• Mater

House of Sorrows, House of Joy

Pater and I were sitting in the kitchen, enjoying what was left of our eggs and coffee, exchanging those last little words before Pater would finish getting dressed and drive to the office for a long day of work and meetings. Our conversation drifted to the small painting of the Last Supper by our kitchen table, and the plaques of the Seven Sorrows of Mary we hoped to acquire before the end of the year. Would they fit on that wall? What if we moved the Last Supper painting to over the doorway, there? The conversation halted for a moment, as Pater seemed to hit by a peculiar thought. "You know," he said, "We're going to have the Seven Sorrows in the kitchen, two paintings of the Pieta in the other room... this is going to turn into just a house of sorrows!" And with the hopeful addition of the Stations in the Cross in the future, the gruesome crucifixes in each room, and the paintings of Jesus in His Passion scattered throughout the house... he wasn't wrong.

It got me to thinking about how funny our Catholic homes must look to our non-Catholic guests. They can hardly turn around without seeing yet another representation of the bloody corpse of our God hanging from a brutal instrument of torture. And nothing compares to that huge painting in the living room of the Blessed Mother crying in agony over the dead body of Christ, just removed from the cross. Of course, if they think we are strange or morbid, our Protestant friends will accuse us of ignoring the resurrection and Christ's ultimate victory over death (their empty crosses that they wear and hang are to emphasize that Christ is no longer on the Cross). So why, then, do we, who are supposed to create these joyful homes, adorn them with the sufferings of Christ and His Mother to do so?

Let's pause before answering that, and read from St. Alphonsus Ligouri's The Incarnation, Birth, and Infancy of Jesus Christ, the chapter titled, "The Desire that Jesus Had to Suffer for Us" (emphasis mine):

Jesus could have saved us without suffering; but He chose rather to embrace a life of sorrow and contempt, deprived of every earthly consolation, and a death of bitterness and desolation, only to make us understand the love which He bore us, and the desire which He had that we should love Him. He passed His whole life in sighing for the hour of His death, which He desired to offer to God, to obtain for us eternal salvation. And it was this desire which made Him exclaim: I have a baptism wherewith I am to be baptized; and how am I straitened until it be accomplished? He desired to be baptized in His Own Blood, to wash out, not, indeed, His Own, but our sins. O infinite Love, how miserable is he who does not know Thee, and does not love Thee!

I find it profitable to think about the many painless and glorious ways that God could have saved man. Even if He desired to shed His Blood, we know that one drop of His Precious Blood was enough to save all of mankind. So, why did He shed it—and shed every drop of it? The simple answer is, of course, love: "to make us understand the love which He bore us, and the desire which He had that we should love Him."

When you realize that God chose every detail of His Passion for love for us—after all, every part of it was completely volitional on the part of Christ, and even His desire—we ourselves feel a desire, a compulsion even, to adorn our house with every detail possible from that great Passion. To create, as it were, a House of Sorrows. And that compulsion is two-fold.

Because We Love Him

The distinction between Catholics obsessing over an evil torture inflicted upon a helpless victim, and Catholics honoring and adoring what God chose to do to demonstrate His love and how He chose to do it helps to explain the Catholic position. Because we love Jesus and His Mother, we desire and keep the horror they willingly underwent for us, out of love, always before us. As Abbot Gueranger says of the Middle Ages in The Liturgical Year:

What happy times were those, when Christians took delight in honoring every action of our Redeemer! They could not be satisfied as we are, with a few vague notions, which can produce nothing but an equally vague devotion.

And, we know this is something Jesus wants of us. In Devotions to the Holy Face we read the following (emphasis mine):

For what reason did Jesus leave the impression of His bloody and disfigured Countenance on the cloth that Veronica presented to Him? Why did He take care to have the instruments of His Passion preserved, such as the Cross, the nails, the crown of thorns and the winding sheet? Was it not that we should keep vividly before us the remembrance of His bitter Passion?

Just as you keep around pictures and mementos of your loved ones around the house, so we keep remembrances of the one we love supremely, above all created things, around our house. And not just smiling pictures: pictures of how they demonstrated that love for us.

Because We Want to Love Him More

Let's read the words of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (emphasis mine):

Our Divine Lord assured me that He takes a singular pleasure in being honored under the figure of His Heart of flesh, the image of which He wishes to be exposed in public in order to touch the unfeeling hearts of men. He promised that He would pour out in abundance into the hearts of all those who would honor His Heart all the gifts with which It is filled, and that everywhere this image is exposed and honored, it would draw down all kinds of blessings.

Here we see that one way to increase in love for God is specifically in looking at the image of Christ in some sort of remembrance of His sufferings (in this case, Jesus is talking specifically about the image of His heart pierced, covered with thorns, and ablaze with love). So, too, when we keep images of Our Lord and Our Lady in our house—particularly ones of their sufferings and Sacred and Immaculate Hearts—we can stir up greater affection for them in our hearts when we look at them.

We can also easily teach our children how much they suffered on their behalf, which will produce at least two effects: 1) it will show the gravity and sin, and 2) it will show them the depths of His love for them. In turn, just like the visions given to the Fatima children, it will inspire in them a deep love for Our Lord and Our Lady, and consequently an abhorrence of offending them and a desire to console them by prayer and penance.

Consider the answer Christ gave to a venerable servant of God when asked "what a man merited who exercised himself devoutly in meditating on His Passion" (recounted by Tauler, one of the Middle Ages' great mystics):

"By such meditation He merits:

  1. To be cleansed from His sins.*

  2. To have all His negligences supplied by the merits of My sufferings.

  3. To be strengthened so that he will not easily be overcome by his enemies.

  4. That my grace will be renewed in him as often as he reflects on My sufferings.

  5. That I refuse him nothing that is profitable, if he earnestly asks for it.

  6. That I lead him to perfection before his death.

  7. That I assist him in his last hour, protect him against his enemies, and give him an assurance of salvation."

*Mortal sins, however, must be confessed.

What joy then, belongs to the person who adores, honors, and meditates upon the Passion of Christ in his home, who pays homage to His King and what He went through out of love for us. Surely, too, what looks like a House of Sorrows, is indeed a House of Joy.

If you liked this post, you might enjoy this one about how to make your home into a domestic church.

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