you are fearful, turn to her. When you suffer, turn to her. When your loved ones suffer, turn to her. When you are walking through the most painful moment of your life and you feel like it’s too much, turn to her. There is no sorrow that she does not understand.
Mary, Mother of Sorrows, pray for us.
Mary, Comforter of the Afflicted, pray for us.
Mary, Queen of Martyrs, pray for us.