May 20, 2005

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Mary is a beacon of hope for all of us

The late John Paul II dedicated his papacy to the Mother of God and of the Church. “Totus Tuus” (Totally Yours) was his motto as pope. His spiritual testament published after his death is laced with references to his total dedication to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Pope John Paul’s last written letter was his Holy Thursday Letter to Priests, signed in the hospital on the Fifth Sunday of Lent. At the conclusion, he wrote: “Who more than Mary can help us taste the greatness of the Eucharistic mystery? She more than anyone can teach us how to celebrate the sacred mysteries with due fervor and to commune with her Son, hidden in the Eucharist. I pray to her then, for all of you, and I entrust to her especially the elderly, the sick, and those in difficulty. This Easter, in the Year of the Eucharist, I gladly repeat to each of you the gentle and consoling words of Jesus: ‘Behold your Mother’” (Jn 19:27).

Like his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI has dedicated himself and his papal ministry to the Blessed Virgin Mary. On the day after his election, in his first message to the Church and the world, Pope Benedict said: “Like Peter, I too renew to Him [Christ] my unconditional promise of faithfulness. He alone I intend to serve as I dedicate myself totally to the service of His Church. In support of this promise, I invoke the maternal intercession of Mary Most Holy, in whose hands I place the present and the future of my person and of the Church.”

During this month of May dedicated to Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church, her life of virtue as a woman of hope is a timely reflection for us. She is a pre-eminent exemplar of hope.

We can imagine that already as a young girl and then as a young woman, in the vigilant and patient Jewish tradition of expectant hope for the coming of the Messiah, Mary already lived the virtue of hope. As a young woman who had been entrusted with the miraculous conception of the Messiah by the Holy Spirit, she was an expectant mother of hope.

She was sustained in her hope when her virginal conception of Jesus was revealed to Joseph, her spouse. She embraced the virtue of hope with Joseph in Bethlehem even when they had no place for the Messiah to be born. Later, with hope tested by anxiety, Mary and Joseph fled as refugees to Egypt. And then later, when all seemed lost on the way to Calvary, she was there—surely hoping against hope—patiently waiting through the darkness of the Passion for the dawn of Resurrection. And after the time of the Ascension came, she was there with the new-born Church awaiting the gift of the Holy Spirit once more. After her assumption into heaven, Mary continues to be the intercessor of our hopefulness.

She is not only the witness of hope for us as a community of believers. She is also a star, a beacon of hope for us as individuals, especially as we navigate the trials and tribulations which none of us escapes in life.

No one has written more passionately of the Mother of God as our intercessor and source of hope than St. Bernard of Clairvaux. “If the winds of temptation blow, if you run against the reefs of temptation, look at the star, call on Mary. If the waves of pride, of ambition or of envy are breaking over you, look at the star, call on Mary. If anger, greed or impurity are violently shaking the ship of your soul, turn to Mary. If you are dismayed at the thought of your sins, confounded by the ugliness of your conscience, fearful at the idea of judgment and you begin to sink into a bottomless abyss of sadness or of despair, think about Mary.

“When in danger, anguish, or in doubt, think about Mary, invoke Mary. Let Mary always be on your lips, may she never be absent from your heart. To obtain her help and intercession, always follow the example of her virtue. You will not go astray if you follow her. You will not despair if you call to her. You will not get lost if you think about her. If she is holding you by the hand, you will not fall. If she is protecting you, you have nothing to fear. You will not grow weary if she is your guide. You will reach port safely if she is looking after you” (Homily 2 on the “missus est,” 7).

We do well to follow the lead of Pope Benedict and his beloved predecessor, John Paul II. †

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