Over the past few years, we have seen how Pope Francis demonstrates a strong Marian devotion. Anyone who has known former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio understands well that his Marian devotion, far from being a recent manifestation, is a long-established devotion and one that is much in line with his predecessors.
On his very first meeting with his brother cardinals in the Clementine Hall on March 15, Pope Francis stressed his relationship with Mary and the role he ascribes to Jesus’ mother. He said: “I entrust my ministry and your ministry to the powerful intercession of Mary, our Mother, Mother of the Church. Under her maternal gaze may each one of you walk happy and docile on your path, listening to the voice of her divine Son, strengthening your unity, persevering in your common prayer and bearing witness to the true faith in the constant presence of the Lord.”
Forty days after his election, Pope Francis went to St. Mary Major to lead the recitation of the Rosary on the first Saturday of May, the month dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, and to take official possession of the Basilica as he had done for the Basilicas of St. John Lateran and St. Paul Outside the Walls. “Mary is the mother,” said the Pope during the recitation of the Rosary, “and a mother’s main concern is the health of her children … Our Lady guards our health … helps us grow, face life and be free.”
On the eve of his departure for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for World Youth Day 2013, Pope Francis visited once again the Basilica of St. Mary Major and entrusted World Youth Day 2013 to Mary’s care. During his unforgettable experience in Brazil he made a side-trip to the renown shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida in central Brazil.
In his homily at the Aparecida Shrine on July 24, 2013 Pope Francis said: “When the Church looks for Jesus, she always knocks at his Mother’s door and asks: “Show us Jesus.” It is from Mary that the Church learns true discipleship. That is why the Church always goes out on mission in the footsteps of Mary.… Dear friends, we have come to knock at the door of Mary’s house. She has opened it for us, she has let us in and she shows us her Son. Now she asks us to “do whatever he tells you” [Jn 2:5]. Yes, dear Mother, we are committed to doing whatever Jesus tells us! And we will do it with hope, trusting in God’s surprises and full of joy.”
It is also interesting that Pope Francis has introduced the world to a little-known Marian devotion entitled Mary, Undoer of Knots. He has a very special devotion to Mary under this title that goes all the way back to the second century. In one autobiography of the Pope that I read it mentions that as a young Jesuit, Fr. Jorge Mario Bergoglio was completing his graduate studies in Germany, he was captivated by a Bavarian painting of Holy Mary, Our Lady Undoer of Knots that he saw in a Church in Augsburg. Bergoglio obtained a copy of the painting and brought it back with him to Argentina where he helped spread the devotion among his people. While this devotion is relatively unknown in our part of the world, it is known and loved in Argentina.
Later as auxiliary bishop and then archbishop of Buenos Aires, he encouraged the veneration of Our Lady Undoer of Knots whose devotion originated from a painting executed by the German artist Johann Georg Schidtner around 1700 and located in St. Peter am Perlach Church in Augsburg, Germany. In the painting the Virgin is shown in the act of untying a knot on a long white ribbon while crushing the serpent, which stands for evil.
The theology of Mary untying knots goes back to the second century – less than one hundred years after the death of the Apostles. Saint Irenaeus of Lyons wrote “the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.” The understanding of Mary’s universal mediation and her subordinate role to Christ in human salvation is beautifully summed up in this quote from St. Irenaeus.
During his pontificate, Pope Francis has invited the faithful to entrust to Mary “the journey of faith, the desires of our heart, our needs and the needs of the whole world, especially of those who hunger and thirst for justice and peace.” He goes on to state that her “example of humility and openness to God’s will helps us to transmit our faith in a joyful proclamation of the Gospel to all, without reservation.”
In this same spirit as we mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Canada, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops have invited the faithful to consecrate their lives and of the entire country of Canada to Mary. We will celebrate this event in a Liturgy and with devotions at St. Mary’s Cathedral on July 1. I invite all within our Diocese to invoke Mary, the “Holy Mother of God,” to guide our country in the ways of faith in order to promote, peace, truth, justice and reconciliation.
Prayer to Mary, Undoer of Knots
Virgin Mary, Mother of fair love, Mother who never refuses to come to the aid of a child in need, Mother whose hands never cease to serve your beloved children because they are moved by the divine love and immense mercy that exists in your heart, cast your compassionate eyes upon me and see the snarl of knots that exist in my life. You know very well how desperate I am, my pain, and how I am bound by these knots. Mary, Mother to whom God entrusted the undoing of the knots in the lives of his children, I entrust into your hands the ribbon of my life. No one, not even the Evil One himself, can take it away from your precious care. In your hands there is no knot that cannot be undone. Powerful Mother, by your grace and intercessory power with Your Son and My Liberator, Jesus, take into your hands today this knot.
☩ Most Reverend William T. McGrattan, D.D.
Bishop of Calgary
As auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of London, I made my first ad limina visit in 1987. An ad limina visit is made every five years by diocesan bishops. It entails venerating the tombs of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, officially visiting the four major Basilicas as part of the pilgrimage experience, meeting with the various officials of the Secretary of State, the Curia and their respective Congregations, Pontifical Councils, and Tribunals.
The unquestionable highlight is, of course, meeting the Successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome who in this case was Pope John Paul II.
We met with the Pope on four occasions: our personal audience (Bishop Sherlock and me), the group audience (the assembly of the Bishops of Ontario), a weekday mass with the Pope in his private chapel, and finally lunch with the Pope in his private dining room.
Most of our days were tightly determined and structured before we got to Rome e.g. where we would stay, time-date-place for daily Eucharist, with whom we would meet, where, what we would like to discuss with each Congregation, who would lead the discussion from our end, etc. The only wild cards were the Curia’s agenda and the Pope’s schedule. Although we knew that the group audience would likely be the last event, we didn’t know until a day or two beforehand about the timing of the other three.
I would like to share my story about the mass with the Pope. I remember it as if it was earlier today: About mid-visit, in our temporary mailbox, at the Christian Brothers Residence where we are staying, we each receive a personally addressed sealed envelope which contains an invitation in raised gold script inviting us to concelebrate mass with his Holiness at 7:00 a.m. the following day. We are instructed to be at the Bronze Doors of the Vatican – right side Colonnade of St. Peter’s Square at 6:30 a.m. Very impressive!
We have to get organized. There are twenty of us. We are living about 45 minutes to an hour from the Vatican. Public transit doesn’t start until about 6:00 a.m. We will need several taxis to make it on time – a challenge in itself. We build in an extra cushion of at least 15 minutes. That means we leave the residence about 5:30 a.m., which in turn, means rising by 5:00 a.m. for a shower, shave, and maybe 4:45 a.m. if I want a coffee before leaving.
Being more than a bit excited, I wake up early, although the alarm was set as a backup just in case. I manage a coffee before we leave. I couldn’t help but notice that even the usual non-morning people are there, alert and talkative! By the grace of God, we even get the needed taxis and are at the bronze doors 20 minutes early.
As we enter through the bronze door, we are greeted by the Swiss Guard dressed in full colourful regalia. The first guard is standing on a raised dias, at ease, until he spots the episcopal ring, and then he snaps to attention, salutes, and pounds the bottom of the long speared pole on the dias which makes a loud echoing noise. I am fascinated by this recognition but resist the temptation to back up and make him do it all again. We present our invitation to another guard and wait for the other bishops to assemble.
We are eventually ushered up a flight of stairs, across a courtyard to the papal apartments, where we are greeted by gentlemen in brown tuxedos, get into a small elevator and are taken up to the fourth floor. Exiting the elevator, I am all eyes and trying to take in the patterned marble floors, the sculptures, all the paintings: including those on the ceilings, and the picturesque views of St. Peter’s Square from the corridor windows. We are led to the papal library. There has been a lot conversation and joking up until now but suddenly it turned deadly silent. Red vestments are already laid out for us on a large boardroom table and we vest in silence, form a process, and enter the Pope’s private chapel.
John Paul is already there at his pre-dieu with his head in his hands – I think that I can see a furrowed brow. This was definitely my lucky day, I end up in the front row, no tall bishop and his mitre to look around, and the Pope is so close I could almost reach out and touch him. I can’t believe it, I’m there with the Pope and he’s praying, and eventually, it dawns on me that I should be praying too.
Finally, he finishes his prayers before mass. Gets up, turns and greets us and proceeds to vest. Mass begins and I’m still in 7th heaven, until he gets to the Collect and says: “Let us pray.” There is a noticeable period of silence, he prays, and finally coming back to reality, I pray. This is all going by too fast!
After the readings, I sit down and prepare myself for the homily of my life. However, the Pope doesn’t preach but goes back to his chair sits down, closes his eyes and prays. I am so disappointed but finally get over it, and pray too.
This pattern seems to go on all the way through mass. Whenever there is an opportunity for silence and personal prayer, the Pope prays and so do I. I’m sure you know what’s coming. After communion, he returned to his chair, sits and prays. So do I. I’m getting into the rhythm by now.
When mass is concluded, he returned to his chair for his thanksgiving prayer. The proper etiquette is you don’t leave the chapel until the Pope does. So I sit and pray. Finally, he finishes, acknowledges our presence and we form a procession and leave the chapel.
One of the other bishops nudges me and whispers: “Cripes, I haven’t prayed so much for so long.” I said: “Yes, I know and I think that was his point. He wanted us to understand that to be a good Pope, you need a strong personal relationship with Jesus and a commitment to prayer, and if you guys are to be good bishops, so do you.” It was a classic teachable moment.
By extension, I would say if you want to be a good disciples, you too need good role models, a commitment to prayer and a personal relationship with Jesus.
☩ Frederick Henry
Because of the importance of Christmas, the Church extends the celebration of this solemnity to cover a period of eight days.
The Feast of the Holy Family is celebrated on the first Sunday after Christmas. It seems to be sandwiched between the greater feasts of Christmas and Epiphany – but it is much more than a simple filler.
When we read the gospel accounts of Christmas, it might seem surprising, but we are not given answers to normal questions that might be asked shortly after the birth of a baby. For example, we might ask how much did he weigh? What did he look like? Did he cry much? Did he feed well? Did he sleep well? How did he react to his odd visitors? Did he have a full head of hair? What colour were his eyes, etc.? We know none of these details. He was just a baby. We know how God prepared Mary and Joseph for the birth, but the central moment of Christmas eve is over in one sentence in St. Luke’s Gospel, “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”
On Christmas morning, like St. Luke, St. John hardly mentions the birth of the child, but he leaves us no doubt about what is going on. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it… And the Word became flesh…”
The extraordinary power that enabled the whole universe is suddenly contained in a human baby. John starts with the big picture – the creative life of God. We believe that at Christmas God starts with the small picture. A child is something we can understand. A human baby is a symbol of life and hope. Each new human life is special, indeed unique and miraculous. God is always life-giving, and the birth of Jesus is God’s offer of new life. In Jesus, God offers us the chance to start a new life, as though we were born again as babies. We can be born into the family of God and learn from this family environment.
In Helena’s Epiphany meditation, author, Evelyn Waugh talks to the wise men as those who represent all of us who trust in human wisdom alone.
“How laboriously you came, taking sights and calculating, where the shepherds had run barefoot! How odd you looked on the road, attended by what outlandish liveries, laden with such preposterous gifts! …Yet you came, and were not turned away. You too found room before the manger. Your gifts were not needed, but they were accepted and put carefully by, for they were brought with love. In that new order of charity that had just come to life, there was room for you, too. You were not lower in the eyes of the holy family than the ox or the ass. You are… patrons of all latecomers, of all who have a tedious journey to make to the truth, of all who are confused with knowledge and speculation, of all who through politeness make themselves partners in guilt, of all who stand in danger by reason of their talents.”
At the crib of Jesus all are welcome, and that is what the wise men tell us. Over the centuries, they have come increasingly to represent everybody. Jesus is not just the possession of people who already know him or of people who are already pure in heart. He draws around the crib, of his new kingdom, all kinds of people with all kinds of talents. Whatever our lives have been up until now, as we look at the baby lying in the straw we can see in him the loving activity of God. We are invited to know him, accept his gift of life, and finally, to tell his story.
The Feast of the Holy Family reminds to contemplate two different meaningful realities:
First of all, that no one is excluded from God’s closeness. Pope Francis in his Angelus Message said: “Joseph, Mary and Jesus experienced the tragic fate of refugees, which is marked by fear, uncertainty, and unease [cf Mt 2:13-15; 19-23]. Unfortunately, in our own time, millions of families can identify with this sad reality. Almost every day, television and papers carry news about refugees fleeing hunger, war, and other grave dangers, in search of security and a dignified life for themselves and their families.
In distant lands, even when they find work, refugees and immigrants do no always find a true welcome, respect and appreciation for the values they bring. Their legitimate expectations collide with complex situations and problems that at times appear insurmountable.
...The flight into Egypt caused by Herod’s threat shows us that God is present where man is in danger, where man is suffering, where he is fleeing, where he experiences rejection and abandonment; but God is also present where man dreams, where he hopes to return in freedom to his homeland and plans and chooses life for his family and dignity for himself and his loved ones.”
Secondly, our gaze must encompass the simplicity of life in Nazareth. Jesus grew up in the normal busyness of family life, and he was taught and counselled by both Mary and Joseph.
The family is the fundamental cell of society, where we learn to live with others despite our differences and to belong to one another. The family is where we learn how to talk, and listen to each other. It is where we first learn to support and heal, forgive and love. If we don’t learn to do this in family, it will be hard to do it among races and countries, in neighbourhoods, all of which include wildly distinct individuals. It is also the place where parents pass on the faith to their children.
Pope Francis continued in the Angelus Message to say, “Let us remember the three key words for living in peace and joy in the family: “may I,” “thank you,” and “sorry.”
When we explain that we do not want to be intrusive, we ask “may I?” When we are not selfish, but aware and grateful, we say “thank you.” When we make mistakes and apologize, we say “sorry,” then there is peace.
PRAYER TO THE HOLY FAMILY
Angelus Message, December 29, 2013
Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
In you we contemplate
the splendour of true love,
to you we turn with trust.
Holy Family of Nazareth,
grant that our families too
may be places of communion and prayer,
authentic schools of the Gospel
and small domestic Churches.
Holy Family of Nazareth,
may families never again
experience violence, rejection and division:
may all who have been hurt or scandalized
find ready comfort and healing.
Holy Family of Nazareth,
may the approaching Synod of Bishops
make us once more mindful
of the sacredness and inviolability of the family
and its beauty in God’s plan.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, graciously hear our prayer.
☩ Frederick Henry