On Friday 29 July, Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn, Christopher Prowse, delivered his third catechesis during World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow, Poland. Australian pilgrims gathered in the ‘big top’ tent to hear his talk about Mary who is the model of mercy.
Today’s third and final catechesis is titled, “Lord, make me an Instrument of Your Mercy”.
When I think of Mercy, I think of Mary, the Mother of God. We are given the great gift of her praise of God in her encounter with her cousin Elizabeth. It is called The Magnificat. In the Magnificat, Mary says, “His mercy is without end.” I like to think of Mary as the Missionary of Mercy.
Let us now consider the life of Mary by making up our own litany to Mary. Marian litanies are little expressions of our devotion to Mary and with the expression, “Pray for us”. I propose that we make a little litany for ourselves in this catechesis on five invocations to Mary.
The first invocation is “Woman of Faith, Mary of Nazareth, Pray for us.” (Luke 1: 26-28, 39)
At Nazareth we have the great scene of the Annunciation, where the Angel Gabriel, sent by God, poses the pivotal question of all history by asking Mary to be the Mother of God. The Church Fathers often say that Mary conceived in her heart before she conceived in her body. Already Mary’s heart was opened to whatever God wanted. What God wanted was not only her heart but also her physical body. Mary, the Woman of Faith, responds to grace and says, ‘Yes’.
In this sense, she is obedient to God, which means she is listening attentively to whatever God wants. Then from Nazareth, Mary walks in visitation to greet her cousin Elizabeth pregnant with John the Baptist. I like to think that this movement from Ein Karim, which is a suburb of Jerusalem, is salvation history’s first Corpus Christi procession. St John Paul II often described this as Mary becoming the first walking tabernacle of God. With Jesus in her womb, she travels in mission to her cousin. Mary could have stayed at home, but she went on quite a dangerous journey for a woman in her condition, and the means by which they would have travelled in those days for quite some distance to help her cousin.
Secondly, we think of Woman of Silence, Mary of Bethlehem, Pray for us. (Luke 2: 1-19.) We have here the birth of Jesus. It is a silent night. The words of Mary are not really present in the scene of Bethlehem, but she is totally involved, of course, in what is happening. She becomes the ’woman of silence’ where she treasures and ponders all in her heart of what is happening to her with the birth of her son.
I know we are at World Youth Day with the incessant talking and movement of millions of people; we are all overwhelmed by it all. But if we can find some silence, seek it out; if not here then at least when we get home. We can join Mary, the woman of silence and give “birth” to Jesus too in our lives for the benefit of others. We can be with Christ for others. That is the great definition of a Christian. I remember, when I was a young person, I was always attracted to silences and sort them out. You might think that I’m a bit silly, but I recall seeking out churches that were open and empty. I used to love being in an empty church and still do. I feel the presence of Christ very powerfully there in front of the Blessed Sacrament.
For ten years in my youth I used to walk to and from school through a cemetery. The silence of a cemetery is rather profound as well, but it helped to shrink my life to see that life is very short and death is certain. It was at those times that I started to ask myself “What contribution could I make in this rather short life?” The thought of the priesthood came to my consciousness then. You must think I am a vey strange man! I seemed to have found my vocation to the priesthood in the cemetery! I went from a cemetery to a seminary! Please pray for me!
As we continue our construction of our litany to Mary, we come to our third point. Here we can say, “Woman of Intercession, Mary of Cana, Pray for us.” (John 2:1-12) You know the scene well. There is Jesus with Mary. Jesus is still at home and they go to a wedding in a nearby place to Nazareth, Cana. It is Mary who notices the difficulty that arises; they have run out of wine. Mary becomes the woman of intercession as she shows mercy to the needy. She intercedes for them. She goes over to her son and tells him in Luke 2: 3 “They have no wine.” There seems a strange dialogue happening between Jesus and Mary at this stage. Jesus talks about his “Hour has not yet come”, but Mary encourages and nurtures her son to begin his public ministry. Isn’t that incredible? It seems that Mary nurtures the faith of Jesus and is keen for him to start his mission. In John’s Gospel, this is the journey towards Jesus’ glorification via His suffering and death on the cross.
This reminds me of the way eagles make sure that their children glide and fly. They tend to throw them out of the nest when they think they have the capacity to fly, even if the little eaglets don’t want to. This seems to be what Mary is doing to Jesus here. In the end, Mary says to the attendants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
This is the beginning of Jesus ministry when he changes the water into wine. He is now on His way to His death and resurrection and it is Mary who intercedes for those in need by offering her son.
And now we come to our fourth Marian section of the litany. We say, “Woman of Compassion, Mary of Calvary, Pray for us.” (John 19: 25-27) We find Mary as the ‘woman of sorrows’; the woman of incredible compassion. She is the woman of mercy where she imitates her son and, perhaps, her son even imitates her in placing the miseries of the whole world into his heart. That really is what the meaning of the word mercy is. From the Latin it is ‘misericordia’. It means the heart that shares another’s miseries. Here is the maternal heart of Mary sharing the misery of her dead son. There is a beautiful statue by Michelangelo in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome called the Pietà. It is said to be one of the most beautiful religious statues ever made. There is the young Mary holding her son. There is birth and sorrow there, but at the same time great hope. There is even the touch of the Resurrection in the way that Michelangelo has sculptured Jesus as seemly sleeping.
In Australia, we have the First Australians called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People. One of our bishops lives with them in a very remote area of Australian desert. He was telling me recently that a new church had been built which was mainly designed by Aboriginal parishioners. He asked some of the woman to choose an appropriate image of Mary for the new church. He gave them six or seven different pictures of Mary. One of them was the picture of Mary in the Pietà. Of all the different pictures of Mary, the woman unanimously and very quickly chose the Pietà.
In Mary’s suffering, they could see their own suffering with their children who had died prematurely for all sorts of terrible reasons; suicide, or mental illness or alcoholism. They could identify with Mary holding her dead son. I think this is a beautiful indication of how Mary continues to inspire us towards Jesus. We start with our sufferings; Mary is the woman of sorrow.
Fifthly and finally, we can say the following: “Woman of the Holy Spirit, Mary of Pentecost, Pray for us.” Acts 2:1-4) We presume that Mary was there at the beginning of the Church when God sent the Holy Spirit upon those gathered. The Holy Spirit is the Lord and Giver of Life. They were gathered in a locked room for fear, but after the Holy Spirit came down upon them, they began the first communal missionary outreach of the Church to which we continue here at World Youth Day at Krakow.
I would like to think that Mary was like the Retreat Giver in those days of waiting for the Holy Spirit. In a sense it is like the first Christian Retreat. We might even say that it was the first World Youth Day. They gather together waiting for the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit to send them out on mission. Isn’t that what we’re doing here? It was Mary who was helping the Church to be brought to life.
Mary, the maternal one, continues, not only physically but spiritually, to bring us to the life Christ wants us to have. But we must always remember that Mary only reflects Jesus. In our Christian heritage, we often say that Mary is the moon and Jesus is the sun. The moon never gives off its own light, but it is the great reflector of sunlight. That’s Mary for us. She reflects Son-light! Basking in the SON-LIGHT is a good definition of Christian prayer. Let’s do that often. Remember: seven days without prayer makes one weak (week)!
In regard to the mission of Pentecost and how mercy is sent out in evangelisation, I like to think of the fruit called the pomegranate. In Christian art going back to the 4th Century, in mosaics the Church is symbolised in the pomegranate. The seeds, which are very red, represent the Suffering and Death of Christ. Once the seeds are mature, they burst out of the pomegranate and they start new life. It really is a bursting out, not a bursting in. Mercy is always sent out. Mercy is never just sent in.
Let us hope that these catechesis and our Mass that now follows will help us to be people who burst out with the proclamation that in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, mercy is found. Mary will help us as she tells us once again, in her Magnificat, that her Son’s mercy is without end.
So now let us put together all our Marian invocations and conclude our catechesis this morning with the Marian litany we have just composed. Please pray the following prayers after me.
Woman of Faith, Mary of Nazareth Pray for us
Woman of Silence, Mary of Bethlehem Pray for us
Woman of Intercession, Mary of Cana Pray for us
Woman of Compassion, Mary of Calvary Pray for us
Woman of the Holy Spirit, Mary of Pentecost Pray for us
Archbishop Christopher Prowse, Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn