I love St. Simon of Cyrene. I love that he was plucked out of nowhere, forced into a task he despised, and found eternity in the process. I love that he kept Jesus company on the road to Calvary. I love the image of walking beside my friends as they suffer and spelling them for a bit.
I love St. Veronica. I love that she stepped out of the crowd to wipe the blood and sweat from Jesus’ eyes. I love the risk she took to offer an act of human kindness in a sea of inhumanity. I love the image of serving my friends as they suffer, bringing some peace and beauty into their painful lives.
I love being Simon. I love being Veronica.
But lately I’m neither. Lately I’m Mary.
Normally, identifying with the Blessed Mother is a good thing, a sign that you’re doing something right. You’re trusting God or pointing people to him or interceding. But when the people you love are being tortured, being Mary just means you’re standing there doing nothing.
I don’t want to do nothing. I want to fix it. I want to love them out of their pain or take it over for them. I at least want to do something, say something to make it better, even just a little, even just wiping the sweat out of their eyes.
But I’m not Simon. I don’t get to carry their crosses with them or for them. And I’m not Veronica. I don’t get to give them a moment’s peace. I’m Mary. I only get to be there with them, loving them in utter futility as a sword pierces my heart.
I hate being Our Lady of Sorrows. I hate standing there doing nothing, watching the people I love suffer. I hate waiting for a diagnosis, hearing about infidelity, watching depression. I hate going to prayer and begging, begging, begging to take their crosses from them and being told no. I hate being useless in the face of catastrophic pain.
And yet, with all that he could have asked of his Mother in that moment of his greatest need, this is what he asked: just be with me. Just stand there and watch me suffer. Just love me in my pain.
And somehow, that nothing that she did was everything that he needed. Somehow, it bore fruit down through the ages for every one of us. Somehow, it is in her silent suffering with that Mary fulfills God’s plan for her. I’m sure she also wanted to be Simon or Veronica or Peter whipping out a sword or anyone doing anything. But she knew that being there and “useless” was good and right and beautiful.
Our Lady wasn’t Our Lady of Sorrows only on Good Friday. She suffered the day after the Annunciation and when Simeon told her the sword would pierce her and when they fled into Egypt and when Jesus was lost and when he left home and when he foretold his death and when she stood at his tomb on Holy Saturday and a thousand other times in between. Because her suffering with him, somehow, accomplished something.
I can’t say I get it. I don’t know what it does to suffer with someone, especially when that person can’t feel you there. But I know that it works for good because God gave that job to his Mother. The most powerful woman in history was left powerless because her helpless inaction was necessary and good and powerful. I don’t have to know how. It’s enough to know that when I am Our Lady of Sorrows, standing uselessly by as the ones I love suffer unimaginable pain, I am not useless. It is good to love them, even when that love seems impotent. It is good to suffer with.
If you are where I am right now, watching helplessly as those you love suffer, know this: it is not to no effect. You are not alone. Our Lady of Sorrows stands uselessly with you, holding you up as you weep and rage and faint from exhaustion. And somehow none of it is useless. Somehow, it is just what you need, just what your beloved needs, just what the world needs. And sometimes that’s enough.