May 20, 2011

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Genuine devotion, veneration always lead us to God

(Listen to the archbishop read this column)

(Editor’s note: While Archbishop Buechlein continues to recover from a stroke, we offer some reprints of his various columns for your enrichment. The following column is from the May 11, 2007, issue of The Criterion.)

A friend of mine asked me to help him review our Catholic teaching about our devotion to Mary and the saints and angels.

Fairly often, we Catholics are criticized for our devotion to the Blessed Mother Mary and the angels and saints.

We are sometimes accused of worshiping Mary or of making false gods of the saints. This month of May might be a good time to review our Catholic belief in regard to Mary, the Blessed Mother of Christ.

We do not adore Mary as we adore God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. True, we sometimes pray to the Blessed Mother, but it is a prayer asking for her intercession.

We believe her intercession is powerful with God because, of all human persons, she is the closest to Jesus as his mother. That privileged position of Mother of God does not render her divine, but it is powerful nonetheless.

When I try to help critics understand our belief about our prayers and devotions to Mary, I use the example of asking a friend to intercede with someone important whose favor we are seeking for some cause. We ask someone close to the important person (to whom we do not personally have access) to help us, to intercede for us. So it is with our prayer to the Blessed Mother or to a favorite saint.

Through the ages, devotion to the Mother of God in our tradition has been consistent. The late Pope John Paul II brought new awareness to the important role of Mary in our faith. He was strongly convinced that she had interceded in his life on several occasions. Of course, he grew up with a great devotion to Mary inherited from his father and his Polish heritage.

Perhaps the most striking example of his conviction about the intercession of Mary in his life was at the time of the attempted assassination on his life. He was firmly convinced that while “one finger pulled the trigger, another finger,” that of the Blessed Mother, directed the bullet less than a centimeter from a mortal wound.

He gave the infamous bullet to the shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, where it has been placed in Mary’s crown. He gave the bloodied white sash he was wearing that fateful day to the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa. The sash hangs next to the famous icon of Our Lady.

These gestures of the late Holy Father are not acts of adoration of Mary; they are an expression of his love for her and his gratitude for her intercession.

Miracles are the work of God; they may be mediated through the intercession of Mary or the saints. Because of the holiness or merit of their lives, we believe they can court God’s special favor.

When miracles were ascribed to St. Theodora Guérin in the process of her beatification and canonization, we believe they were granted by God through her intercession. Her holiness, itself a grace of God, won God’s special intervention as a response to prayer to Mother Theodore asking for her intercessory help.

I have a special devotion to St. Joseph as well as to the Blessed Mother. I pray for his intercession for particular intentions daily. There is a saying that St. Joseph’s intercession is “slow but sure.”

Does that mean I adore St. Joseph? No. It means that because of his having parental responsibility for Jesus in his childhood and youth he surely enjoys a down-to-earth relationship with him. He was a saint who worked with his hands and was attentive to God’s directions.

I also have a special regard for Mother Theodore Guérin and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. They poured out their entire lives for Jesus in the most difficult ­circumstances. Surely the merit of their lives gives them intercessory power before God.

While we have favorite images and icons of Mary and the saints, we do not worship images as is sometimes believed by non-Catholic friends. Our statues and pictures are reminders of our veneration for the Mother of God and the saints. It is much like our keeping photos of our loved ones before us as reminders of our care for them and their care for us.

The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults notes: “Based on our faith in the Incarnation of Christ, we venerate images of Christ, Mary, the angels, and the saints. We do not worship the images themselves, but in venerating the image, we venerate whoever is portrayed—Jesus Christ, Mary a saint, or an angel. This, in turn, can lead us to a deeper contemplation of God himself” (p. 347).

Our veneration of an image or a saint is not adoration. Genuine devotion or veneration, in fact, always leads us to God. †

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