“Almost at the same time, there came out of the interior of the grotto a golden coloured cloud, and soon after a Lady, young and beautiful, exceedingly beautiful, the like of whom I had never seen before, came and placed Herself at the entrance of the opening, above the rose bush. She looked at me immediately, smiled at me and signed to me to advance, as if She had been my Mother.”
– Saint Bernadette Soubirous
There is something very disarming about the Mother of God, something which appeals directly to the heart of the child within each one of us.
From the days which are recounted in the Gospels, the Blessed Virgin is presented as a Woman of humility (choosing to visit and help Elizabeth); of determination and strength of character (asking the help of Her Son even though it was not His time); and of simplicity of words (‘Do whatever He tells you’) and enormous courage – remaining faithfully beneath the Cross upon which Her Son was nailed, whilst almost all of His disciples had scattered in fear.
She is also presented as a Woman of deep and intense prayer, that prayer showing Her sublime relationship with – and trust in – God; Her complate surrender at the moment of the Annunciation is evidence of this. Her beautiful ‘Magnificat’ in St Luke’s Gospel shows us Her deep familiarity with the Scriptures, which it references and reflects so often. Mary is a Woman who is steeped in the very presence of God; Her spirit dwells in His presence, Her Heart is constantly lifted up to Him. And as the Angel Gabriel notes, the Lord is with Her.
It is not real surprise, then, that we are so very fond of Our Lady and that we approach Her in all our needs.
This has also been the experience of those Saints who were blessed to see the Mother of God during their lives.
Saint Catherine Labouré recounted that when the Blessed Virgin visited her for the first time, on the night of 18th July 1830, She sat in the chair used by the Priest, at the front of the sanctuary of the Chapel. Catherine knelt at Her feet, her hands in the lap of the Mother of God – a natural thing for a child to do before her Mother, but also an enormous privilege, for no other soul has been granted this honour of such warm familiarity.
And when appearing to Saint Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes, the Blessed Virigin ensured She had the appearance of a small and young girl, so as not to frighten Bernadette, who was aged only fourteen at the time.
Similarly, appearing to the three chilldren at Fatima, the first thing She said to them was ‘Do not be afraid, I will do you no harm’.
Our Blessed Lady is always concerned for us and for our needs – material, certainly, but spiritual first and foremost. Her appearances upon the earth are always with this in mind – to call us back to God.
Catholics are greatly fortunate in having always known and loved the Blessed Virgin, even from our childhoods – and this is a great grace we have been given. Many others come to know Her only much later on in life, and often by quite circuitous means. The Blessed Virgin draws souls to Her, for She is illuminated by the very light of Heaven – and in drawing us to Herself, She then fulfils Her primary intention, which is to lead us closer to the Lord.
Not every soul – indeed, not even every Catholic – has a close and warm relationship with the Mother of God. For such souls, we can do two things – live a life in close union with the Blessed Virgin, in the hope of leading by example; and we can pray – because a relationship with the Mother of God is a grace, and it can be obtained through prayer, which obtains so very many graces. We need to pray that those hearts are opened to the possibility of letting that relationship develop, because not every heart is so opened and there are many who misunderstand the role of the Mother of God and the purpose of devotion to Her. And those prayers must always be offered with the greatest charity and the deepest humility, reminding ourselves that if we have been granted this grace, it is through no merit on our part, but purely because the Lord desires it.
This day, may we all give thanks to God for the great grace we have been given in knowing and loving the Blessed Virgin Mary; and by our way of life, may we encourage others to live in union with Her so that She might lead every one of us closer to the Lord.