Ongoing Formation 7/2021

SOLEMNITY OF MARY, MOTHER OF GOD
and WORLD DAY OF PEACE
Pope Francis

To be amazed

“All who heard were amazed at what the shepherds told them” (Lk 2:18). To be amazed: this is what is asked of us today, at the conclusion of the Octave of Christmas, as we continue to contemplate the Child born for us, lacking everything yet abounding in love. Amazement is what we should feel at the beginning of each year, for life is a gift that constantly gives us a chance to make a new start, even from the most lowly of circumstances.

Today is also a day to be amazed by the Mother of God. God appears as a little child, held in the arms of a woman who feeds her Creator. The statue before our eyes depicts the Mother and Child so close as to appear as one. That is the mystery we celebrate today, which gives rise to boundless amazement: God has become one with humanity forever. God and man, always together, that is the good news of this new year. God is no distant lord, dwelling in splendid isolation above the heavens, but love incarnate, born like us of a mother, in order to be a brother to each of us, to be close to us: the God of closeness. He rests on the lap of his mother, who is also our mother, and from there he pours out upon humanity a new tenderness. Thus we come to understand more fully God’s love, which is both paternal and maternal, like that of a mother who never stops believing in her children and never abandons them. God-with-us, Emmanuel, loves us despite our mistakes, our sins, and the way we treat our world. God believes in mankind, because its first and preeminent member is his own Mother.

At the beginning of the year, let us implore from Mary the grace to be amazed at the God of surprises. Let us renew the amazement we felt when faith was first born in us. The Mother of God helps us: the Mother who gave birth to the Lord, now presents us, reborn, to the Lord. She is a mother who generates in her children the amazement of faith, because faith is an encounter, not a religion. Without amazement, life becomes dull and routine, and so it is with faith. The Church too needs to renew her amazement at being the dwelling place of the living God, the Bride of the Lord, a Mother who gives birth to her children. Otherwise, she risks turning into a beautiful museum of the past. A “Church museum”. Our Lady instead gives the Church the feel of a home, a home in which the God of newness dwells. Let us receive with amazement the mystery of the Mother of God, as the inhabitants of Ephesus did at the time of the Council. Like them, let us acclaim her “Holy Mother of God”. From her, let us allow ourselves to be gazed upon, to be embraced, to be taken by the hand.

Let us allow ourselves to be gazed upon. Especially in times of need, when we are entangled in life’s knots, we rightly lift our eyes to Our Lady, to Our Mother. Yet first, we should let ourselves be gazed upon by Our Lady. When she gazes upon us, she does not see sinners but children. It is said that the eyes are the mirror of the soul; the eyes of Mary, full of grace, reflect the beauty of God, they show us a reflection of heaven. Jesus himself said that the eye is “the lamp of the body” (Mt 6:22): the eyes of Our Lady are able to bring light to every dark corner; everywhere they rekindle hope. As she gazes upon us, she says: “Take heart, dear children; here I am, your Mother!”

This maternal gaze, which instils confidence and trust, helps us to grow in faith. Faith is a bond with God that engages the whole person; to be preserved, it needs the Mother of God. Her maternal gaze helps us see ourselves as beloved children in God’s faithful people, and to love one another regardless of our individual limitations and approaches. Our Lady keeps us rooted in the Church, where unity counts more than diversity; she encourages us to care for one another. Mary’s gaze reminds us that faith demands a tenderness that can save us from becoming lukewarm. Tenderness: the Church of tenderness. Tenderness is a word that today many want to remove from the dictionary. When faith makes a place for the Mother of God, we never lose sight of the centre: the Lord, for Mary never points to herself but to Jesus; and our brothers and sisters, for Mary is mother.

The gaze of the Mother, and the gaze of every mother. A world that looks to the future without a mother’s gaze is shortsighted. It may well increase its profits, but it will no longer see others as children. It will make money, but not for everyone. We will all dwell in the same house, but not as brothers and sisters. The human family is built upon mothers. A world in which maternal tenderness is dismissed as mere sentiment may be rich materially, but poor where the future is concerned. Mother of God, teach us to see life as you do. Turn your gaze upon us, upon our misery, our poverty. Turn to us thine eyes of mercy.

Let us allow ourselves to be embraced. From Mary’s gaze, we now turn to her heart, in which, as today’s Gospel recounts, she “treasured all these things and pondered them” (Lk 2:19). Our Lady, in other words, took everything to heart; she embraced everything, events both good and bad. And she pondered all these things; she brought them before God. This was her secret. In the same way, she now takes to heart the life of each of us: she wants to embrace our every situation and to present it to God.

In today’s fragmented world, where we risk losing our bearings, a Mother’s embrace is essential. How much dispersion and solitude there is all around us! The world is completely connected, yet seems increasingly disjointed. We need to entrust ourselves to our Mother. In the Scriptures, Our Lady embraces any number of concrete situations; she is present wherever she is needed. She visits her cousin Elizabeth; she comes to the aid of the newlyweds in Cana; she encourages the disciples in the Upper Room… Mary is a cure for solitude and dispersion. She is the Mother of con-solation: she stands “with” those who are “alone”. She knows that words are not enough to console; presence is needed, and she is present as a mother. Let us allow her to embrace our lives. In the Salve Regina, we call her “our life”. This may seem exaggerated, for Christ himself is “life” (cf. Jn 14:6), yet Mary is so closely united to him, and so close to us, that we can do no better than to put our hands in hers and to acknowledge her as “our life, our sweetness and our hope.”

And in the journey of life, let us allow ourselves to be taken by the hand. Mothers take their children by the hand and lovingly introduce them to life. But how many children today wander off on their own and lose their way. Thinking they are strong, they get lost; thinking they are free, they become slaves. How many, forgetting a mother’s affection, live in anger with themselves and indifference to everything! How many, sad to say, react to everything and everyone with bitterness and malice! Life is such. Showing oneself “malicious” even seems at times to be a sign of strength. Yet it is nothing more than weakness. We need to learn from mothers that heroism is shown in self-giving, strength in compassion, wisdom in meekness.

God himself needed a Mother: how much more so do we! Jesus himself gave her to us, from the cross: “Behold your mother!” (Jn 19:27). He said this to the beloved disciple and to every disciple. Our Lady is not an optional accessory: she has to be welcomed into our life. She is the Queen of peace, who triumphs over evil and leads us along paths of goodness, who restores unity to her children, who teaches us compassion.

Mary, take us by the hand. Clinging to you, we will pass safely through the straits of history. Lead us by the hand to rediscover the bonds that unite us. Gather us beneath your mantle, in the tenderness of true love, where the human family is reborn: “We fly to thy protection, O Holy Mother of God”. Let us together pray these words to Our Lady: “We fly to thy protection, O Holy Mother of God”.

1 January 2019

To bless, to be born and to find

In the readings of today’s Mass, three verbs find their fulfilment in the Mother of God: to bless, to be born and to find.

To bless. In the Book of Numbers, the Lord tells his sacred ministers to bless his people: “Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them, ‘The Lord bless you’” (6:23-24). This is no pious exhortation; it is a specific request. And it is important that, today too, priests constantly bless the People of God and that the faithful themselves be bearers of blessing; that they bless. The Lord knows how much we need to be blessed. The first thing he did after creating the world was to say that everything was good (bene-dicere) and to say of us that that we were very good. Now, however, with the Son of God we receive not only words of blessing, but the blessing itself: Jesus is himself the blessing of the Father. In him, Saint Paul tells us, the Father blesses us “with every blessing” (Eph 1:3). Every time we open our hearts to Jesus, God’s blessing enters our lives.

Today we celebrate the Son of God, who is “blessed” by nature, who comes to us through his Mother, “blessed” by grace. In this way, Mary brings us God’s blessing. Wherever she is, Jesus comes to us. Therefore, we should welcome her like Saint Elizabeth who, immediately recognizing the blessing, cried out: “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Lk 1:42). We repeat those words every time we recite the Hail Mary. In welcoming Mary, we receive a blessing, but we also learn to bless. Our Lady teaches us that blessings are received in order to be given. She, who was blessed, became a blessing for all those whom she met: for Elizabeth, for the newlyweds at Cana, for the Apostles in the Upper Room… We too are called to bless, to “speak well” in God’s name. Our world is gravely polluted by the way we “speak” and think “badly” of others, of society, of ourselves. Speaking badly corrupts and decays, whereas blessing restores life and gives the strength needed to begin anew each day. Let us ask the Mother of God for the grace to be joyful bearers of God’s blessing to others, as she is to us.

The second verb is to be born. Saint Paul points out that the Son of God was “born of a woman” (Gal 4:4). In these few words, he tells us something amazing: that the Lord was born like us. He did not appear on the scene as an adult, but as a child. He came into the world not on his own, but from a woman, after nine months in the womb of his Mother, from whom he allowed his humanity to be shaped. The heart of the Lord began to beat within Mary; the God of life drew oxygen from her. Ever since then, Mary has united us to God because in her God bound himself to our flesh, and he has never left it. Saint Francis loved to say that Mary “made the Lord of Majesty our brother” (SAINT BONAVENTURE, Legenda Maior, 9, 3). She is not only the bridge joining us to God; she is more. She is the road that God travelled in order to reach us, and the road that we must travel in order to reach him. Through Mary, we encounter God the way he wants us to: in tender love, in intimacy, in the flesh. For Jesus is not an abstract idea; he is real and incarnate; he was “born of a woman”, and quietly grew. Women know about this kind of quiet growth. We men tend to be abstract and want things right away. Women are concrete and know how to weave life’s threads with quiet patience. How many women, how many mothers, thus give birth and rebirth to life, offering the world a future!

We are in this world not to die, but to give life. The holy Mother of God teaches us that the first step in giving life to those around us is to cherish it within ourselves. Today’s Gospel tells us that Mary “kept all these things in her heart” (cf. Lk 2:19). And goodness comes from the heart. How important it is to keep our hearts pure, to cultivate our interior life and to persevere in our prayer! How important it is to educate our hearts to care, to cherish the persons and things around us. Everything starts from this: from cherishing others, the world and creation. What good is it to know many persons and things if we fail to cherish them? This year, while we hope for new beginnings and new cures, let us not neglect care. Together with a vaccine for our bodies, we need a vaccine for our hearts. That vaccine is care. This will be a good year if we take care of others, as Our Lady does with us.

The third verb is to find. The Gospel tells us that the shepherds “found Mary and Joseph and the child” (v. 16). They did not find miraculous and spectacular signs, but a simple family. Yet there they truly found God, who is grandeur in littleness, strength in tenderness. But how were the shepherds able to find this inconspicuous sign? They were called by an angel. We too would not have found God if we had not been called by grace. We could never have imagined such a God, born of a woman, who revolutionizes history with tender love. Yet by grace we did find him. And we discovered that his forgiveness brings new birth, his consolation enkindles hope, his presence bestows irrepressible joy. We found him but we must not lose sight of him. Indeed, the Lord is never found once and for all: each day he has to be found anew. The Gospel thus describes the shepherds as constantly on the lookout, constantly on the move: “they went with haste, they found, they made known, they returned, glorifying and praising God” (vv. 16-17.20). They were not passive, because to receive grace we have to be active.

What about ourselves? What are we called to find at the beginning of this year? It would be good to find time for someone. Time is a treasure that all of us possess, yet we guard it jealously, since we want to use it only for ourselves. Let us ask for the grace to find time for God and for our neighbour – for those who are alone or suffering, for those who need someone to listen and show concern for them. If we can find time to give, we will be amazed and filled with joy, like the shepherds. May Our Lady, who brought God into the world of time, help us to be generous with our time. Holy Mother of God, to you we consecrate this New Year. You, who know how to cherish things in your heart, care for us, bless our time, and teach us to find time for God and for others. With joy and confidence, we acclaim you: Holy Mother of God! Amen.

1st January 2021