October 23, 2015

Rejoice in the Lord

Mary, heart of the Holy Family, mother of compassion and tenderness

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin

Do you know the saying of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, “The loveliest masterpiece of the heart of God is the heart of a mother?” Surely this is true, and no mother reflects the heart of God more perfectly than Mary, the mother of Jesus.

The Immaculate Heart is one of Mary’s many titles. This particular title calls our attention to the compassion and tenderness that our Blessed Mother is especially known for.

“Compassion” is the ability to share in the suffering of others. Compassion is not superficial or sentimental, but a genuine connection with those who are in any kind of physical, mental or emotional pain. The Gospels frequently portray Jesus as being filled with compassion for people in need. His response to the pain of others was always one of sharing in their suffering and healing their ills.

“Tenderness” is one of several themes that are contained in the “Instrumentum Laboris” (working paper) for the Synod on the Family.

In my column last week, I reflected on this quote from Pope Francis’ 2014 Christmas homily: “Do we have the courage to welcome with tenderness the difficulties and problems of those who are near to us, or do we prefer impersonal solutions, perhaps effective but devoid of the warmth of the Gospel? How much the world needs tenderness today! The patience of God, the closeness of God, the tenderness of God.”

Pope Francis often speaks about God’s closeness, and he frequently speaks of the Church as our mother. For the Holy Father, nothing is worse than the alienation, loneliness and cruelty of a life cut off from God’s love. Mary is a powerful witness to the tenderness of God. She opens her heart to all who call on her, and her love and compassion are always available to us.

One of the great paradoxes of Christian faith is our conviction that the Creator of all things is both a mighty fortress who is all-knowing, all-present and all-powerful, and a still, soft breeze of kindness, mercy and loving care. When St. Thérèse describes the heart of a mother as “the loveliest masterpiece of the heart of God,” she is praising God not for his strength and power, but for his tenderness and mercy.

As St. Thérèse sees things, God’s greatest achievement is the open and loving heart of a mother. There can be no mothers, of course, without children, and we believe that children require loving and stable families for their personal and spiritual growth as human persons.

Pope St. John Paul II’s early encyclical, “Familiaris Consortio,” speaks of the family as the domestic Church (the Church of the home), which he says is an integral part of “God’s mysterious design” for the human race. When God himself became a human—as a sign of God’s infinite, abundant love for all humanity—he chose to be born of a woman, and to grow up in a humble family in a remote village of an occupied land.

In this family, God’s Son experienced poverty, persecution and exile. He learned to be obedient to his mother and foster father, Joseph. And he experienced the tenderness and compassion of Mary, his mother, as well as her constancy and devotion even to the foot of the Cross and the earliest days of the Church.

With St. John Paul, let’s pray that “the Virgin Mary, who is the Mother of the Church, will also be the Mother of the Church of the home. Thanks to her motherly aid, may each Christian family really become a little Church in which the mystery of the Church of Christ is mirrored and given new life. May she, the handmaid of the Lord, be an example of humble and generous acceptance of the will of God. May she, the Sorrowful Mother at the foot of the cross, comfort the sufferings and dry the tears of those in distress because of the difficulties of their families.”

May the Immaculate Heart of Mary always serve as the model for our sharing in God’s tenderness and compassion. May she guide us in our family life, and help us to deal successfully with the challenges and difficulties we invariably face as we seek to witness to the importance of the family and the sacredness and inviolability of the sacrament of marriage.

“The loveliest masterpiece of the heart of God is the heart of a mother.” Let’s join St. Thérèse of Lisieux and all the saints in praising Mary, the Mother of God and our mother.

May her intercession strengthen mothers and families everywhere. May her tenderness and compassion fill our hearts with the endless love of God who never abandons anyone! †

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