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Star of the Stormy Sea

Star of the Stormy Sea

“I would like this evening to entrust all of you to the Lord, through the intercession of Mary, Health of the People and Star of the Stormy Sea.”

– Pope Francis

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, never fails to recommend us to the Blessed Virgin Mary, nor to recommend that we approach Her with simplicity and with confidence, like little children. After all, that is precisely what we are – the children of Mary. And no child should ever hesitate to approach his or her mother, particularly at moments of great need.

Pope Francis leads by example. Before every one of his foreign trips, he goes to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore and prays silently before the ancient Icon of Our Lady which is called ‘Salus Populi Romani’ (Salvation of the Roman People). And as members of the Catholic Church, every one of us is part of the ‘Roman people’ and so this Icon is for every one of us. And at his extraordinary ‘Urbi Et Orbi’ given from the Vatican on Friday evening, the Holy Father had this Icon brought to the Basilica, where it was prominently displayed. Before adoring the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, the Pope venerated this Icon – a picture of that moment is at the top of this page.

Our present Holy Father, at the beginning of his papacy, consecrated his own Petrine ministry to the Mother of God under the title of Our Lady of Fatima. He follows in the footsteps of all the Popes who have preceded him, and who were similarly devoted to the Blessed Virgin. Benedict was deeply devoted to the Mother of God; and few will have forgotten that St John Paul II was a shining light of deep and authentic Marian devotion, his own example lighting a fire in the hearts of a great many of the faithful across the world.

Indeed, the Church herself similarly recommends all of us to be devoted to the Mother of God. The Catechism tells us –

“The Church’s devotion to the Blessed Virgin is intrinsic to Christian worship. The Church rightly honors the Blessed Virgin with special devotion. From the most ancient times the Blessed Virgin has been honored with the title of ‘Mother of God,’ to whose protection the faithful fly in all their dangers and needs..” (Catechism, para.917)

The great Church council of our times, the Second Vatican Council, spoke at length about Marian devotion; the eighth chapter of ‘Lumen Gentium’, the ‘Dogmatic Constitution on the Church’, speaks very eloquently about Her. Beginning this chapter, the Council Fathers wrote –

“Wherefore this Holy Synod, in expounding the doctrine on the Church, in which the divine Redeemer works salvation, intends to describe with diligence both the role of the Blessed Virgin in the mystery of the Incarnate Word and the Mystical Body, and the duties of redeemed mankind toward the Mother of God, who is mother of Christ and mother of men, particularly of the faithful.”

It is notable that the Catechism tells us that Marian devotion is ‘intrinsic to Christian worship’, and the Council Fathers speak of our ‘duty’ toward the Blessed Virgin – put another way, it is something we should all be doing, for this is the will of the Eternal Father; He very deliberately chose that the Saviour would come to us through Her and by doing so, He made the entire plan of salvation for mankind dependent upon Her acceptance of that plan through Her consent to become the Mother of God .

In other words, Marian devotion is not something we should consider ourselves free to choose or to decline; rather, it is expected of the redeemed people of God, for God wills that it be so.

You can read the entire text of Lumen Gentium here.

Writing on the fiftieth anniversary of the first appearance of the Mother of God at Fatima, Pope St Paul VI wrote a beuatiful and prophetic Apostlic Exhortation called ‘Signum Magnum’ (The Great Sign). Addressed to the Catholic Bishops of the entire world, this Exhortation deals with Marian devotion, looking particularly at what constitutes authentic Marian devotion. It is an exceptionally beautiful document and I heartily recommend you to read it. At it’s conclusion, the Holy Father noted his hope for the Church –

“..We express the trust that, thanks to your encouragement, the clergy and the Christian people entrusted to your pastoral ministry will respond in a generous spirit to this exhortation of ours so as to demonstrate toward the Virgin Mother of God a more ardent piety and a firmer confidence. Meanwhile while we are comforted by the certainty that the glorious Queen of Heaven and our most sweet Mother will never cease to assist all and each one of Her sons and will never withdraw from the entire Church of Christ Her heavenly patronage.”

Likewise, so very many of the great Saints of the Church have heartily encouraged us to be devoted to the Blessed Virgin, both by their example and by their words. Indeed, it is difficult to find a Saint who was not so devoted. And that is as it should be.

In these days when such heavy gloom has descended upon the entire world, still the Blessed Virgin is placed before us by the Church as that luminous and radiant figure who so clearly reflects the Light of Christ, in the same way that the moon reflects the light of the sun; and whose task it is to do all in Her not inconsiderable power to lead us safely, like ships tossed about on the stormy seas, to the safe port of Heaven. She is the compass that will get us there.

Throughout these days – and far beyond – let all of us to go our Heavenly Mother without fear or hesitation, knowing with the confidence of little children that She will take us by the hand and lead us to the Lord.

 

Pandemic and Prayer

Pandemic and Prayer

O Mary, You shine continuously on our journey as a sign of salvation and hope.
We entrust ourselves to You, Health of the Sick.
At the foot of the Cross, You participated in Jesus’ pain,
with steadfast faith.
You, Salvation of the Roman People, know what we need.
We are certain that You will provide,
so that, as You did at Cana of Galilee,
joy and feasting might return after this moment of trial.

– Prayer of Pope Francis

In these days, as the coronavirus spreads, the effects of it’s presence are being ever more keenly felt.

One such effect is that our perception of the world around us is changing to some degree – and we are looking differently at those things we perhaps take for granted. As time passes, we are told to consider self-isolation where that is appropriate; in some places, schools and colleges, shops and workplaces have already been closed; travel is affected; and even entire nations are in a state of ‘lockdown’.

It is entirely possible that in days to come, we may feel a very real effect upon our ability to publicly practice our Catholic faith.

There are already calls in some places for public acts of worship – and especially the Catholic Mass – to be suspended for a time, for fear that large gatherings of the public may prove to be an effective means of spreading the virus. Already in my own Diocese, the Holy Water fonts have been emptied, we can no longer receive from the Chalice, nor can we offer the Sign of Peace; and today, some previously-planned large scale Masses have been cancelled. All these things are, no doubt, only temporary measures – but they are disconcerting regardless of that.

So what does all this suggest to us?

 First of all, we should not panic. Rather, we should listen to, and follow, the advice given to us by the civic authorities.

 Secondly, remember that the illness will – for most people – be relatively simple and short-lived.

 Thirdly, remember that a time such as this offers us the opportunity to practice a number of the Works of Mercy – and we should most certainly do so.

 And fourthly, perhaps it will remind all of us to give thanks for what we already have – particularly the Church to which we belong, and the ability to practice our Faith.

But what of the practice of our Catholic Faith? It may be that for a while, our practice will change in terms of location and form.

The location may move from the parish Church to the ‘domestic Church’ – that is, our home.

And the form may change from liturgical gatherings and worship, to prayer practiced at home. Of course, we should already be practising prayer at home – our Faith does not exist and show itself only at Mass; and if it does, perhaps it is more habit than faith.

How, then, do we practice our faith at home? A small home altar may be the solution.

A simple home altar

In days past, it was almost expected that every Catholic home would have some form of devotional area, where the family would pray together. This area is where the prayers of the Rosary would be recited, or the Bible read together. The presence of such an altar said something about the people living there – their faith, their beliefs, their value system, their unity. It is certain that God, Who “looks with favour on the humble” smiles upon such small places where people gather together in His Name to offer their prayers to Him.

Today, the idea of such a place within our home may have fallen out of favour, such that it is no longer as common as it once was. And yet, the idea of a visual representation of our beliefs is not so different to keeping photographs of loved ones – looking at them, we are reminded of those we love, and from our hearts issue sentiments of love and tenderness, or longing, when those depicted are far from us or have already gone to their eternal reward.

It does not matter if the altar is small or large, ornate or simple. Indeed, simplicity is generally better here as it is in so many areas of life. Whether it is comprised of a shelf, a table, a corner of the dresser or the desk – it makes little difference.

What is important is that there is an area which is specifically set aside for prayer and devotion, a place dedicated to the Lord and which lifts our hearts and minds to Him, where we can be with Him in a particular way, and where the common distractions of life can be put to the side, even for just a little while. And in the context of the present situation, it will also be a special place where we can explicitly pray for all those affected by the coronavirus pandemic – those who have died, those who are ill, and all caring for them and sharing their suffering; as well as all those yet to be affected.

Perhaps the basics of such a home altar are these – a Crucifix, that central symbol of our faith, accompanied by an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whether a picture or a statue; the New Testament or Bible; a Rosary; and a candle. Together, these items can help to keep us focused on what really matters.

Ultimately, our goal in setting up a small home altar is to try to establish ourselves in the habit of prayer. But how do we make prayer a daily part of who we are and what we do? How do we cultivate the habit of prayer?

The first thing we need is the grace of God. We might think prayer is our move toward God – in reality, it is our response to God’s move toward us. It is a reaction, rather than an action; a response, rather than an initiative. The very desire to pray is a gift of the Lord, Who seeks us out. I think He is particularly generous with this grace – He calls so many souls to enter into a deeper conversation with Him, to listen quietly to His voice speaking in the silence of our hearts.

And this word ‘conversation’ is key here. Prayer is nothing more – and nothing less – than the conversation between two hearts, or ‘an intimate sharing between friends’, as the great St Teresa of Avila describes it. She also says this – ‘Prayer is an act of love; words are not needed.. all that is needed is the will to love’.

And so this is the next thing we need – desire, or the will to pray, and to continue praying. Our will opens the door to God’s grace – and it can close that door just as easily. God will never force us; He will always respect our ‘yes’ or our ‘no’.

Assuming, then, that we are responding to God’s grace in having the desire to pray, how do we actually develop prayer into a habit?

Habits are formed by repetition. By doing the same thing at the same time or in the same place, we might develop a habit. And so when it comes to prayer, the same principles apply; we need to make a time and find a place.

To strengthen and support our prayer life, that small and special home altar which we associate with – and set aside for – the habit of prayer, is very beneficial. In the same way that we associate one place with eating, or another with sleeping, perhaps there is a place somewhere at home which we can use specifically for prayer, where we have the devotional objects to assist us in this task, as suggested above. Writers often have a favourite desk at which to write; Saints often have a favourite little corner where they like to pray. Perhaps we can follow their example.

As far as possible, this time and this place should be free of distractions, particularly if (especially in the early days) our mind is likely to wander.

At least to begin with, perhaps it is sensible to keep our goals attainable. It is better to commit to five minutes of prayer and to do this consistently and well, than to promise we will pray for an hour and quickly give up altogether because we don’t manage it. Perhaps begin simply, with an Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be; after all, what matters more is the quality of the prayer, not the quantity. You may well find that as the habit of prayer develops, your heart yearns to pray more – this, too, is the grace of God at work.

Cultivating the habit of prayer becomes something of a discipline. Most of us lead busy lives and it can seem difficult to make time for prayer, but make it we must, if we are to succeed – otherwise, we will probably find that we quickly lose the habit and our efforts come to nothing.

For some, first thing in the morning may suit best for praying; while for others, the evening may be better, after the work of the day is done and our minds can begin to quieten a little. Whichever time of day suits you best, try to pray at the same time each and every day – this develops the habit of prayer more easily and more concretely, and it gives us a fighting chance to succeed.

For me, I pray the Rosary late each evening, when the cares of the day are already passing and I can concentrate better on my prayers, particularly as it is much quieter at that time; evening prayer also allows me to go over my intentions of the day, which have increased as the day has gone on.

And this leads on nicely to the next point – what are we praying for?

Our first reason for praying is to give praise to God, Who deserves our praise and our adoration. He also deserves our thanks for all the blessings He grants us each and every day – beginning with the fact that we are alive, and then becoming more specific as we look at our lives and all they contain, including the people with whom we interact each day.

As human beings, we all have needs – and that might be the next focus of our prayers. We may pray for our own personal needs, whatever they are, as well as the needs of others – they have needs, too. After all, if we stop at ourselves, we have missed the point of acquiring and developing the habit of prayer. As much as the Scriptures tell us to pray, they also tell us to pray for each other – remember, the Lord gave us the Our Father, not the My Father. Prayer is communal; we lift up each other in prayer, and prayer gains even greater power when we pray in company. If we feel we are short of ‘intentions’ for which to pray, try to listen carefully to every person we meet in the course of the day; if our heart is attuned, we will very quickly find more than enough intentions to keep us busy in prayer.

Pope Francis tells us that “prayer is all powerful” and he goes on to say that “miracles happen – but prayer is needed; prayer that is courageous, struggling and persevering, not prayer that is a mere formality”. In other words, our prayers – whatever form they may take – should come deeply from the heart, and they should cost us something of ourselves.

St John Paul also spoke often about prayer, as on this occasion – “often the most powerful prayers are the unspoken acts of mercy we choose as intercession for a specific person, intention, or global need .. prayer joined to sacrifice constitutes the most powerful force in human history”.

He went on to say that his favourite prayer is that of the Rosary, which he called “a storehouse of countless blessings”. He said – “the Rosary, though clearly Marian in character, is at heart a Christ-centered prayer.  It has all the depth of the Gospel message in its entirety.  It is an echo of the prayer of Mary, Her perennial Magnificat for the work of the redemptive Incarnation which began in Her virginal womb”.

Perhaps, then, this is a further crucial element we need in order to acquire, develop and maintain the habit of prayer – a model in prayer.

We have so many holy models to choose from and to imitate – they are called Saints, each with a particular slant on prayer, it’s form and it’s type. The Church has placed these people before us precisely for this reason – that we, like them and following in their footsteps, might seek to become holy; and we cannot achieve this at all if we do not pray.

There are many who will tell us what prayer is, of what it consists, and recommend various ways of doing it – and that is all well and good. In the end, though, the important thing is not really that we know about prayer, but that we actually pray.

The model above all others is surely that of the Mother of God, the Woman of prayer of the Gospels, Who “kept all these things and pondered them in Her Heart”.

And that, surely, helps to describe the habit of prayer.

In this time of present coronavirus pandemic, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has specially written a prayer which beautifully captures the feelings which will be in many hearts; perhaps this prayer is a good and timeous one with which we can begin –

 

With Mary in Lent

With Mary in Lent

“Jesus desires to associate with His redeeming sacrifice those who were to be its first beneficiaries. This is achieved supremely in the case of His Mother, who was associated more intimately than any other person in the mystery of His redemptive suffering.”

– Catechism of the Catholic Church, para.618

There seems to be something lonely and deeply personal about our experience of Lent.

Even when we take part in Church services with many others, still it can seem that we are there alone; I think in a sense this is a grace, for it signifies that in some intimate way, the holiness of the season is touching us at a personal level – and perhaps we are experiencing just a little of the desolation of the Lord in His sufferings.

On another level, we are not alone at all – after all, the entire Catholic Church is making it’s way through the season and all it offers us. We are part of that one body and as part of it, we are those to whom redemption is offered. It is for each and every one of us that Christ died on the Cross.

But we are called not just to be redeemed, but to take part with Christ in the work of redemption – as His followers, He offers us a share in His own work. This is what Saint Paul means when he writes about ‘making up for what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ, for the sake of His Body, the Church’ (cf. Colossians 1:24). Of course, the sacrifice of Christ lacks nothing whatsoever; but regardless of this, we are invited to take an active part in His work of salvation.

This is never more so than in the case of the Lord’s own Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary.

In that original holy Passion of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin was there taking part; and Her motherly Heart was indeed transfixed by the sword of sorrows, as Simeon had prophesied more than thirty years beforehand. What the Lord suffered in His Body, His Mother suffered with Him in Her soul. And in this mystical manner, Her sufferings were united to His in the deepest way. This is simply and profoundly expressed on the reverse of the Miraculous Medal, where the Cross is intertwined with the monogram ‘M’, and beneath which, the Sacred Heart of Jesus sits alongside the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This sums it all up quite perfectly.

And so at those times when our Lent seems a hard, a dark or a lonely place to be – remember that we do not walk that Way of the Cross alone. The Mother of the Lord is right there beside us and it is She who leads us gently by the hand, so that at every step along that Way, we might obtain grace from the Lord. As the Catechism notes, this is Her pre-eminent place in the plan of salvation, at the express will of the Father.

Bear in mind, too, that as much as the sufferings of the Blessed Virgin were redemptive, so ours can be redemptive also. Properly disposed, and united to the Crucified One,  our sufferings obtain merit and they obtain grace – for us and for others. That grace transforms hearts, ours included.

Throughout this holy season of Lent, let us try to remember always that the Mother of the Lord accompanies us as we visit, in spirit, all the scenes of the Passion of Her Son, as truly as She visited them on foot during Her earthly life. In Her company and through Her intercession, may the Lord of the Cross grant us every grace and blessing.

 

Centenary – St Jacinta of Fatima

Centenary – St Jacinta of Fatima

“Tell everybody that Gods grants us graces through the Immaculate Heart of Mary; that people are to ask Her for them; and that the Heart of Jesus wants the Immaculate Heart of Mary to be venerated at His side. Tell them also to pray to the Immaculate Heart of Mary for peace, since God has entrusted it to Her. If I could only put into the hearts of all, the fire that is burning within my own heart, and that makes me love the Hearts of Jesus and Mary so very much!”

Over the last few centuries there have been several great Saints who can be accurately called ‘Apostles of the Immaculate Heart of Mary’  – such as the great Saint John Eudes. One in particular, however, stands out for a number of reasons – she was very young in years (though greatly advanced in wisdom); she lived in a deep spirit of reparative suffering, and her sanctity was profound in it’s depth. One hundred years ago today, that child died; her name was Jacinta Marto.

Jacinta was born on 11 March 1910. She was one of the three children who saw the Blessed Virgin Mary at Fatima; the other two were her brother, Francisco Marto, and their cousin, Lucia dos Santos. Each of the three had a particular role following the appearances of Our Blessed Lady. Lucia was to be the emissary or messenger – she would faithfully transmit the message given by the Lady from Heaven. Francisco would spend long hours before the Tabernacle, adoring the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and making reparation for those who leave Him abandoned there. Jacinta’s function was to make reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on behalf of sinners, by means of prayer and deep suffering.

Writing in her first Memoir, Sister Lucia described the character of her little cousin. She wrote that from the first appearance of Our Lady, Jacinta was particularly impressed by the thought of making reparation for sinners; she would reflect at length on the reality of Hell and it’s eternal nature. Even in the middle of a game, Jacinta would stop and reflect on the eternal fate of sinners – “Poor sinners, we have to pray and make many sacrifices for them!”. Lucia explained that Jacinta never let any opportunity be lost in offering sacrifices for sinners – from giving away lunch to poor children, to taking no water all day long, despite the intense heat of the Portuguese summer sun.

Another intention very dear to the heart of Jacinta was that of the Holy Father, the Pope.  Her love for him was such that at the end of every sacrifice for sinners, she would add – “and for the Holy Father”.

Jacinta always prayed for the intentions given to her by others. One such person touched her deeply – a soldier who had received order to go to the war front, leaving behind a sick wife and three young children. Meeting Jacinta, he cried piteously and asked her prayers that ether his order would be changed or his wife would be healed. Jacinta told him – “Don’t cry. Our Lady is so good! She will certainly grant you the grace you are asking”. Some months later, the soldier came to see Jacinta again – he told her that the day before his departure, he had been struck down with a fever and his orders were cancelled. Also, his wife was cured as he had prayed. Jacinta never forgot her soldier and at the end of every Rosary thereafter, she always added one extra Hail Mary for his intentions.

From the beginning of the Appearances of the Blessed Virgin, Jacinta and Francisco had stated quite openly that the Lady had promised She would take them to Heaven ‘soon’. They were delighted at this, needless to say. Perhaps, then, it was of little surprise that the health of the two younger children quickly began to fail – first, Francisco, and then Jacinta. Both would soon be dead, as the Lady had predicted.

After the public appearances at the Cova da Iria had concluded, Jacinta and Francisco were privileged to be visited by the Blessed Virgin on a number of occasions. After one of these, Jacinta told Lucia –

“Our Lady came to see us. She told us She would come to take Francisco to Heaven very soon, and She asked me if I still wanted to convert more sinners. I said I did. She told me I would be going to a hospital where I would suffer a great deal; and that I am to suffer for the conversion of sinners, in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and for love of Jesus.”

In the company of her aunt, Lucia was able to visit her cousin in the hospital at Ourém. Alone in the hospital room, Lucia asked Jacinta if she was suffering a great deal. The little one replied – “Yes, I am. But I offer everything for sinners and in reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary”. Speaking of the Lord and His Mother, Jacinta went on –

“Oh, how much I love to suffer for love of Them, just to give Them pleasure! They greatly love those who suffer for the conversion of sinners”.

Lucia was able to visit Jacinta once more in the hospital and this is what she said to describe that visit –

“I found Jacinta as joyful as ever, glad to suffer for the love of our Good God and of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, for sinners and for the Holy Father. That was her ideal, and she could speak of nothing else.”

Jacinta was able to return home from the hospital for a while, with a large open wound in her chest which had to be dressed every day. There, the Blessed Virgin visited her again. She told Lucia what Our Lady had said –

“She told me that I am going to Lisbon, to another hospital; that I will not see you again, nor my parents either; and after suffering a great deal, I shall die alone. But She said I must not be afraid, since She Herself is coming to take me to Heaven.”

Before leaving for the hospital in Lisbon, Jacinta continued to suffer greatly – and especially at the thought of never seeing her cousin and her family again, and of dying alone. Lucia told her not to think about all this but Jacinta replied –

“Let me think about it, for the more I think, the more I suffer, and I want to suffer for love of Our Lord and for sinners. Anyway, I don’t mind. Our Lady will come to me there and take me to Heaven.”

Kissing a Crucifix, Jacinta would exclaim –

“O my Jesus! I love You and I want to suffer very much for love of You.. now, You can convert many sinners, for this is a very big sacrifice.”

As he had became more ill, Jacinta’s brother, Francisco, would spend all his time not at school – he said there was no point – but in the Chapel, close to the Tabernacle, praying in order to console Jesus, so often left there alone and abandoned. Francisco died in April 1919, of the Spanish influenza which was sweeping the world at that time. Jacinta missed her brother terribly after his death and Lucia would often find her weeping and, when asked what was she was thinking about, the child would reply – “Of Francisco. I would give anything to see him again.”

Dying alone was the greatest fear of the child but still she accepted this as another means of offering sacrifices on behalf of poor sinners. She had endured an operation to remove two ribs and drain the pleural cavity, which was badly infected – this being done with only local anaesthesia because her little heart would not have withstood general anaesthesia. She accepted the operations even though she told the doctors it would make no difference as she would die regardless. She never complained once. The day before her death, Jacinta asked the hospital Chaplain to bring her Holy Communion in Viaticum, stating she would be dead ‘the next day’. The Priest told her she was not that ill. He was wrong.

Jacinta died of the same influenza which had taken her brother. She died on 20 February 1920, at the tender age of 9 years – she died in hospital and alone, as the Lady had foretold. The Lady had been right – She had promised to take these two to Heaven ‘soon’. At the start of the Appearances, the light of God shown to the children depicted the two little ones ascending to Heaven, while Lucia was in the light being poured out upon the earth – she would remain ‘some time longer’, as the Lady of the Rosary had said. And in those years that followed, Lucia would write much about her little cousin, Jacinta.

The body of little Jacinta was exhumed in 1935, at which time her face was incorrupt; at a second exhumation in 1951 in preparation for the transfer of her remains to the Basilica at Fatima, she had begun to decompose.

In 1937, Pope Pius XI had determined that the causes for the canonisations of children should not proceed – except in the case of martyrs – as he thought they were not able to understand or practice virtue to an heroic degree. Naturally, this impeded the causes of canonisation of both Jacinta and Francisco. However, in the late 1970s, the Bishop of Leiria-Fatima wrote to all the Bishops of the world, asking them to petition the Holy Father to make an exception to this rule in favour of Jacinta and Francisco; around three hundred Bishops did just that, noting the clear example of their lives and also the favours received through their intercession. In 1979 the Congregation for the Causes of Saints met in a general assembly, to determine if it was possible for young children to live lives of heroic virtue. They determined it was indeed possible. Ten years later, Pope John Paul II declared the two siblings ‘Venerable’. On 13 May 2000, at Mass in the Cova da Iria, Jacinta and Francisco were declared ‘Blessed’ – also on that day, the third part of the ‘secret’ of Fatima was revealed by the Holy See, at the express instruction of the Pope.

Finally, on 13 May 2017, exactly one hundred years to the day after the first appearance of the Lady of the Rosary to Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta, the little brother and sister were declared Saints of the Roman Catholic Church by the Holy Father, Pope Francis – and at the very spot where the ‘Lady from Heaven’ had appeared. Jacinta is the youngest child ever to have been canonised without having died a martyr.

Sanctity is not something we earn or achieve; rather, it a is a grace given by God to whom He wills and in the degree He wills. And in the case of Saint Jacinta Marto, it is a grace that was given most abundantly. The charism of the holiness of this little, but very great, Saint is prayer and suffering offered reparatively on behalf of sinners, for love of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary; it is a charism all of us would do well to emulate. If such a life and such grace are possible in the short life of one so very young, then it is possible for every one of us. And in this quest, may we be assisted greatly by the prayers of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and of Her little confidante, Saint Jacinta Marto.

Saint Jacinta Marto, little daughter and great apostle of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us.

Our Lady of Hope

Our Lady of Hope

“At Cana, Mary appears once more as the Virgin in prayer: when She tactfully told Her Son of a temporal need She also obtained an effect of grace, namely, that Jesus, in working the first of His ‘signs’, confirmed His disciples’ faith in Him..”

– Pope Paul VI, ‘Marialis Cultus’

In 1995 I visited Paris. In the Faubourg Saint-Antoine area, I came upon the église Notre-Dame d’Espérance, the Church of Our Lady of Hope. Within the Church stands the beautiful carved wood statue of the Blessed Virgin which is pictured above. It shows the Mother of God cradling Her baby Son very close to Her Heart, an image of great tenderness.

This title of ‘Our Lady of Hope’ is a beautiful one – and one which will resonate in a particular way for those who feel (for whatever reason) that they are without hope. At different times in our lives, many of us may feel that we are without hope – sometimes this sense will be brief; but for some it may be longer-lasting and go deeper, to the heart of the person.

‘Hope’ is that little flickering light which, in the midst of darkness or trial, we perceive some way in the distance even if it does not yet illuminate us fully, nor yet offer us it’s gentle warmth. Hope is also the antithesis of despair – the sense that all hope is truly gone, all light extinguished. Hope maintains that light, even if it is flickering.

In the same way that trials beset us often in life, the experience of Mary during Her earthly life was not so very different. She, too, experienced trials – we often speak about the ‘Seven Sorrows’ of Mary – and not least among them, standing at the foot of the Cross and watching the Passion and Death of Her Son.

And yet, Mary’s Heart was always filled with the light of hope, even in the midst of Her suffering. Indeed, on that first Good Friday, the Immaculate Heart of Mary was probably the only place where true hope continued to flicker and burn, as the crowds mocked Christ and His Disciples scattered while He suffered and died on the Cross. All the while, Mary stood faithfully, filled with hope that the promise of the Lord would be fulfilled, and consenting over and over to the Divine Will.

In his Apostolic Exhortation ‘Marialis Cultus’, Pope Saint Paul VI touched on the example of the Blessed Virgin when he wrote –

“Mary is not only an example for the whole Church in the exercise of divine worship but is also, clearly, a teacher of the spiritual life for individual Christians. The faithful at a very early date began to look to Mary and to imitate Her in making their lives an act of worship of God and making their worship a commitment of their lives. As early as the fourth century, St. Ambrose, speaking to the people, expressed the hope that each of them would have the spirit of Mary in order to glory God – ‘May the heart of Mary be in each Christian to proclaim the greatness of the Lord; may Her spirit be in everyone to exult in God’. But Mary is above all the example of that worship that consists in making one’s life an offering to God. This is an ancient and ever new doctrine that each individual can hear again by heeding the Church’s teaching, but also by heeding the very voice of the Virgin as She, anticipating in Herself the wonderful petition of the Lord’s Prayer -‘Your will be done’ (Mt. 6:10)-replied to God’s messenger: ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let what you have said be done to Me’ (Lk. 1:38). And Mary’s ‘yes’ is for all Christians a lesson and example of obedience to the will of the Father, which is the way and means of one’s own sanctification.” (Marialis Cultus, para.21)

That statue of Our Lady of Hope in the Church in Paris is constantly surrounded by little votive lights; I can’t help thinking that each of these represents the prayer of a heart in distress at a given moment, coming to the feet of the Mother of God and asking Her maternal assistance. And, to quote Pope Paul again, “when She tactfully told Her Son of a temporal need She also obtained an effect of grace”.

This is what the Blessed Virgin does; it is precisely the same as She did for the wedding couple at Cana.

And it is because of the efficacy of Her intercession that the Church honours Her with a further title, which follows on from the first; She is the Cause of Our Joy’.

May this heavenly Mother hear and attend to the cries of all who place their hope in Her.

Sorrowful and Immaculate

Sorrowful and Immaculate

“..And a sword will pierce Your own soul, too..”

– Luke 2:35

The words of Simeon, prophesying the sword that will pierce the soul of Mary, give rise to the title of the ‘Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary’. This motherly Heart truly merits both designations. But thinking about each of them in turn, we see that while intimately linked, they are two quite seperate titles.

The title of ‘Immaculate’ is a designation which reflects the immense outpouring of divine grace at the moment of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin, in anticipation of Her role as Mother of God. Defining the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in his 1854 encyclical ‘Ineffabilis Deus’, Blessed Pope Pius IX explained it in this way –

“..it was wholly fitting that so wonderful a Mother should be ever resplendent with the glory of most sublime holiness and so completely free from all taint of original sin that She would triumph utterly over the ancient serpent. To Her did the Father will to give His only-begotten Son — the Son whom, equal to the Father and begotten by Him, the Father loves from His Heart — and to give this Son in such a way that He would be the one and the same common Son of God the Father and of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”

And so what is clear is that being perfectly immaculate was, for the Blessed Virgin, an entirely gratuitous gift on behalf of God – Her preservation from original sin was His work, not Hers.

Of course, She then corresponded perfectly with this gift, remaining ever free from all actual sin throughout Her life. This is why the Angel Gabriel was able to call Her – very accurately – “full of grace”. The original Greek word in the text is kecharitōmenē – which means ‘filled with grace’ or ‘overflowing with grace’. 

The title of ‘Sorrowful’, on the other hand, says something else.

Simeon’s words at the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, the feast we celebrate today in the Church, speak of something to come – something dark and filled with anguish; but something necessary despite this. We see those fearful words finding their fulfilment much later in the Gospel –

“Near the Cross of Jesus stood His Mother” (John 19:25).

Knowing from those earliest days that Her divine maternity would require Her to consent and embrace something filled with pain and sorrow, still She consented to this, for Her will was a perfect reflection of the Divine Will. The ‘Stabat Mater’ expresses it this way –

At the Cross Her station keeping,
stood the mournful Mother weeping,
close to Her Son to the last.

Through Her Heart, His sorrow sharing,
all His bitter anguish bearing,
now at length the sword has passed.

And so while the Heart of Mary is ‘Immaculate’ by divine privilege, that Heart is ‘Sorrowful’ by Her own right – for She has earned this title by Her own merits, through Her perfect compliance with the will of God. Truly, then, the Heart of Mary is both Sorrowful and Immaculate.

All of this tells us something else; grace builds upon nature.

Originally pure through an outpouring of divine grace, preserving Her from all stain of Original Sin, Mary remained immaculate throughout Her earthly life; sin is nothing more than a turning away from the will of God, a preference for our will over His – and that is something the Blessed Virgin never did. She corresponded perfectly to that outpouring of grace and Her nature was entirely and perfectly conformed to the will of God, even to standing faithfully beneath the Cross upon which Her Son hung.

The Catechism tells us that –

“Grace is favour, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to His call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.Grace is a participation in the life of God.” (Catechism, parae.1996-1997)

Unlike the Mother of God, we are not conceived immaculate – we lost this privilege when Adam and Eve committed Original Sin, which is why we are in need of redemption and why, ultimately, Christ came to redeem us. But we still have the help of divine grace throughout life – and this is given to us in abundance, if only we will correspond ourselves to it’s action.

The great Saint Paul speaks so often about grace and what it can achieve. His Letter to the Romans begins by praying “may God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ send grace and peace” (Rom.1:7). He attests that God “called me through His grace” (Gal.2:15) and he speaks of how divine grace calls us, transforms us, enables us to correspond more perfectly to the will of God. This grace builds upon our human nature. Saint John Henry Newman wrote and spoke about Saint Paul’s understanding of grace and it’s effects upon human nature. Newman said that Saint Paul made human nature “his own to the very full, instead of annihilating it; he sympathized with it, while he mortified it by penance, while he sanctified it by the grace given him”. This santification is the very purpose of divine grace.

Not surprisingly, then, it is this same divine grace which raised up great Saints throughout the history of the Church, often transforming the most sinful souls into models of deep holiness. Such is the power and work of divine grace, in the way the Catechism and Saint Paul describe.

For the Blessed Virgin Mary, this grace was able to work perfectly and without the least obstacle, for She was truly filled to overflowing with that divine grace, and she was entirely faithful to it’s action within Her.

In praying to the Mother of God today, let us pause and consider Her Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart – that Heart so perfectly open to the Word and to the grace of God. Let us ask of Her the grace that we might open our own hearts ever more perfectly to God’s grace within us, through the Word, through the Sacraments of the Church and through our prayers and devotions; and in this way, may we – like Her – remain faithful to His divine will for us.

Most Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us.