Of Standing and Staying

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM, September 25, 2016

Lately, I’ve been reflecting quite a bit on the word, “standing.”  In September, we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, and I was especially struck by the first word of the Gospel reading (John 19:25-27) for that day:  standing.  “Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.”  Standing by the cross.…That got me wondering:  Might that word, standing, offer an invitation for how we are to be with the suffering of others as well as our own?  To stand inside pain and loss?  To stay with the questions of our time and not settle for quick or superficial answers?  To own our inability to save others?

In our desire to alleviate suffering wherever we find it, one thing becomes clear very quickly. Much as we desire to take away the suffering of others, to protect those we love, that’s not in our power, is it?  It wasn’t in Mary’s power, either.  But Mary reminds us of what we can do: accompany the pain of others even when we can do nothing to fix it.  Might she be calling us to do the difficult inner soul work of standing and remaining with the wounds of our world, holding them in our prayer, and learning from our companioning?

Mother of Sorrows is one of the titles of Mary.  In Mexico, Mary is sometimes also calledstandingsorrow the “Pesame,” the one who stands as a witness to injustice.  “Pesame” is used when there is pain that cannot be assuaged.  Pesame, I’m sorry for your pain.  It’s grieving with the other.  It’s standing with the other.  It’s used to describe Mary, the widow, the mother of the condemned, the brokenhearted one at the foot of the cross, the one who stands and watches and never ever abandons.

In Peter Daino’s book,  Mary,  Mother of Sorrows, Mother of Defiance, he writes of Mary as Pesame and also as defiant.  I had never thought of Mary as defiant.  Daino explains that Mary is certainly a woman who said yes, fiat, but that she’s also a woman who could say no.  And he asks, where in the Gospel does Mary say no?  She says no during the visitation to her cousin Elizabeth, when Mary sings the Magnificat.  In that bold song, she says no to the mighty on their thrones.  She says no to the well fed.  She says no to the oppressor who exploits the poor and the hungry.  Because she stands with and accompanies those who are oppressed, those who are not mighty, not well fed, she says no.  She stands with.  She remains, just as God does.  She witnesses for us a spirituality of accompaniment.

A spirituality of accompaniment acknowledges that God does not solve all our problems or take away our suffering and pain.  Mary understood that what God does is walk with us, be present to us, be in unfailing relationship to us.  So we also are invited to say no.  We say no to sin and death and violence having the last word.  We say no to despair.  We say no to giving up, to turning back, to turning away from the most vulnerable among us.

balancehands-copyAnd like Mary, we also say yes.  We say yes to remaining, to staying on while others abandon and give up.   We say yes to being transformed by the learnings that come to us through the collective ache of our world.  We say yes to remaining in the messy,  confusing, painful places where something new is struggling to bubble up and break through. We say yes to sharing the fate of God for the life of the world.  We say yes to embracing with acceptance the powerlessness we feel in the face of pain, violence, or loss, and meeting it with inner hospitality.  We say yes to carrying and loving what God carries and loves.

So today and every day, may we keep our hearts open in the face of what we cannot change.   May we engage life in a new, more contemplative way within the context of the brokenness and violence around us, as well as within and among us.  Like Mary, may stand with a world and stay with a world that is both beautiful and broken.


To what in our world do you say “Yes!  Fiat!” 

To what do you say “No”? 

Where are you being called to stand with others in their pain or brokenness?

What might you learn from staying with and not running away from your own suffering?

This reflection was originally given during a directed retreat with the Sisters of Mercy in Sea Isle City, NJ on the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.  It’s modified for this blog.


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