Mary and the Saints
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By Deacon Keith Fournier
Among the titles given to Mary is "Queen of all the Saints". In one of his reflections on this woman whom he loved with such devotion, Blessed john Paul II proclaimed "This woman of faith, Mary of Nazareth, the Mother of God, has been given to us a model of our pilgrimage of faith. From Mary we learn to surrender to God's will in all things. From Mary we learn to trust even when all hope seems gone. From Mary we learn to love Christ, her Son, and the Son of God. For Mary is not only the Mother of God, she is the Mother of the Church as well" (Oct. 6, 1979).
John Paul's devotion to Mary is characteristic of holy men and women throughout the history of the Church. As one who returned to the practice of the ancient faith, I spent much time studying the lives of the saints. I discovered something which forced me to examine my own understanding of Mary. They loved Mary personally and had a special devotion to her. As I dug into the lives of many of my heroes of the faith, such as Bernard of Clairvaux and Francis of Assisi, I discovered that this devotion to Mary informed their lives.
We are all "saints" in the sense of having been set aside for the Lord to live holy lives and called into communion with Him, and through Him, with one another for the sake of the world (CCC # 946 - 952). However, from the earliest centuries of the Church, those Christians who lived lives of intimate communion with the Lord and demonstrated heroic virtue; those who reflected the radiance of Christ were honored, both during life and after they entered into eternal communion with the Lord. They were given a place of honor within the "communion of saints." This is the fertile field from which the practice of canonizing some of those members of the Body of Christ began. The Catholic Catechism explains,
Madonna and Child with Saints - Andrea del Castagno - 1445
"By canonizing some of the faithful, i.e., by solemnly proclaiming that they practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God's grace, the Church recognizes the power of the Spirit of holiness within her and sustains the hope of believers by proposing the saints to them as models and intercessors. "The saints have always been the source and origin of renewal in the most difficult moments in the Church's history." Indeed, "holiness is the hidden source and infallible measure of her apostolic activity and missionary zeal" (CCC #828).
Among them all, the "God-bearer", the Theotokos, the Mother of the Lord, was always given the place of honor at the side of the King of Kings, her Son and Savior Jesus Christ. In the next paragraph the Catechism explains "But while in the most Blessed Virgin the Church has already reached that perfection whereby she exists without spot or wrinkle, the faithful still strive to conquer sin and increase in holiness. And so they turn their eyes to Mary:" in her, the Church is already the "all-holy" (CCC #829).
My study over decades has confirmed what I discovered as a young man. The great saints of the Church - canonized or not - had a special devotion to Mary, the Queen of the Saints. The Cistercian Abbot, St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) once preached words which we still reflect upon during the Advent season in the Liturgy of the Hours, "You have heard, O Virgin, that you will conceive and bear a son; you have heard that it will not be by man but by the Holy Spirit. The angel awaits an answer; it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady, for your word of compassion; the sentence of condemnation weighs heavily upon us. The price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent. In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and behold, we die. In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life.
"Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death. This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race.
"Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word. Why do you delay, why are you afraid? Believe, give praise, and receive. Let humility be bold, let modesty be confident. This is no time for virginal simplicity to forget prudence. In this matter alone, O prudent Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary.
"Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator. See, the desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If he should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word."
This great teacher of prayer reminds us in another homily, "In dangers, in doubts, in difficulties, think of Mary, call upon Mary. Let not her name depart from your lips, never suffer it to leave your heart. And that you may obtain the assistance of her prayer; neglect not to walk in her footsteps. With her for guide, you shall never go astray; while invoking her, you shall never lose heart; so long as she is in your mind, you are safe from deception; while she holds your hand, you cannot fall; under her protection you have nothing to fear; if she walks before you, you shall not grow weary; if she shows you favor, you shall reach the goal."
To St. Bernard and for all who seek to grow closer to Jesus Christ, Mary points the way. In her "Yes" we find the way of surrendered love. He reminds us in another homily, "Love is sufficient of itself; it gives pleasure by itself and because of itself. It is its own merit, its own reward. Love looks for no cause outside itself, no effect beyond itself. Its profit lies in the practice. Of all the movements, sensations and feelings of the soul, love is the only one in which the creature can respond to the Creator and make some sort of similar return however unequal though it be. For when God loves, all he desires is to be loved in return. The sole purpose of his love is to be loved, in the knowledge that those who love him are made happy by their love of him."
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