Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Mary, Help of Christians

Pope Francis at the Basilica of St. Mary, Help of Christians.
The Blessed Virgin Mary 
is a beautiful, beloved, essential and pervasive figure in Christian life 
and in the Church’s calendar. 
She has been since the early days of the Church. 
Her feasts are as varied as the cultures of the world, 
with each having special traditions, customs, 
and habits of piety. 
For example, the Church honors Mary every Saturday, 
recalling both the one full day 
that Jesus spent in the tomb 
and the traditional belief that Mary 
was the disciple who best kept the faith on that day. 
The early Church took up the practice 
of keeping faith with her on that day each week.

Since the Middle Ages, 
the Church has devoted the month of May to Mary. 
Many parishes have “May Crownings” 
during this time in which a statue of the Blessed Mother 
is adorned with a diadem or a wreath of flowers. 
Many Christians also undertake pilgrimages 
during this month to shrines associated with the Blessed Virgin. 
In May, there are also three Marian feasts 
that are celebrated which help us to understand 
what Mary can teach us about being disciples.

Earlier this month, on May 13, 
we commemorated the Memorial of Our Lady of Fatima 
which recalls the appearance of the Blessed Virgin 
to three young children in Portugal in 1917. 
Mary encouraged penance, conversion 
and praying the rosary, 
warning the world of a great war and suffering, 
but that, “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.”

The Feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians, 
which is celebrated today, May 25, 
is an older feast, dating back to the to the sixteenth century, 
which was not a peaceful time in Europe. 
In 1571, Catholics throughout the continent 
joined in praying the rosary 
in hopes of prevailing over Muslim military forces 
that had long sought to expand into Europe. 
These prayers were answered at the Battle of Lepanto on October 7, 1571, 
which is now the feast for Our Lady of the Rosary.

Both of these feasts highlight not only the strength 
we find in asking Mary’s intercession, 
joining our prayers to her intercession, 
but also the confidence that God continues 
to act in the world. 
God hears the cry of those who suffer and God responds.

The third Marian feast for May is 
the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin on May 31. 
We remember how Mary journeyed to the home 
of her kinswoman Elizabeth to care for her as the birth of her son, 
John the Baptist, drew near. In the greeting that is so beautifully 
recounted in the first chapter of Luke, 
Mary first announces the arrival of the Messiah 
to the people of Israel as she prays 
what is known as the Magnificat. 
“My soul magnifies the Lord 
and my Spirit rejoices in God, my Savior” (Luke 1:46). 
This is a prayer of joy and of confidence that, in staying close to Christ, we are never alone.

These celebrations, 
like all Marian feasts, are really celebrations of Jesus Christ, 
for she has no privilege that she has not received from God. 
In these days, we learn how to stay close to him in prayer 
and through the practice of charity, 
such as caring for a relative in a time of need, 
with confidence that our prayers will be answered.

To rejoice in Mary 
is to celebrate God’s greatest creation – 
the vessel he fashioned to be his own mother, 
the woman who would bear him into the world. 
In the life of the “handmaid of the Lord,
” we learn what it means to say “yes” 
to life in the Lord and to discover in him the meaning of life.

With maternal love for us, 
Mary wants what is best for us – 
she wants Jesus for us, so she urges us, 
“Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). 
Then she helps us as we lead others to know and love her Son too. 
Her feasts not only empower us to turn to her in prayer, 
but also to love Jesus and others with a greater love.