During his flight from Rome to Portugal on May 12 to make his Apostolic Pilgrimage to Fatima of May 12-13 for the Centenary of the Marian Apparitions, Pope Francis succinctly described his Apostolic Pilgrimage as “a journey of prayer, of encounter with the Lord and with the Holy Mother of God”.
The Pope’s speeches at Fatima unravel a deep Mariological reflection on who Mary, the Mother of God and our Mother, really is. In his greeting at the prayer Vigil held at the Chapel of the Apparitions on the evening of May 12, Pope Francis rightly asked: “Pilgrims with Mary … But which Mary?” He immediately replied:
“A teacher of the spiritual life, the first to follow Jesus on the ‘narrow way’ of the cross by giving us an example, or a Lady ‘unapproachable’ and impossible to imitate? A woman ‘blessed because she believed’ always and everywhere in God’s words (cf. Lk 1:42.45), or a ‘plaster statue’ from whom we beg favours at little cost? The Virgin Mary of the Gospel, venerated by the Church at prayer, or a Mary of our own making: one who restrains the arm of a vengeful God; one sweeter than Jesus the ruthless judge; one more merciful than the Lamb slain for us?”
In Mary we admire “the revolutionary nature of love and tenderness”. Thus, Mary represents to us the reality that “humility and tenderness are not virtues of the weak, but of the strong, who need not treat others poorly in order to feel important themselves… This interplay of justice and tenderness, of contemplation and concern for others, is what makes the ecclesial community look to Mary as a model of evangelization” (Ap. Exhort. Evangelii Gaudium, 288)”. Pope Francis encouraged each and every one of us to “become a sign and sacrament of the mercy of God, who pardons always and pardons everything”. Finally the Pope closed the prayer Vigil by praying: “Hand in hand with the Virgin Mother, and under her watchful gaze, may we come to sing with joy the mercies of the Lord, and cry out: ‘My soul sings to you, Lord!’”
Another graced moment wherein the Pope unleashed a profound theological reflection on Mary was the Canonization Mass for Jacinta and Francesco Marto, the two young visionaries of Fatima. Referring to Mary the Holy Father exclaimed: “We have a Mother! ‘So beautiful a Lady’, as the seers of Fatima said to one another as they returned home on that blessed day of 13 May a hundred years ago”. But what does having Mary as a Mother really mean? In Pope Francis’ understanding, it means having a Mother who, at Fatima, “foretold, and warned us about, a way of life that is godless and indeed profanes God in his creatures”. Therefore, “Fatima is more than anything this mantle of Light that protects us, here as in almost no other place on earth. We need but take refuge under the protection of the Virgin Mary and to ask her, as the Salve Regina teaches: ‘show unto us… Jesus’.”
Mary empowers us for a salvific mission. The Pope’s words to the sick spell out this special mission that comes to us from God through Mary’s maternal love. ‘Today the Virgin Mary asks all of us the same question that, a hundred years ago, she asked the shepherd children: “Do you want to offer yourselves to God?’ Their answer – ‘Yes, we do!’
I invite those of you who are sick to live your lives as a gift. Like the shepherd children, tell Our Lady that you want to offer yourselves to God with all your heart. Don’t think of yourselves simply as the recipients of charitable solidarity, but feel that you share fully in the Church’s life and mission. Your silent presence, which is more eloquent than a flood of words, your prayers, the daily offering of your sufferings in union with those of Jesus crucified for the salvation of the world, the patient and even joyful acceptance of your condition – all these are a spiritual resource, an asset to every Christian community. Do not be ashamed of being a precious treasure of the Church”.
Can we offer our lives as a living sacrifice of love to God? Can we become precious intercessory treasures for humanity through our offered sufferings?
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap