The Church has placed the Solemnity of the Mother of God perfectly on Jan 1. No better way to start a new year than to fix our hearts on Christ’s Mother who responded to Gabriel with her all, her fiat. She, Mother of us all, Mother of the Eucharist, will live in our hearts at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on this day to begin a new year of moving closer to the horizon of our eternal joy.
It’s a time to lose our worries about loving her too much and start placing our weary bones, and sinful selves confidently into her arms without hesitation. Didn’t she tell Juan Diego in 1531 near the recently-conquered Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan (Mexico) that she is his merciful Mother? She stretched her embrace wider by adding, “...Mother of all who live united in this land, and of all mankind, of all those who love me, of those who cry to me, of those who have confidence in me. Here, I will hear their weeping and their sorrows, and will remedy and alleviate their sufferings, needs, and misfortunes…”
These are not surprising words, nor is her appearance in Mexico surprising, along with all of her appearances through the centuries, including the beautiful unseen appearances in the yearning hearts of Christians who have turned to her, loved her, and left such a wonderful testimony of her care. St Therese of Lisieux: “In trial or difficulty have recourse to Mother Mary, whose glance alone is enough to dissipate every fear.”
Saint Teresa of Calcutta who founded the Missionaries of Charity: “If you ever feel distressed during your day–call upon our Lady– just say this simple prayer: ‘Mary, Mother of Jesus, please be a mother to me now.’ I must admit–this prayer has never failed me.”
Her involvement in human history should be expected. From the cross, Jesus, after speaking to His Mother, looked at John saying, “This is your mother.” Those words carried within them a seed destined to burst into a magnificent tree for all who seek shelter and comfort from the scorching heat of suffering, affliction, and grief. John, who took her into his home, launched a journey the Church would take, making a home for her as she appeared at the door of each person’s heart. Saint Maximilian Kolbe: “Prayer is powerful beyond limits when we turn to the Immaculata who is the queen of God’s heart.”
Years ago I had trouble praying to her, concerned that my heart was turning away from Jesus, or somehow loving Mary too much. I also wondered if I lacked confidence in Christ, so why not try his Mother. I kept recalling the transforming encounter I had with our Lord when I was 23. It was He, through the Holy Spirit who took hold of me and showed his mercy, so how could Mary have the same role or presence, I thought? The truth is she does and has been given this role, in no way diminishing the eternal authority of her Son. Rather, she magnifies it and directs the Light of His authority to shine brilliantly on us. She also heals, restores, consoles, and counsels. Mary has continually made herself present to my heart, in Combermere, at Madonna House, and in Wilno as Our Lady of Czestochowa where I taught for 16 years. She has revealed herself as my Mother, just as Jesus called her to be.
Sometime in 2012, I think, while teaching at St. Mary’s in Wilno, a teacher and close friend, Ronda Lundy gave me this excerpt from John Paul II’s homily in Malta at the shrine of Our Lady Ta’ Pinu, May 1990 :
At the foot of the Cross, Mary is fully revealed as Mother of the Church, Mater Ecclesiae inviting each of us to trust in her prayers. Let us never hesitate to turn to her! How often, in your families, do you feel powerless in the face of painful and apparently insoluble situations? How many people find it a constant struggle to forgive longstanding grudges, or to overcome deeply-rooted feelings of anger, hostility, jealousy or resentment? How many people desperately long for someone they love to abandon a way of life or a course of action which they know will only lead to frustration and unhappiness? And how frequently do our hearts go out to someone who is caught up in the toils of mental anguish or bitter grief which knows no consolation? At moments like these, should we not trust in Mary’s loving intercession, confident that the most hopeless of human situations can be transformed by the saving power of Jesus, who in answer to her request turned water into wine, who died on the Cross that we might live forever?
Those words had a profound impact on me. Having experienced the crushing misfortune of separation and later divorce from my wife of 19 years beginning in 1998 I was still carrying this cross years later. Our separation was planned for a time. However, my wife asked for a divorce two years later, followed by a request for an annulment. Our seventh child was in her womb at the time of our separation in ‘98. On May 18, 1999, she gave birth to a girl, the same birthday as John Paul II. That Providential birthday, the growing presence of Mary in my life along with the Malta homily launched me into total surrender to the Immaculate Mother of God.
What struck me most was this: “Never hesitate to turn to her…At moments like these, should we not trust in Mary’s loving intercession, confident that the most hopeless of human situations can be transformed by the saving power of Jesus, who in answer to her request turned water into wine, who died on the Cross that we might live forever.” The words, “Never hesitate..” kept resounding in my mind.
In fact, Mary was calling me to herself, to her care. It was the turning point, the transforming moment when I began to give my heart to her without worry or fear, instead with growing confidence. I felt more and more the longing for a Mother, the longing for the most beautiful woman of all human history to hold me. I never worried that I was loving her too much because I just knew that she would bring me into the “radius of Christ’s love” as John Paul II once said. I began to trust more and more that my children and my wife would be in her care too, and that was enough for me.
It was only last year that I came across St. Maximilian Kolbe’s marvellous wisdom: “Never be afraid of loving Mary too much. You can never love her more than Jesus did.”
We need to stop any inclination to hold Mary hostage in the confines of Sacred Scripture, leaving her imprisoned in the past. When contemplated from the deep silence of prayer as the Fathers of the Church have done, along with so many saints through the centuries, Sacred Scripture shows clearly that Mary would have a definitive role in the new era following the birth of the Church, a role given to her by the One her soul magnifies.
How can we not respond in joy, running to her without hesitation who, on Tepeyac hill, announced to Juan Diego, and to the whole world, “Am I not here, I who am your mother? Aren’t you under my shadow and protection? Am I not the source of your happiness? Are you not in the folds of my mantle? In the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?
Those words were spoken to Juan Diego on December 12 as he hurried to Tlaltelulco to get a priest for his uncle Juan Bernardino who was gravely ill. Juan was distressed, knowing he was supposed to rendezvous with the Virgin who first appeared to him December 9. She promised to provide, on the 12th, a sign of proof of her appearance for the Bishop. Juan, out of love for his uncle and the urgency of his need chose to slip by on the opposite side of the hill. Mary intercepted him on his way. Facing Juan, who was ashamed and sorrowful, told him the most beautiful truth anyone could ever hear. This is the most beautiful part of the Guadalupe story.
I’m like Juan, longing for healing for someone I love, hurrying to help my sister, my son, my daughter, my mother, my aunt and uncle. Sometimes my hurrying has begun with prayer, but often I have ideas of how to help them, or worse, how to evangelize them. I’m not always still and listening, looking to my Mother, their Mother. I slip by the Source of healing who waits for me on the other side of the hill because I’m hesitant to believe and trust, to abandon myself in love to the Mother of God and Her Son. She always intercepts me, though, asking, “Rod, am I not your Mother, their mother? Do you not trust me, and love me. Are you, they, not safe in my arms? Give your heart to me, give your children to me. You will see.”
It’s amazing that Juan, having encountered the Virgin days before would avoid her on his way to help his uncle, rather than run to her with a sense of helplessness. She, who would soon heal his uncle of his illness, his nation of the anguish of human sacrifice to gods who do not speak, who would heal their anguish of being conquered, is tender with him, bolstering his faith and trust in her which was always strong, yet wobbled a bit in his love for his uncle.
This is our story; it’s the story of the people of God, Jesus’ ancestors, his own disciples. Our love for God wobbles at times, is feeble at times, even fails.
Yet like Juan, we humbly turn in sorrow, asking for help, especially to our Mother who magnifies Jesus for us, who touches our hearts so tenderly and holds us as only a Mother can and does.
One of the most remarkable things said to me came from Fr Zach Romanowsky, priest of Madonna House Apostolate. We were on the shore of the French River below Recollet Falls taking a rest before paddling the last stretch of a 65 km canoe trip in 2017. It was a trip to unite our hearts in prayer with the Holy Canadian Martyrs who travelled that part of the French River to Georgian Bay to and from the Huron Mission at Midland. Fr Zac asked me if I’ve consecrated my kids to the Immaculate Heart of Mary?
“Everyone of them at their Baptism,” I answered, concluding with, “and within the last year or two, every week,”
Without hesitation, he looked into my eyes and replied with a smile,
“ You’ve got nothing to worry about, then.”
As I watched him dive into the soothing river, I felt a beautiful Presence and peace. I knew it was my beloved Mother, the Immaculate One speaking to me and consoling me.
Just before diving into the blessed French River I wondered, “Perhaps they, too, rested here at this spot. Holy Mother, maybe you spoke to them here as well.”