Mater Dolorosa: Patron Saint of Heavy-Hearted Parents


(Photo Credit Mateus Campos Felipe - Unsplash)

By Holly Gustafson

When I was a mom of small children, I naturally connected with other parents with babies and toddlers; at the playground or the playgroup, we’d commiserate about bedtime routines and temper tantrums and potty training, and how many times we’d seen the same episode of whatever inane animated show happened to be the kids’ favourite at the time. We bonded over the struggles of raising a young Catholic family, hauling little ones to Mass and getting them to sit relatively still in the pew, or at least keeping them from smashing the kneeler down on some poor parishioner’s toe who had the misfortune of sitting next to our wiggly and sometimes wild family. Across the aisle, I’d give the harried mom juggling a hungry baby and two clingy children a sympathetic smile. Me too, the smile said.

Now that my children have outgrown the busy stage that included diaper disasters and spilled sippy cups (my youngest is what she now likes to call a “tween”), there’s a new group of parents I’m suddenly finding myself aligning with – parents of teens and adult children. Now instead of sharing our struggles about how to get our toddlers to eat food that’s any other colour than beige, we’re complaining about how much our teenagers eat, and about how everything they take out of the fridge, freezer, and cupboards seems to end up all over the counter, on the floor, or (the worst) in and under their beds.

Social media doesn’t do us parents of older children any favours either. Our feed seems full of successful teens and adult children (Another great report card! Heading off to college! Guess who won provincials!). What we parents don’t share are the not so-successful moments, like the adult children who can’t seem to get or keep a job, or are in toxic relationships, or are struggling with their mental health, or with addiction. We tend not to share the things that break our hearts, and that can make us, as parents, feel alone in our struggle to launch successful, capable, and Christ-centered children.

But whenever I feel alone, I try to remind myself that I am, in fact, being accompanied by a whole host of saints who’ve been where I am, and who have experienced, at least in some way, what I’m feeling myself. Not only are the saints models of how to rely on God during my toughest parenting moments, they are also constantly available to lift me up in prayer. And for me, one of those saints is Mater Dolorosa, Our Lady of Sorrows.

Mary might seem like an odd choice for a patron saint for parents dealing with difficult children; after all, her own child was perfect as only God-made-man can be. But just because Jesus never sinned, and always followed the will of His Heavenly Father, doesn’t mean that Mary didn’t suffer in sorrow throughout His life. On the contrary, the Church recognizes seven main sorrows that Mary experienced that even I, mother of five non-divine children, can still relate to, two thousand years later. For example, Mary’s first sorrow, the Prophecy of Simeon, reminds me that my mother’s heart is tender with love for my children, and easily broken when I see them struggling, or straying from Christ, while the second sorrow, the Flight into Egypt, reminds me of the fear and anxiety I can fall into when I am not entrusting my children’s spiritual welfare to God.

The Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows is September 15th, and the month of September (which also includes the Feast of the Birth of Mary, on September 8th, and the Feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary, on September 12th) is a good time to incorporate devotion to Mary into our parenting toolbox. She can help us have wisdom with a teenager’s difficult questions about Church teaching, comfort us when we feel heavy-hearted over an adult child’s poor decisions, or just give us patience when we find ourselves on the business end of our teenage daughter’s particularly spirited eye roll.

A great place to start a devotion to Mater Dolorosa is by praying the rosary of Our Lady of Sorrows. The rosary looks a little different (it has seven “decades” of seven beads each), but it invites us into a contemplation of the seven sorrows of Mary, and how Mary’s ceaseless faith gave her the courage and strength to love through it all, and every parent can relate to that.

Holly Gustafson lives with her husband, James, and their five children, in Regina, where they attend Christ the King Parish. Holly received her Masters in Linguistics at the University of Manitoba, and now pursues her love of language through art, writing, public speaking, and unsolicited grammatical advice. The best advice she ever received was from her spiritual friend, St. Faustina, who told her that when in doubt, "Always ask Love. It advises best."

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