A Woman Pre-Figured

A Woman Pre-Figured

“And a great sign appeared in the Heavens, a Woman clothed with the Sun, with the Moon beneath Her feet and upon Her head, a crown of twelve stars..”

– Revelation 12:1

A beautiful woman – a queen, no less – disobeys the King, who issues a decree banishing her from his presence; he then determines that he will give her privileges to another, one more worthy than she. Later, a beautiful young Jewish woman has such a startling beauty that the King is entranced by her, for  “the young woman was beautifully formed and lovely to behold” (Es.2:7). Because of this, he “loved her more than all other women” and “placed the royal crown on her head and made her queen” (Es.2:17) in place of the original queen.

Through a particular set of circumstances, the chosen people stand accused before the King – “they do not obey the laws of the King; so it is not proper for the King to tolerate them” (Es.3:8). Consequently, on the thirteenth day of the month, a decree is issued for their destruction. Learning of the decree, the new queen, Esther, was “overwhelmed with anguish” (Es.4:4). And her uncle wonders – “perhaps it was for a time like this that you became queen?” (Es.4:14). She then commands her people to fast and determines to plead for them before the King. Praying to God, the queen says –

“Lord, do not relinquish Your sceptre to those who are nothing.. be mindful of us, Lord. Make Yourself known in the time of our distress.. Save us by Your power.. O God, Whose power if over all, hear the voice of those in despair. Save us from the power of the wicked..” (Es.4C:26-30).

The woman then goes before the King, telling him – “You are awesome, my Lord, though your countenance is full of mercy” (Es.4D:14). And the King, listening to her pleas, determines that “Whatever you ask.. shall be granted you. Whatever request you make.. shall be honoured” (Es.7:2). In this way, the Queen saves her people by petitioning the King who has ordered their destruction and in, in the process, the true enemy of the King and the people is destroyed.

The young woman is Queen Esther, after whom the Old Testament book is named, although she is not a real historical person – the story is written to illustrate a point. But in reading the story of Esther, you may find yourself recognising some aspects of it, as though it is familiar. And indeed, it should be.

Interestingly, when She appeared at Fatima in 1917, the Mother of God wore a golden star on Her gown. ‘Esther’ translates as ‘star’. Perhaps this small detail had a certain significance.

The Church tells us that the Blessed Virgin Mary is often ‘pre-figured’ in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament. In other words, reading those texts after the fact and seeing them with the eyes of the Church and through the prism of history, we can see a ‘fore-shadowing’ of sorts, so that She is there even though those books were written long before She came into existence. Mary is found in so many places within the Old Testment, but She is hidden in plain sight. Now, this might seems a strange thing – until we remember that while we are living in a particular moment of human history, God is not. God is beyond time and history and all human constraints; for God, there is only the eternal ‘now’. 

In the same way that the Prophets and texts of the Old Testament spoke of the Messiah who would come later, so too did these same texts often give clues about His Mother. Perhaps the most well-known example of this is the prophecy of Isaiah, who says –

“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. A Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son..” (Is.7:14).

Another example is the ‘Proto-Evangelium’, found in the Book of Genesis –

“I will put enmity between you and the Woman between your offspring and Hers” (Gn.3:15)

The Proto-Evangelium is interesting in that it specifies the coming of the Lord specifically through the Woman, making an explicit point of mentioning Her directly, as though to emphasise Her importance and Her singular place in the broader plan which will unfold later on.

It is interesting, too, that in the New Testament the Lord refers to His Mother specifically as ‘Woman’ – almost as though He is obliquely reminding us that the Woman through whom the Messiah will come, and the Woman He is presently addressing, are one and the same. This ‘Woman’ will appear again later on, in the revelation of Saint John –

“And a great sign appeared in the Heavens, a Woman clothed with the sun, with the Moon beneath Her feet and upon Her head, a crown of twelve stars..” (Rev:12:1)

In these texts, then, there is a sense of mystery; what they speak of is not yet seen in full light, and they will only be realised later – and on looking back on them afterwards, their meaning becomes clearer.

The Church refers to Mary as ‘the New Eve’, as the ‘Ark of the Covenant’ and other attributions which directly reflect themes already present in the Old Testament, giving them a new meaning, or perhaps more accurately, renewing their meaning.

Taken together, all these various texts suggests something very clear indeed, and it is this; in the Divine plan, the Lord always intended that the Blessed Virgin would be the one through whom the Messiah would come to us, Her place is a singular one and She remains present throughout the entirety of this plan of salvation for poor errant humanity.

The Catechism tells us that “Mary’s role in the Church is inseparable from her union with Christ and flows directly from it” (para.964). Where you find Christ, you will find Mary; and wherever you find Mary She will always point you to Her Divine Son.

Quoting ‘Lumen Gentium’, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, the Catechism tells us one more thing –

“In the meantime the Mother of Jesus, in the glory which she possesses in body and soul in heaven, is the image and beginning of the Church as it is to be perfected in the world to come. Likewise she shines forth on earth until the day of the Lord shall come, a sign of certain hope and comfort to the pilgrim People of God.” (para.972)

Often, then, what is said of the Church is said of the Blessed Virgin, and the words applied to Her apply equally to the Church. In the same way that the Mother of God has already made Her pilgrimage of faith to perfect completion, so too do we hope that the Church will continue to make her own pilgrimage; that one day, the glory presently enjoyed by the Mother of God in Heaven, will be shared by the Church.

May She who is the Woman of both Genesis and Revelation, this Queen who stands pleading for Her people before the Mighty One, never fail to support us as we – together with the entire Church – make our own pilgrimage of Faith as we journey home to the New Jerusalem. 

Treasure of the Heart

Treasure of the Heart

“His Mother treasured all these things, pondering them in Her Heart.”

(Luke 2:19)

In Saint Matthew’s Gospel, the Lord tells us clearly – “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth.. but store up treasures in Heaven..” (cf.Mt.6:19-20). Our treasures, then, should not be created things, for these decay and rot and do not last; the treasures we seek, on the other hand, are eternal. Earthly treasures are invariably a distraction from the love of God, when He alone should be our focus. Those eternal treasures – used properly – should focus our attention and our love on the Lord. And this, after all, was the purpose for which He created us – to know Him, love Him and serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.

In searching for those eternal treasures, perhaps the actions of the Mother of the Lord, recounted early in the Gospel of Saint Luke, can provide us with an inspiration –

“His Mother treasured all these things, pondering them in Her Heart.” (Luke 2:19)

What things did She treasure? She treasured all the events of the life of Her Son. Luke is recounting this from the early part of the Lord’s life – but there can be little doubt that if this was Our Blessed Lady’s practice whilst Her Son was still a child, She would certanly have continued to do so as He grew into adulthood and as His mission progressed. Each of those events we read of in the Gospels, from the Crib to the Cross and beyond, She contemplated in Her Heart, in such a way that they were true treasures to Her. Undoubtedly, too, She would have recounted these events for the Apostles, so that the Evangelists then wrote them down, which allows us to read about them in the Gospels.

Those same Evangelists thought enough of this action of the Mother of the Lord – that She treasured these things in Her Heart – to record it for the Church. For them, too, this ‘treasuring in the heart’ was crucial – it was from this that they then went out and preached the very events they were treasuring within themselves, those events having transformed them.

In the same way, we are called to treasure these things in our own hearts; we do this at Mass in hearing the Word of God; and in receiving the Sacraments of the Church; in our prayers; and in the living out of our Faith.

The Rosary is a simple and yet very powerful way for us – like Mary, like the Apostles and like the early Church – to treasure all these things and to ponder them in our hearts. This is exactly what the Rosary invites us to do. It invites us to consider and contemplate the events of the lives of Jesus and Mary, those events which are the history of our salvation, and it even presents those events to us in an ordered manner. All we need do is take up our beads and pray, so that these events resonate within us and transform us, as they did the Apostles.

It is for this reason that the great Saint John Paul II referred to the Rosary as the ‘school of Mary’, for there, we learn from Her own example.

In more recent years, our present Holy Father, Pope Francis has spoken of the Rosary as being “contemplation in action, making God part of the little things of each day”.

The Rosary draws us gently into a place of quiet and stillness, a place of tranquility and prayer – and there, we can encounter Christ with Mary.

Understanding all of this, and encouraged by these words of the Popes, let us endeavour to pray this heavenly prayer – to sit in that school of Mary and to learn from Her own example, just as the Apostles did.


She Went With Haste

She Went With Haste

“During those days, Mary went with haste to the hill country, to a town of Judah, where She entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said ‘Most blessed are You among women, and blessed is the fruit of Your womb. And how does this happen to me, that I should be visited by the Mother of my Lord?'”

Luke 1: 39-43

It isn’t really what you might expect, is it? Having just consented to becoming the Mother of God, the Blessed Virgin suddenly sets out ‘with haste’ to visit Her cousin, Elizabeth. The first thing that strikes me is how practical Mary is. Incredible though Her own news certainly is, She knows that Her cousin is heavily preganant and probably in need of some assistance and perhaps support. The second thing that strikes me is Her humility – this is not about Her, but about Her cousin. And those two little words – ‘with haste’. How telling they are! Mary simply gets on with it – She wastes no time wool-gathering or contemplating the loftiness of Her position; someone is in need and She can help.

And it is precisely in undertaking this act of charity that Mary becomes what an ancient title of Hers proclaims Her to be – the ‘Theotokos’, or ‘God-Bearer’. In visiting Her cousin, Mary takes with Her the unborn Child in Her womb, the Christ Child. You could say, without too much fear of correction, that in this event, She becomes the very first Christian missionary; in the centuries to follow, many others will take Christ out into the world – but Mary was the first.

We, too, have the opportunity to take Christ out to the world. We can do it by our words, our teaching, our proclamation – but maybe the most powerful witness of all is by living with Christ in our hearts so that, like Mary, where we go, He goes too. I wodner if this is the most powerful form of witness – to teach by the example of our lives. People forget what we say to them; but they don’t forget how we make them feel and how we treat them. For Mary, She treated Her cousin with respect and reverence, and in humility. When we do similarly, the light of Christ shines out of us.

In order to treat others in this way, we need to see Christ in them – for it is Him that we are actually serving, as He reminds us in the Gospel – “whatever you do to the least of these, you do to Me”.

And when we serve others in this way, they don’t see us – they see Christ shining out of us. As Elizabeth did with Mary – this is why Elizabeth recognised Mary as “the Mother of my Lord”.

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, constantly gives us examples of serving others in this way – he puts into practice what the Gospel commands us to do. He offers a good example that we should follow. We may not have the means or ability to make a grand gesture – but then, it isn’t about grand gestures, it’s about doing little things with great love for our neighbour, out of love for Christ. It’s about giving whatever we have that we are able to give – often, our time, our skills, a consoling touch, a kind word. All for love of Him.

Let’s ask the Blessed Virgin to assist us in this, to obtain for us the grace of a burning charity towards all, following Her own example.



They Have No Wine

They Have No Wine

“The Mother of Jesus said to Him – ‘They have no wine’.”
John 2:7

Four words. Four single, short words. And in them, the Mother of Jesus makes clear to Her Son that She is concerned for the bride and groom whose wedding they are attending at Cana in Galilee.

Jesus initially seems to almost rebuke His Mother, asking what concern it is of His, as His time has not yet come. But this Lady is both gentle and tenacious – She knows that Her Son will do as She requests and so, instead of answering His (rhetorical) question, She gives a command to the servants. It is the same command She gives to every single one of us, too – “Do whatever He tells you”. And in doing as they are commanded, the servants are witness to the first public miracle of the Lord. All of this, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin.

Much the same scenario is repeated every single time we ask the help and intercession of the Mother of God – She presents our needs to Her Son and He, in turn, answers Her prayer as and when He deems fit.

At first glance, the story may seem simple and straight-forward. But there is something deeper going on here.

This request made by the Mother and answered by the Son cost that Mother dearly.

Until that point, the Holy Family had lived a quiet and private life, hidden away from public gaze and probably known to very few people – but now, in performing this miracle at the request of His Mother, the Lord moved from the private to the very public; a new phase of His life had just begun, the public ministry which would ultimately result in His Passion, Death and Resurrection.

Through Her intimacy with God and with the Scriptures, and knowing full well that the Messiah would eventually suffer and die, the Blessed Virgin surely knew the cost of what She was asking – for Her personally, this quiet and hidden life in Nazareth would now draw to it’s conclusion and the Lord would go out to the world, calling His Apostles so that His true mission might begin. Like any mother whose child is moving into the world, this is a painful moment; how much more so for this particular Mother. Although She would remain very close to Him throughout this new phase, even to standing beneath His Cross on Golgotha, life would never be the same again.

Yes indeed, this simple request of the Mother to Her Son, cost Her dearly.

In our prayers today, let us thank the Blessed Virgin, whose soul magnifies the Lord and who constantly pleads for us before Her Son.




After Golgotha

After Golgotha

“And from that hour, the disciple took Her into his home”
(John 19:27)

The image of the Blessed Virgin Mary leaving Golgotha in the company of St John and carrying the Crown of Thorns from the Body of Her dead Son, is one of abject misery and sorrow. At that moment, all seems lost – Jesus is dead, having been nailed to the Cross. Everything He said and taught seems – in that moment – to have die along with Him.

The flame of faith in Him continues to burn in one single place – within the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary. She alone continues to believe and to have complete faith in Her Son. She has been mystically united to Him throughout His Passion, and stood weeping at the foot of His Cross, watching Him die – but not before He had given Her over into the care of this Beloved Disciple, John.

John represents all of us, placed in the care of the Blessed Virgin by Our Lord. But John now has been entrusted with a very particular mission, the same one given years before to the great Saint Joseph – to take care of the Mother of the Lord and to protect Her.

When I read that passage from the Gospel of St John, I cannot help but wonder what conversations took place that first night, after Golgotha, and the many nights that followed. I wonder what blessings the Mother of the Lord brought to Saint John and his house; and I wonder what stories She told him of the childhood of Her Son, of the things He had said and done in the years before His public ministry.

And I consider the enormous honour of the task given to St John by the Lord – this alone makes him a favourite saint of mine, that he was so close to the Blessed Virgin and charged with Her safekeeping.

I am sure that in the same way he opened his home to Mary, She opened Her Heart to him, and John has a very special place there, as he did in the Heart of Jesus.

Like St John, may all of us open our homes and our hearts to the Mother of God, making within us a special place where She is unhesitatingly welcomed, warmly and affectionately, one where we can keep company with Her, listen to Her and learn from Her.




You Are Peter

You Are Peter

“Blessed are you, Simon.. And I tell you – you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My Church..
I will give you the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven”

(cf. Mt.16:17-19)

I often wonder what drew the Lord to call Simon Peter the fisherman as His first Apostle, along with his brother, Andrew. I wonder, too, what it was about the Lord that made Peter instantly leave all behind and do as he had been invited to do – we are told he followed the Lord ‘immediately’. Just what was it about this Man that so drew the Apostles to Him? And what exactly did the Lord see in Peter?

Peter seems to be a very human person. At times, proud and almost haughty, such as his initial refusal to allow the Lord to wash his feet at the Last Supper; at other times, a model of humility, such as wishing to be crucified upside down, as he did not deserve to die like his Master. In the Gospels, he is always listed first amongst the Apostles and later, the great Saint Paul would attest that Peter is the ‘apostle to the Jews’ in the same way that he, Paul, is apostle to the gentiles.

Peter seems to be part of the special core group, who are present at some events which are not witnessed by the rest of the group. such as the Transfiguration. Also, in Gethsemane, Peter – along with James and John – is invited to be nearer to the Lord while He prays in the Garden, whilst the other Apostle are a little further back.

Just prior to this event, the Lord has celebrated the Passover at the Last Super, where He has instituted the Eucharist. At this Supper, the Lord has foretold that Peter will deny Him not once, but three times before the night is over. Peter, of course, cannot accept this. And yet, it comes to pass.

When the Lord moves further into Gethsemane to pray to the Father, He has told Peter, James and John to “remain here and watch with Me” (Mt.26:38). Coming back a while later, the Lord finds them asleep and He rebukes Peter – “So, could you not watch with Me one hour?” (Mt.26.40). This is repeated three times.

As Peter was dozing off, I wonder what he was thinking about? Was he considering the Last Supper they had just shared? Did he have any idea at that moment of what the Lord had just done and what He had given to them? Or were the words ringing in his mind that he would deny Jesus? I can only assume that he had no real idea of what was just about to happen, since he was able to fall asleep so easily.

Much later, looking back on all these events, I wonder what Peter thought then? As Jesus is being tried and Peter denies Pilate, he realises what he has done and how right the Lord has been “and he went out and wept bitterly” (Mt.26:75).

I think this is the beginning of a great change in Peter. I think that change reaches it’s zenith on the morning of the Resurrection, as Peter goes into the empty Tomb, where the Body of Jesus had been laid on Good Friday; and I think it is completed with the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. From this point onward, it is truly Peter ‘the Rock’ that we see and hear.

Now, if the Lord can choose such a week and flawed man as Simon to become Peter, the great Rock and the foundation of the Church, then no-one is beyond the power of Christ’s grace. That grace transforms, certainly – but it builds upon what is already there. Such is the case with Simon, who will become Peter.

Many years later, recalling all these wondrous events, what must Peter have thought of it all?