Father Louis J. Cameli

Comfort and hope in the time of pandemic

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Pope Francis has followed a longstanding spiritual tradition of turning to the Blessed Virgin Mary in times of trouble.

He publicly prays through Mary’s intercession. He also calls the people of God to pray the rosary and special prayers during the daily challenges of the coronavirus. He summons the church to remember the loving maternal presence of Mary who has always been a great sign of God’s providential care for his people.

In the Archdiocese of Chicago, we know about going to Mary in times of trouble. The archdiocese was a major center of devotion to Mary under the title of Our Lady of Sorrows.

The Sorrowful Mother novena was popular in many parishes in the 1940s and 1950s. People would line up around the block of the Basilica of Our Lady of Sorrows waiting to pray the novena. Many had loved ones who were away at war, either the Second World War or the Korean conflict.

During this pandemic, it may be time to reclaim this devotion. But first we need to understand it.

We can begin by considering Mary’s experience of suffering. It stretched across her entire life. She experienced suffering from the time of the annunciation, which is a joyful mystery of the rosary, but also a moment of struggle when she needed to embrace a completely uncharted future and to face the troubling incomprehension of her fiancé, Joseph.

She also suffered at the birth of her son, because hostile forces wanted to do him violence, so she had to flee in exile.

She struggled to understand when she heard Simeon’s words in the temple as she presented her son. Again, in the temple, she struggled to understand, when she found her young son who had been lost sitting with doctors of the law.

Then, of course, she suffered intensely at the foot of the cross, watching her son die a painful and unjust death. All her sufferings finally coalesced in the compelling image of the Pietà, the mother holding her dead son in her arms.

Mary knew human sorrow and suffering. She also showed a way to respond to the pain that inevitably marks human life. Mary was not passive in the face of suffering. She actively engaged in a struggle, whether taking her child and fleeing hostile forces or not just passively resigning herself and giving up in the face of other challenges.

She was also present to struggling people in need, as she was at Cana, but she was especially present to her son in his suffering. “At the cross, her station keeping …”

Her presence was a great act of connection. And in her suffering, she avoided a common temptation of those who struggle, that is, to turn in on themselves. She expanded her vision and concern.

This is what we see in the Magnificat, when she proclaimed how God vindicates the downtrodden. She did so at the foot of the cross, as she accepted the beloved disciple as her son.

Finally, in her suffering she surrendered herself into God’s hands, effectively repeating her words at the Annunciation, “Let it be done to me according to your word.”

These are some of the patterns of her response to suffering and sorrow. They are instructive for us as we try to find our own way through suffering. They include the way of active struggle, presence, connection, expansion and surrender.

Someone once remarked that Mary is the sorrowful mother, not the depressed mother. There is a great difference. Were she simply depressed, it would be a matter of suffering simply making her sad. Yet she carries her sorrow with faith, hope and love.

That makes all the difference and moves her to God. It also opens a path for us.

In our time of testing, the Sorrowful Mother proves to be a powerful presence. She connects us, as she always does, to her son Jesus and his cross. She comforts us and encourages us. She radiates hope.

She is both the Virgin assumed into heaven, already sharing the fullness of her son’s resurrection, and the Sorrowful Mother, sharing our suffering on earth. Because of this, the Vatican II’s “Lumen Gentium” could confidently say that she remains “a sign of sure hope and solace for the pilgrim people of God.”


  • pope francis
  • coronavirus
  • covid-19