Articles of the Month
Under her mantle
In a world of orphans, Mary is the mother who fully understands us and defends us, because she too has personally experienced the same humiliation suffered, for example, by the mothers of prisoners today. Celebrating Mass at Santa Marta on Thursday morning, the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, Pope Francis recommended that in difficult moments we always seek refuge “under the mantle” of the Mother of God. Thus he repeated the “spiritual council of Russian mystics”, which in the West have been reprised in the antiphon Sub tuum preasidium.
Speaking about the “mystery of Mary’s motherhood”, the Pope drew inspiration from the scene of the Last Supper: “Jesus, at the table, bids farewell to his disciples: there is an air of sadness, everyone knew that there was something that would end badly and they asked questions, they were sad”. In Jesus’ farewell, however, “in order to give them a bit of courage and also to prepare them in hope, Jesus said to them: ‘Do not be sad, let not your hearts be sad, I will not leave you alone! I will ask the Father to send another Paraclete, who will accompany you. And he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said’”. The Lord, therefore, “promises to send the Holy Spirit in order to accompany the disciples, the Church, on the path of history”.
Jesus, however, “also speaks of the Father”. Indeed, Pope Francis recalled, “in that long, long conversation with the disciples, he speaks of the Father”, assuring them “that the Father loves them and that anything that they ask of the Father, the Father will give to them”, that they “ought to trust in the Father”. In this way, the Pope explained, Jesus goes “a step further: not only does he say ‘I will not leave you alone”, but also “I will not leave you as orphans, I give you the Father, the Father is with you, my Father is your Father’”. Francis continued: “we know everything that happened after that dinner: the humiliation, the prison, the disciples’ betrayal; Peter denies Jesus, and the others flee”.
Referring to the passage in the liturgy of the day, taken from the Gospel of John (19:25-27), the Pope said that under the cross there was “only one disciple with Jesus’ mother, with Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, a relative”. There, at the cross, “is Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and everyone is looking at her”, perhaps whispering: “She is the mother of this criminal! She is the mother of this traitor”. And Mary, the Pope added, “heard these things, she suffered terrible humiliation and even heard some of the great priests, whom she respected because they were priests”, say to Jesus: “But you who are so great, come down, come down!”. Francis said that as Mary stood beside “her Son, naked there” on the cross. She experienced “such intense suffering, but did not leave, she did not deny her Son, He was her flesh”.
Sharing a personal anecdote, the Pope recalled: “When I was in the diocese of Buenos Aires, it would often happen that when I went to prisons to visit the inmates, I would see a queue, a line of women waiting to enter: they were the mothers, but they were not ashamed, their own flesh was there inside” the prison. Those “women suffered not only the shame of being there, hearing people say: “Look at her, what did her son do?”. Those mothers “also suffered the worst humiliation of the inspections required before they could enter. But they were mothers, and they were going there to see their own flesh”. And so it was for Mary, who “was there, with her Son, with that great suffering”.
Precisely “at that time”, the Pope noted, “Jesus — who had said he would never leave us as orphans, who spoke of the Father — looked at his Mother and gave her to us as a Mother: ‘Behold, your Mother!’”. The Lord “does not leave us as orphans: we Christians have a Mother”, the same Mother that Jesus had; “we have a Father, the same as Jesus. We are not orphans”. And Mary “gives birth in that moment, with so much pain. It is truly a martyrdom: with her pierced heart, she agrees in that painful moment to give birth to all of us. And from that moment on she became our Mother, since that moment she is our Mother, the one who takes care of us and is not ashamed of us: she defends us”.
“The Russian mystics of the early centuries of the Church”, Pope Francis noted, in this regard, “counseled their disciples, the young monks to take refuge under the mantle of the Holy Mother of God during times of spiritual turmoil. The devil cannot enter there because she is Mother, and as a Mother she defends”. Thus “the West took this counsel and created the first Marian antiphon,Sub tuum praesidium: under your mantle, placed under your care, O Mother, we are safe there”.
“Today is the Feast of the moment that Mary gave birth to us”, the Pope continued, “and she has been faithful to this offspring to this very day, and will continue to be faithful”. In a world “which we might call an ‘orphan’, this world that suffers the crisis of a great orphanhood, perhaps we can offer our help by saying: ‘Look to your mother!’”. Because we have a mother “who defends us, teaches us, accompanies us, and is not ashamed of our sins”. Indeed, “she is not ashamed, because she is Mother”.
In conclusion, the Holy Father prayed that “the Holy Spirit — this friend, this companion on the journey, this Paraclete and advocate that the Lord sent to us — will help us to understand this truly great mystery of Mary’s motherhood”.
The solitude of the shepherd
Paul, John the Baptist, and Maximilian Kolbe — along with many other shepherds throughout the ages — not only lived out solitude, abandonment, and persecution, but also the “nearness of the Lord”, especially in moments of trials. In his homily during Mass on Tuesday, 18 October in the chapel at the Casa, Pope Francis reflected on the invitation to rediscover the presence of God always, even in times of suffering and illness.
In his meditation, Francis centred on the passage in the day’s reading from the Second Letter of Saint Paul to Timothy (cf. 4:10-17). “Paul is in Rome, imprisoned in a house, in a room, with some freedom, but waiting for he knows not what”, the Pope explained. “In that moment Paul feels alone”: it is “the solitude of the shepherd when there are difficulties, but also the solitude of the shepherd when approaching his end: stripped, alone, and a beggar”. And thus the Apostle writes to Timothy: “Get Mark and bring him with you; for he is very useful in serving me. When you come, bring the cloak, as well as the books” (2 Tim 4:11, 13). Therefore, Paul is “alone and a beggar: he begs Timothy for his few belongings since they might be of use to him”.
The apostle is also the “victim of rage”, the Holy Father said, to the extent that someone says of him: “He is enraged by our preaching!”. Paul is “alone, begging, a victim of rage”. Moreover, “he speaks that very sad word: ‘all deserted me’”. During the trial, he is left without help, recognizing that “only the Lord Jesus stood by me”.
Although the Apostle is “alone, a beggar, a victim of rage, deserted”, Francis explained, “he is, however, the great Paul, the one who heard the voice of the Lord, the call of the Lord; the one who went from one place to another, who suffered many things and many trials for the preaching of the Gospel, who made known to the Apostles that the Lord also wanted the Gentiles to join the Church”. He is “the great Paul who, in prayer, was lifted to the seventh Heaven, and felt things no one had felt before”.
But now, “the great Paul” is “there, in that tiny room of a house, in Rome, waiting to know how the struggle between the factions in the Church will end, between the rigidity of Judaizers and those disciples faithful to him”. And “so concludes the life of the great Paul, in desolation: not in resentment or bitterness, but with interior desolation”.
For the rest, the Pope observed, “Jesus had told Paul he would end up like Him”. Indeed, “all of the apostles ended up thus: ‘When you are old, you will hold out your hands and another will fasten your belt and carry you where you do not want to go’”. This, the Pontiff explained, “is the end of the Apostle”.
“From this small room of Paul”, Francis said, we are reminded of two great figures: John the Baptist, and Maximilian Kolbe. The first of these, “in his cell, alone, in anguish, sends his disciples to ask Jesus: ‘Is it you, or must we await another?’. And then, on the whim of a dancer and the vindictiveness of an adulteress, he was beheaded: thus ends the great John the Baptist, who Jesus said was the greatest man to be born of a woman”.
And even now, “closer to us”, the Pope said, “we think of the cell of Maximilian Kolbe, who took apostolic action throughout the world and did many great things: he is in that cell, starved, waiting for death” in the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz.
“When he is faithful, the Apostle does not wait for any other end than that of Jesus”, Francis said.
Indeed, there is the “stripping of the Apostle: he is stripped, left with nothing, because he was faithful”.
This is the mindset of Paul, Francis said: “Only the Lord is my neighbour”, because “the Lord does not leave him, and there he finds his strength”.
Thus is “the end of Paul”, he said: “After about two years, living in such a way, in uncertainty, in this anguish within the Church, two soldiers came one morning, took him, brought him outside, and cut off his head”.
It is natural to ask how such an end could fall upon “so great a man, one who changed the word with his preaching, who convinced the Apostles that Jesus came even for the Gentiles, who did so much good, who struggled, who suffered, who prayed, who had the highest contemplation?”.
Yet, “this is the law of the Gospel: if the seed of the grain does not die, it does not bear fruit, since this is the law which Jesus himself revealed to us with his person”. However, it is with certainty that then “Resurrection comes”.
“One of the first-century theologians”, the Pontiff recalled, “said that ‘the blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christianity’”. In “dying as a martyr, as a witness of Jesus”, one is “the seed that dies and bears fruit, and fills the earth with new Christians”. And “when the shepherd lives thus, he is not disheartened: he may be desolated, but he has that certainty that the the Lord is beside him”. On the other hand, when “the shepherd, in his life, is occupied by things other than the faithful — he is, for instance, attached to power, attached to money, attached to networking, attached to many things — in the end he will not be alone; perhaps there will be grandchildren who wait for him to die in order to see what they can take with them”.
Francis shared his experience of “going to visit a nursing home for elderly priests” where, he said, “I find many of these brave priests who have given their lives for the faithful and are there, sick, paralyzed, in wheelchairs; however, one quickly sees that smile because they feel that the Lord is very close to them”. One certainly cannot forget “those bright eyes they have and which ask: How is the Church going? How is the diocese going? How are vocations going?”. These are the concerns which they have within them “until the end, because they are fathers, because they have given their life for others”.
In conclusion, the Pontiff reiterated the witness of “Paul alone, a beggar, a victim of rage, abandoned by everyone, except the Lord Jesus: ‘Only the Lord stood by me!’”. This is because, the Pope stressed, “the shepherd must have this security: if he takes the path of Jesus, the Lord will be close to him until the end”.
Thus, he invited the faithful to pray “for shepherds who are at the end of their life, and who are waiting for the Lord to carry them with Him”. We pray, he said, “that the Lord might give them the strength, consolation, and security that — although they feel sick and alone — the Lord is with them, near to them: that the Lord may give them strength”.
Taken from the Meditations of Pope Francis on the Vatican website.
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