The Madonna in Sorrow

Our Mother of Sorrows

Click here for today’s Scripture readings.

Lv 19:1-2, 11-18
Mt 25:31-46

Today’s Lenten reading from Leviticus includes the memorable line: “Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” Moses is depicted as reminding the people of ancient Israel of their call to live as God’s holy people. His sermon proceeds by making that call to holiness more specific, more concrete: they are to speak and act with integrity; they must treat their laborers justly and act with compassion toward the disabled; slander and calumny should not be heard amongst them; and, most significantly, they shall love their neighbors as themselves.

In the Scriptures holiness is all about belongingness. The people of Israel (and the followers of Jesus Christ in the New Testament) are called “holy” because they belong to a holy God. They are God’s very own. And the holiness of God in the Bible is revealed not just in mighty, awe-inspiring acts of power and might; God’s holiness is disclosed preeminently in God’s drawing close to his people in mercy and compassion. The people of the covenant are called to show special concern for the widow, the orphan and the immigrant because God himself manifests special concern for those who are most vulnerable in the world. The famous Gospel parable of “the sheep and the goats” expresses the same idea: those “on the right” discover that they attended to Jesus the Son of Man because they fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and visited the imprisoned.

Today the Passionist community celebrates the feast of Saint Gabriel Possenti. Gabriel was born in Assisi in 1838 and died as a Passionist student on February 27, 1862. He was known for his personal holiness, and after his death devotion to Gabriel spread throughout Italy and continues to this day. Saint Gabriel is a patron of youth, and many young people make pilgrimages to his shrine in the Abruzzi. Gabriel had a special devotion to Mary, Mother of Sorrows. He saw in Mary standing at the foot of the cross someone to whom we can turn with confidence in our own struggles and suffering. In a letter, Gabriel once wrote these words: “I recommend to you a strong, constant devotion to Mary, our most holy and sorrowful virgin. Think often of her and sympathize with her in her sufferings. Then, this loving mother, who is never outdone in kindness, will in turn comfort you.”

To many in our own day and time, the word “holiness” sounds a bit foreign, even “creepy.” It can conjure up the image of a person who is detached from real life and disconnected from others. Nevertheless, we listen to today’s Scripture readings and hear the words, “Be holy, for I the Lord your God, am holy.” The Scriptures, and the lives of great saints in our tradition, remind us that holy people are not detached and disconnected loners but are precisely people who belong. They remember that they belong to God, and they form vital relationships with other people. In a particular way, they become living sacraments of God’s faithful compassion to those in need. May we grow in holiness during this season of Lent.

– Fr. Robin Ryan, C.P.

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