This past weekend St. Peter’s Square was full with those who came to celebrate Mary as a model of faith and their spiritual mother. This gathering, and the fact that October is the month of the rosary, provide us with a chance to reflect on the importance of Mary in Catholic spirituality.
At World Youth Day in Rio this past July, one of the young people at a catechetical session I taught, asked the question, “Why do we as Catholics honor Mary?”
The reason we believe Mary is the greatest saint is that she perfectly fulfilled Jesus’ description of what it means to be a faithful disciple, when he said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matt 16:24-25).
Mary gave us the perfect example of this when she accepted God’s invitation to become the mother of Jesus, without knowing how the Father’s plan would unfold. Little did she know or fully understand her unique role in salvation history or all that her Son would encounter.
Thirty-three years later, as Jesus hung upon the cross and Mary’s heart was pierced with sorrow and grief, Jesus gave his mother to John, the beloved disciple, saying, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “’Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home” (John 19:26-27).
This gift of Mary as our mother is a key part of her relationship with us. She is not just our model; she is more, she is our mother.
The Church has always seen John, the beloved disciple, as representing all believers, and it is for this reason that Mary is seen as our spiritual mother. As we all hopefully know from our own mothers, they sacrifice for us, patiently guide us, protect us and comfort us. In a word, they love us, and this is what Mary does.
In my own faith journey this has become more evident to me in visiting the shrines of Mary, especially Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico and Lourdes in France. As I read the stories of both apparitions, Mary’s tender love for Juan Diego and the Aztec people came alive to me. Each time I gaze on her image, I hear her call to me, “my little son.” Her deepest desire for me is that I come to know and love her Son and that she leads me to him. This is why, on the day of my installation as archbishop of Denver, I consecrated and entrusted my ministry here to Our Lady of Guadalupe.
When Pope Francis celebrated the Marian Day this past weekend, you could see that he knows the Mother of God as his mother. His devotion to Mary has always been strong, and it has been apparent since his election as pope, in his quiet trips to the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome and in his love for Our Lady of Lujan in Argentina.
Blessed John Paul II was also known for his devotion to the Blessed Mother, and his love for Mary was present during the Oct. 12-13 celebration in a hidden way.
The statue that was in St. Peter’s Square this past Saturday and Sunday was the famous image of Our Lady of Fatima. This specific statue is significant because it is tied to the appearances of Mary in Fatima, Portugal, in 1917 and to the attempted assassination of Blessed John Paul II.
On May 13, 1981—the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima—Mehmet Ali Agca shot Blessed John Paul II as he made his way through St. Peter’s Square in the popemobile. The assassin’s bullet missed the Holy Father’s vital organs but did cause him serious injury.
Afterward, the pope was convinced that Mary was present in the square and protected him from dying.
Blessed John Paul II showed his gratitude to Our Lady by taking a fragment of the bullet that hit him to Fatima and placing it in her crown. This is the same statue that was present when Pope Francis celebrated Mass and entrusted the world to Mary on Sunday.
John Paul II also had the mosaic of Our Lady Mother of the Church placed high above St. Peter’s Square in one of the windows of the Apostolic Palace.
The Holy Father explained that he chose the image of Mary as Mother of the Church because “the Mother of God has always been united with the Church and has been particularly close during difficult moments in its history.”
For Catholics, Mary is both a model of faithful, trusting surrender to God’s plan and our mother. The Year of Faith has emphasized the importance of believing, and we too will be blessed the more we believe and place our faith in Jesus.
I encourage everyone in the archdiocese to turn to Our Lady during this month of the rosary and ask her to pray that we grow in faith, confident in her motherly protection and guidance for us. If you have not done so, I encourage you to consecrate yourself to Mary, as she will always lead you to the heart of the Trinity.