Kevin Di Camillo writes regularly for The National Catholic Register and is a Lecturer in English Literature at Niagara University. His latest book is Now Chiefly Poetical, and with Rev. Lawrence Boadt he edited John Paul II in the Holy Land: In His Own Words. His work has been anthologized in Wild Dreams: The Best of Italian-Americana, and he was awarded the Foley Poetry Prize from America Magazine. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, he regularly attends Yale University’s School of Management Publishing Course.
I’ve written in the past about teaching our twins to pray the Rosary by working up to it—that is, first teaching them the “Ave Maria Room” (praying one Hail Mary before entering the house), then the Angelus, then the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and finally the Holy Rosary.
However, ever since she could say it, my daughter has always, always, always mispronounced the second stanza of the Angelus. Instead of “I am the lowly servant of the Lord…” she says—despite my many corrections, reproofs, pulling out Webster’s Dictionary—“I am the lonely servant of the Lord.”
I used to worry that in letting this semantic slip go by, I was encouraging bad theology in general and distorted Mariology in particular. How could Mary—“full of [God’s] grace”—be “lonely” in any sense of the word?
But as I (and the world, and especially my children) grow older, I’m starting to think that this is one of those “out-of-the-mouths-of-babes” moments. We know that St. Joseph pre-deceased Mary. Though St. Joseph thus became the patron saint of the dying — who wouldn’t want to leave this earth in the arms of Mary and Jesus? — it did leave Mary as a young widow.
Worse, of course, was to come. Jesus was crucified by age 33. Assuming Mary was 18 at His birth, that means she was only 51 when she lost her only Son. Not for nothing did Our Lord commend his Blessed Mother to the young Apostle St. John.
And in between the deaths of Joseph and Jesus, Mary lost her nephew John—and one can’t imagine that his aged parents lived much longer.
Entire books—libraries, even—have been written about Mary’s life. Still, in the midst of the myriad mountain of Marian books, there is very little we know about her. So I think my daughter might be on to something in stating “I am the lonely servant of the Lord”.
One may speak of the consolation of God and in the same breath of the Dark Night of the Soul. Mary surely experienced both. Even extended family members—here I’m thinking of St. Jude, traditionally a cousin of Our Lord—were martyred. While we often see the “Dormition of Mary” (literally the “falling asleep”, a wonderful term from the East) occurring amid all of the Apostles, there’s nothing to guarantee that Mary died before the wholesale slaughter of everyone from Peter and Paul to John’s botched execution which was later commuted to an exile—an irony that John, to whom Jesus gave His own mother, was banished to Patmos. We can only hope that Mary had gone to her Heavenly reward by then.
“I am the lonely servant of The Lord”: these words sound like something out of the writings of Mother Teresa of Calcutta or St. John of the Cross. Not out of self-pity or self-loathing, but a sort of recognition that the shepherd had been struck and all the flock had fled.
It must truly be a misery to lose a spouse. To have a child—even an adult child—die before a parent is an unthinkable hardship. St. Paul is, of course, correct when he writes, “The sufferings of this life are not to be compared to the glory that will be revealed in us in the life to come”. But that still means some very real sufferings while awaiting that glory in which we place all of our hope.
We often hear it remarked that being alone is not the same as being lonely, and that’s true as far as it goes, though it depends how we are measuring these things. Everyone enjoys their “down-time”, “mental health” days, and “me-time” (read: time spent alone). I’m not sure anyone actively wants to be lonely (or, for that matter, lowly), for that connotes that one is without recourse to family, friendship, and the comforts acquaintances bring simply by their presence.
Maybe my daughter was wrong not only in her pronunciation but in her unwitting pronouncement: perhaps Mary was so full of God’s grace that she was never lonely—was even incapable of true loneliness.
Then again, I’m reminded of the first time I saw Michelangelo’s Pieta in person. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more graphic representation of human (not divine) loneliness than in that statue, said to be one of Il Divino’s earliest carvings, and the only one he signed.
Regardless of the theology behind it, when we reflect on the Seven Sorrows of Mary, she is never alone in any of them—but I do wonder, thanks to my daughter, if in addition to these dolours, loneliness was added.