Last time we looked at what Pope Francis writes about Jesus in his apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel.” Now let us consider what the Holy Father has to say about the Mother of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Jesus’ gift to His people
Not surprisingly, Pope Francis speaks of Mary as a gift, a gift of beauty and goodness.
Just before Jesus died on the Cross, He entrusted His mother to us to be our mother, too. He said to His mother (Jn 19:26-27), “Woman, here is your son;” and then He said to the beloved disciple, “Here is your mother.”
“These words of the dying Jesus are not chiefly the expression of His devotion and concern for His mother,” writes Pope Francis, “rather, they are a revelatory formula which manifests the mystery of a special saving mission. Jesus left His mother to be our mother… He brought us to her because He did not want us to journey without a mother.”
Down through the centuries, we have seen how the followers of Jesus have rejoiced in the motherhood of Mary, and sought her intercession in times of need. We have found in her a model of discipleship of Jesus, a comfort in times of sorrow and an intercessor in our neediness. “As a true mother, she walks at our side, she shares our struggles and she constantly surrounds us with God’s love.” (#286)
Read more columns from this series by Bishop Olmsted.
Perhaps this explains why every country in the world has a Marian shrine. Pope Francis sees in these shrines clear evidence that Mary shares the history of each people that believes in the Gospel of Jesus. At all of them, she exercises the mission entrusted to her by Jesus on the Cross, i.e. to be the mother of the Church. The Holy Father writes (#286), “There, in these many shrines, we can see how Mary brings together her children who with great effort come as pilgrims to see her and to be seen by her. Here they find strength from God to bear the weariness and the suffering in their lives. As she did with Juan Diego, Mary offers them maternal comfort and love, and whispers in their ear: ‘Let your heart not be troubled… Am I not here, who am your Mother?”
Mother of Evangelization
Mary teaches us how to be instruments in the Lord’s hands, how to be so united with her son that His presence within us transforms the homes in which we live, the communities of which we are a part, the labor of our hands and minds, and the way we treat the persons whom He gives us to love.
Pope Francis encourages us to notice how Mary allowed God to work in her life (#286), “Mary was able to turn a stable into a home for Jesus, with poor swaddling clothes and an abundance of love…She is the friend who is ever concerned that wine not be lacking in our lives. She is the woman whose heart was pierced by a sword and who understands all our pain.”
Mary helps us to understand the Paschal Mystery of Jesus, which is the foundation of the new evangelization. She was present at the foot of the Cross; she rejoiced in Jesus’ glorious Resurrection; and she was with the other disciples at Pentecost. As she faithfully carried out her duty as the mother of Jesus, 2,000 years ago, she continues today to fulfill her mission as the mother of the Church. Along these lines, Pope Francis writes of her (#284), “She joined the disciples in praying for the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14) and thus made possible the missionary outburst which took place at Pentecost. She is the Mother of the Church which evangelizes, and without her we could never truly understand the spirit of the new evangelization.”
‘A Marian style’
It has become commonplace to speak of the “Francis factor,” and also of the unique pastoral style of St. John XXIII and of St. John Paul II. Our present Holy Father sees the need for a “Marian style” in the missionary efforts of the Church. He writes (#288), “In her we see that humility and tenderness are not virtues of the weak but of the strong who need not treat others poorly in order to feel important themselves. Contemplating Mary, we realize that she who praised God for ‘bringing down the mighty from their thrones’ and ‘sending the rich away empty’ (Lk 1:52-53) is also the one who brings a homely warmth to our pursuit of justice.”
Every disciple of Jesus who wishes to succeed as a missionary should learn, from Mary, how to be united in loving faith with her son, how to ponder in the heart the way God is at work in events in one’s own life and also in the surrounding society (cf. Lk 2:19). The Holy Father says of her (#288), “This interplay of justice and tenderness, of contemplation and concern for others, is what makes the ecclesial community look to Mary as a model of evangelization.”
A Marian style of evangelization inspires us to rejoice in the Lord at all times, to remain steadfast when passing through a valley of tears, and to remember that, as Mary said (Lk 1:50), “His mercy is from age to age to those who fear Him.”