Tuesday, May 31, 2011

MAY DEVOTION: Day Thirty-One - Mary's Coronation as Queen of Heaven

31st Day – Mary's Coronation as Queen of Heaven

The Queen stood on Thy right hand in gilded clothing. (Psalm xliv. 11.)

I. It was not enough that Mary should be received into heaven. She was to be no ordinary denizen of the celestial court. Mary was, by her perfect and unfailing conformity to the will of God throughout her life, raised to a pre-eminence to which none other of the saints could attain. By her cooperation in the Passion of her Son she had a dignity beyond the reach even of the highest of the archangels. Mary was to be crowned Queen of heaven by the eternal Father: she was to have a throne at her Son's right hand.

2. Mary, too, enjoyed a happiness different from that of all the other saints. All others knew that if they had been more faithful they might have been fuller of happiness. Though their happiness is perfect, it is not perfect with the same perfection as Mary's. She possesses all that it was possible for God in the present order to bestow upon her. What must be her happiness now, short only of the infinite happiness of the infinite God!

3. But Mary is not Queen of heaven only for her own sake, but also for ours. Day by day, hour by hour, she is praying for us, obtaining graces for us, preserving us from danger, shielding us from temptation, showering down blessings upon us. She is our dear Mother as well as Queen of heaven. How she loves us! What a confidence we should have in her! Once more we will cry out:

O Mary, conceived without sin!
O Mary, Queen of heaven!
Pray for us who have recourse to thee.

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that any one who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, and sought thy intercession, was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother! To thee I come; before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but, in thy mercy, hear and answer me. Amen.

Indulgence of 300 days, each time; plenary indulgence once a month, on usual conditions. — Pius IX., Dec. 11, 1846.


O Mary, who didst come into this world free from stain, obtain of God for me that I may leave it without sin.

Indulgence of 100 days, once a day. — Pius IX., March 27, 1863.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Pope Benedict XVI: Mary's Life "Is a Call to Turn From What We Are to Hear and Accept the Word"

Venerable and dear brothers,

You have come to this splendid basilica -- a place where spirituality and art come together in a centuries-old union -- to share an intense moment of prayer, by which we entrust to the maternal protection of Mary, Mater Unitatis, the whole Italian nation, 150 years after the political union of the country. It is significant that this initiative was prepared by similar meetings in the dioceses: also in this way you express the solicitude of the Church in making herself close to the destiny of this beloved nation.

We, in turn, feel in communion with every community, including the smallest, in which the tradition of dedicating May to Marian devotion is alive. This tradition is expressed in many signs: shrines, chapels, works of art and, above all, in the prayer of the holy rosary, with which the People of God give thanks for the good they receive incessantly from the Lord, through the intercession of Mary Most Holy, and pray to her for their many needs.

Prayer -- which has its summit in the liturgy, whose form is guarded by the living tradition of the Church -- is always leaving space for God: his action makes us participants in the history of salvation. This afternoon, in particular, in the school of Mary we have been invited to share in Jesus' steps: to go down with him to the Jordan River, so that the Spirit will confirm in us the grace of baptism; to sit at the banquet of Cana, to receive from him the "good wine" of the celebration; to enter the synagogue of Nazareth, as poor ones to whom is addressed the joyful message of the Kingdom of God; also to go up Mount Tabor, to receive the cross in the paschal light; and finally, to participate in the Cenacle in the new and eternal sacrifice that, anticipating the new heavens and the new earth, regenerates the whole of creation.

This basilica is the first dedicated to the Virgin Mother of God in the West. On entering it, my thoughts went back to the first day of the year 2000, when Blessed John Paul II opened the Holy Door, entrusting the Jubilee Year to Mary, so that she would watch over the path of all those who acknowledged themselves pilgrims of grace and mercy. We ourselves today do not hesitate to feel like pilgrims, desirous of crossing the threshold of that Most Holy Door that is Christ, and we want to ask the Virgin Mary to support our path and to intercede for us. As he is Son of God, Christ is the form of man: He is man's most profound truth, the sap that gives life to a history that otherwise would be irremediably impaired. Prayer helps us to recognize in him the center of our life, to remain in his presence, to conform our will to his, to do "what he tells us" (John 2:5), certain of his fidelity. This is the essential task of the Church, crowned by him as Mystical Bride, as we contemplate her in the splendor of the apse. Mary constitutes her model: she is the one who presents to us the mirror in which we are invited to recognize our identity. Her life is a call to turn from what we are to hear and accept the Word, being able in faith to proclaim the greatness of the Lord, before which our only possible greatness is that expressed in filial obedience: "Be it done unto me according to thy word" (Luke 1:38). Mary trusted: she is the "blessed one" (cf. Luke 1:42), who is blessed for having believed (cf. Luke 1:45), to the point of having been clothed in Christ to such a degree that she enters in the "seventh day," a participant in God's rest. The dispositions of her heart -- listening, acceptance, humility, fidelity, praise and waiting -- correspond to the interior attitudes and to the gestures that mold Christian life. The Church is nourished by them, conscious that they express what God expects from her.

Engraved on the bronze of this basilica's Holy Door is a representation of the Council of Ephesus. The building itself, whose original nucleus dates back to the 5th century, is linked to that ecumenical summit held in the year 431. In Ephesus the united Church defended and confirmed for Mary the title Theotokos, Mother of God: a title with Christological content, which refers to the mystery of the Incarnation and which expresses the unity of the human nature with the divine in the Son. Moreover, it is the person and the experience of Jesus of Nazareth that illumines the Old Testament and Mary's face itself. Understood clearly in her is the unitary design that intertwines the two Testaments. In her personal life is the synthesis of the history of a whole nation, which places the Church in continuity with ancient Israel. Within this perspective individual histories receive meaning, beginning with those of the great women of the Old Covenant, in whose life is represented a humiliated, defeated and deported people. However, they are also the same ones who personify hope; they are the "holy remnant," a sign that God's plan does not remain an abstract idea, but finds correspondence in a pure answer, in a liberty that gives itself without holding anything back, in a yes that is full acceptance and perfect gift. Mary is the highest expression of it. Upon her, Virgin, descends the creative power of the Holy Spirit, the same who "in the beginning" hovered over the shapeless abyss (cf. Genesis 1:1) and thanks to which God called being from nothing; the Spirit gives life to and molds creation. Opening to his action, Mary engenders the Son, the presence of God who comes to inhabit history and opens it to a new and definitive beginning, which is the possibility for every man to be reborn from on high, to live in the will of God and thus to be completely fulfilled.

MAY DEVOTION: Day Thirty - Mary's Assumption into Heaven

30th Day — Mary's Assumption into Heaven

Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell: nor wilt Thou give Thy holy one to see corruption. (Psalm xv. 10.)

I. On the third day after Mary's death, when the apostles gathered around her tomb, they found it empty. The sacred body had been carried up to the celestial paradise. Jesus Himself came to conduct her thither; the whole court of heaven came to welcome with songs of triumph the Mother of the divine Word. What a chorus of exultation! Hark how they cry, "Lift up your gates, O ye princes, and be ye lifted up, O eternal gates, and the Queen of glory shall enter in."

2. Why was Mar}''s body received into heaven instead of remaining in the earth, like the rest of mankind? The grave had no power over one who was immaculate. Her flesh could not see corruption. Her body had been overshadowed by the Holy Ghost; it had been the sacred temple in which had dwelt God Incarnate, and so it had a claim to ascend whither the body of her Son had already gone before.

3. But the chief reason was that as she had shared in each detail in the sorrows and agony of her Son, so it was right that she should take part in His triumph. To her it was due that she should without delay enter into the joy of her Lord, her Son, her God. Oh, happy Mary, what were all her dolors compared with the joy of that first moment of heaven! How light are all our sorrows compared with the eternal weight of glory prepared for us!

See the Virgin Mother rise,
Angels bear her to the skies!

Sunday, May 29, 2011


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today I would like to reflect with you upon a text from the Book of Genesis that narrates a rather particular episode in the history of the Patriarch Jacob. It is not an easily interpreted passage, but it is an important one for our life of faith and prayer; it recounts the story of his wrestling with God at the ford of the Jabbok, from which we have just heard a passage.

As you will remember, Jacob had taken away his twin brother Esau's birthright in exchange for a dish of lentils and then, through deception, had stolen the blessing of his father Isaac who was already quite advanced in years, by taking advantage of his blindness. Having escaped Esau's fury, he had taken refuge with a relative, Laban; he married and had grown rich and now was returning to the land of his birth, ready to face his brother after having put several prudent measures in place. But when he is all ready for this encounter -- after having made those who were with him cross the ford of the stream marking Esau's territory -- Jacob, now left alone, is suddenly attacked by an unknown figure who wrestles with him for the whole of the night. It is this hand to hand battle which we find in Chapter 32 of the Book of Genesis that becomes for him a singular experience of God.

Night is the favorable time for acting in secret, the best time, therefore, for Jacob to enter his brother's territory without being seen, and perhaps with the illusion of taking Esau unawares. But instead, it is he who is surprised by an unexpected attack for which he was not prepared. He had used his cunning to try to save himself from a dangerous situation, he thought he had succeeded in having everything under control, and instead he now finds himself facing a mysterious battle that overtakes him in solitude without giving him the possibility of organizing an adequate defense. Defenseless -- in the night -- the Patriarch Jacob fights with someone. The text does not specify the aggressor's identity; it uses a Hebraic term that generically indicates "a man," "one, someone;" it therefore has a vague, undetermined definition that intentionally keeps the assailant in mystery. It is dark. Jacob is unsuccessful in seeing his opponent distinctly, and also for the reader he remains unknown. Someone is setting himself against the patriarch; this is the only sure fact furnished by the narrator. Only at the end, once the battle has ended and that "someone" has disappeared, only then will Jacob name him and be able to say that he has wrestled with God.

The episode unfolds, therefore, in obscurity and it is difficult to perceive not only the identity of Jacob's assailant, but also the battle's progress. Reading the passage, it is hard to establish which of the two contenders succeeds in having the upper hand. The verbs used often lack an explicit subject, and the actions progress in an almost contradictory way, so that when one thinks that either of the two has prevailed, the next action immediately contradicts it and presents the other as the winner. At the beginning, in fact, Jacob seems to be the strongest, and the adversary -- the text states -- "did not prevail against him" (verse 26 [25]); yet he strikes the hollow of his thigh, dislocating it. One would then be led to think that Jacob has to surrender, but instead it's the other who asks him to let him go; and the patriarch refuses, laying down a condition: "I will not let you go, unless you bless me" (verse 27). He who by deception had defrauded his brother of the firstborn's blessing, now demands it from the stranger in whom perhaps he begins to see divine characteristics, but still without being able to truly recognize him.

The rival, who seemed to be held and therefore defeated by Jacob, instead of submitting to his request, asks his name: "What is your name?" And the patriarch responds: "Jacob" (verse 28). Here the battle undergoes an important development. To know someone's name, in fact, implies a kind of power over the person, since the name, in biblical thinking, contains the most profound reality of the individual; it unveils his secret and his destiny. Knowing someone's name therefore means knowing the truth of the other, and this allows one to be able to dominate him. When, therefore, at the stranger's request, Jacob reveals his own name, he is handing himself over to his opponent; it is a form of surrender, of the total giving over of himself to the other.

But in this act of surrender, Jacob paradoxically also emerges as a winner, because he receives a new name, together with an acknowledgement of victory on the part of his adversary, who says to him: "Your name shall no more be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed" (verse 29 [28]). "Jacob" was a name that recalled the patriarch's problematic beginnings; in Hebrew, in fact, it calls to mind the word "heel," and takes the reader back to the moment of Jacob's birth when, coming from the maternal womb, his hand took hold of his twin brother's heel (cf. Gen. 25:26), as though prefiguring the overtaking of his brother's rights in his adult life; but the name Jacob also calls to mind the verb "to deceive, to supplant." Now, in the battle, the patriarch reveals to his opponent, through an act of entrustment and surrender, his own reality as a deceiver, a supplanter; but the other, who is God, transforms this negative reality into something positive: Jacob the deceiver becomes Israel; he is given a new name that signifies a new identity. But also here, the account maintains its intended duplicity, since the most probable meaning of the name Israel is "God is mighty, God triumphs."

Jacob therefore prevailed, he triumphed -- it is the adversary himself who affirms it – but his new identity, received by the same adversary, affirms and testifies to God's triumph. When in turn Jacob will ask his contender's name, he will refuse to pronounce it, but he will reveal himself in an unequivocal gesture, by giving him his blessing. That blessing which the patriarch had asked at the beginning of the battle is now granted him. And it is not the blessing grasped by deception, but that given freely by God, which Jacob is able to receive because now he is alone, without protection, without cunning and deception. He gives himself over unarmed; he accepts surrendering himself and confessing the truth about himself. And so, at the end of the battle, having received the blessing, the patriarch is able finally to recognize the other, the God of the blessing: "I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved" (verse 31 [30]), and now he can cross the ford, the bearer of a new name but "conquered" by God and marked forever, limping from the wound he received.

The explanations that biblical exegesis can give regarding this passage are numerous; in particular, the learned recognize in it intentions and literary components of various kinds, as well as references to a few popular stories. But when these elements are taken up by the sacred authors and included in the biblical account, they change in meaning and the text opens itself up to broader dimensions. The episode of the wrestling at the Jabbok is offered to the believer as a paradigmatic text in which the people of Israel speak of their own origins and trace out the features of a particular relationship between God and man. For this reason, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church also affirms: "the spiritual tradition of the Church has retained the symbol of prayer as a battle of faith and as the triumph of perseverance" (No. 2573).

The biblical text speaks to us of the long night of the search for God, of the battle to know his name and to see his face; it is the night of prayer that, with tenacity and perseverance, asks a blessing and a new name from God, a new reality as the fruit of conversion and of forgiveness.

In this way, Jacob's night at the ford of the Jabbok becomes for the believer a point of reference for understanding his relationship with God, which in prayer finds its ultimate expression. Prayer requires trust, closeness, in a symbolic "hand to hand" not with a God who is an adversary and enemy, but with a blessing Lord who remains always mysterious, who appears unattainable. For this reason the sacred author uses the symbol of battle, which implies strength of soul, perseverance, tenacity in reaching what we desire. And if the object of one's desire is a relationship with God, his blessing and his love, then the battle cannot but culminate in the gift of oneself to God, in the recognition of one's own weakness, which triumphs precisely when we reach the point of surrendering ourselves into the merciful hands of God.

Dear brothers and sisters, our whole life is like this long night of battle and prayer that is meant to end in the desire and request for God's blessing, which cannot be grasped or won by counting on our own strength, but must be received from him with humility, as a gratuitous gift that allows us, in the end, to recognize the face of the Lord. And when this happens, our whole reality changes; we receive a new name and the blessing of God. But even more: Jacob, who receives a new name, who becomes Israel, also gives a new name to the place where he wrestled with God; he prayed there and renamed it Peniel, which means "the Face of God." With this name, he recognized that place as filled with God's presence; he renders the land sacred by imprinting upon it the memory of that mysterious encounter with God. He who allows himself to be blessed by God, who abandons himself to him, who allows himself to be transformed by him, renders the world blessed. May the Lord help us to fight the good fight of faith (cf. Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 4:7) and to ask his blessing in our prayer, so that he may renew in us the anticipation of seeing his face. Thank you.

Text from (http://www.zenit.org/article-32676?l=english)

MAY DEVOTION: Day Twenty-Nine - Mary's Death

29th Day — Mary's Death

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. (Psalm c.w. 15.)

I. During the years which succeeded Our Lord's Ascension Mary had been making a progress in holiness and perfection which surpassed all that had gone before. She had become more and more a partaker of the divine nature, more and more like to the image of her divine Son. What a contrast I am to Mary! Yet at least I can admire her and rejoice in her unspeakable perfections.

2. At length the time came when this soul, so exquisitely beautiful, was too beautiful for earth to detain longer. She had long been languishing with love — yearning after her Beloved. Her death was not like that which we call death. She had no sickness, no pain. She died simply of love, of her insatiate desire for God. Do I long for the presence of God, for the day when I shall behold Him face to face?

3. Why was Mary's death such a triumph, such a scene of peace and joy and heavenly consolation? Because she was sinless. The sting of death is sin. It was also because she had stood by her Son's deathbed of the cross, and shared by her compassion in His agony. In return for this, Jesus Himself came to receive the sacred soul of His dear Mother. All the angels of heaven were present there, singing sweet melodies.

O happy, happy death!
If death indeed could be.
Blest Virgin, that sweet end
Which God bestowed on thee.

Saturday, May 28, 2011


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In the last two Catecheses we have reflected on prayer as a universal phenomenon which — although in different forms — is present in the cultures of all times. 

Today instead I would like to start out on a biblical path on this topic which will guide us to deepening the dialogue of the Covenant between God and man, which enlivened the history of salvation to its culmination, to the definitive Word that is Jesus Christ. 

This path will lead us to reflect on certain important texts and paradigmatic figures of the Old and New Testaments. It will be Abraham the great Patriarch, the father of all believers (cf. Rom 4:11-12, 16-17), to offer us a first example of prayer in the episode of intercession for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. 

And I would also like to ask you to benefit from the journey we shall be making in the forthcoming catecheses to become more familiar with the Bible, which I hope you have in your homes and, during the week, to pause to read it and to meditate upon it in prayer, in order to know the marvellous history of the relationship between God and man, between God who communicates with us and man who responds, who prays.

The first text on which we shall reflect is in chapter 18 of the Book of Genesis. It is recounted that the evil of the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah had reached the height of depravity so as to require an intervention of God, an act of justice, that would prevent the evil from destroying those cities. 

It is here that Abraham comes in, with his prayer of intercession. God decides to reveal to him what is about to happen and acquaints him with the gravity of the evil and its terrible consequences, because Abraham is his chosen one, chosen to become a great people and to bring the divine blessing to the whole world. His is a mission of salvation which must counter the sin that has invaded human reality; the Lord wishes to bring humanity back to faith, obedience and justice through Abraham. And now this friend of God seeing the reality and neediness of the world, prays for those who are about to be punished and begs that they be saved.

Abraham immediately postulates the problem in all its gravity and says to the Lord: “Will you indeed destroy the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen 18: 23-25). 

Speaking these words with great courage, Abraham confronts God with the need to avoid a perfunctory form of justice: if the city is guilty it is right to condemn its crime and to inflict punishment, but — the great Patriarch affirms — it would be unjust to punish all the inhabitants indiscriminately. If there are innocent people in the city, they must not be treated as the guilty. God, who is a just judge, cannot act in this way, Abraham says rightly to God.

However, if we read the text more attentively we realize that Abraham's request is even more pressing and more profound because he does not stop at asking for salvation for the innocent. Abraham asks forgiveness for the whole city and does so by appealing to God’s justice; indeed, he says to the Lord: “Will you then destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it?” (v. 24b).

In this way he brings a new idea of justice into play: not the one that is limited to punishing the guilty, as men do, but a different, divine justice that seeks goodness and creates it through forgiveness that transforms the sinner, converts and saves him. With his prayer, therefore, Abraham does not invoke a merely compensatory form of justice but rather an intervention of salvation which, taking into account the innocent, also frees the wicked from guilt by forgiving them. 

Abraham’s thought, which seems almost paradoxical, could be summed up like this: obviously it is not possible to treat the innocent as guilty, this would be unjust; it would be necessary instead to treat the guilty as innocent, putting into practice a “superior” form of justice, offering them a possibility of salvation because, if evildoers accept God’s pardon and confess their sin, letting themselves be saved, they will no longer continue to do wicked deeds, they too will become righteous and will no longer deserve punishment.

It is this request for justice that Abraham expresses in his intercession, a request based on the certainty that the Lord is merciful. Abraham does not ask God for something contrary to his essence, he knocks at the door of God’s heart knowing what he truly desires.

Sodom, of course, is a large city, 50 upright people seem few, but are not the justice and forgiveness of God perhaps proof of the power of goodness, even if it seems smaller and weaker than evil? The destruction of Sodom must halt the evil present in the city, but Abraham knows that God has other ways and means to stem the spread of evil. It is forgiveness that interrupts the spiral of sin and Abraham, in his dialogue with God, appeals for exactly this. And when the Lord agrees to forgive the city if 50 upright people may be found in it, his prayer of intercession begins to reach the abysses of divine mercy.

Abraham — as we remember — gradually decreases the number of innocent people necessary for salvation: if 50 would not be enough, 45 might suffice, and so on down to 10, continuing his entreaty, which became almost bold in its insistence: “suppose 40... 30... 20... are found there” (cf. vv. 29, 30, 31, 32). The smaller the number becomes, the greater God’s mercy is shown to be. He patiently listens to the prayer, he hears it and repeats at each supplication: “I will spare... I will not destroy... I will not do it” (cf. vv. 26,28, 29, 30, 31, 32). 

Thus, through Abraham’s intercession, Sodom can be saved if there are even only 10 innocent people in it. This is the power of prayer. For through intercession, the prayer to God for the salvation of others, the desire for salvation which God nourishes for sinful man is demonstrated and expressed. Evil, in fact, cannot be accepted, it must be identified and destroyed through punishment: The destruction of Sodom had exactly this function.

Yet the Lord does not want the wicked to die, but rather that they convert and live (cf. Ez 18:23; 33:11); his desire is always to forgive, to save, to give life, to transform evil into good. Well, it is this divine desire itself which becomes in prayer the desire of the human being and is expressed through the words of intercession.

With his entreaty, Abraham is lending his voice and also his heart, to the divine will. God’s desire is for mercy and love as well as his wish to save; and this desire of God found in Abraham and in his prayer the possibility of being revealed concretely in human history, in order to be present wherever there is a need for grace. By voicing this prayer, Abraham was giving a voice to what God wanted, which was not to destroy Sodom but to save it, to give life to the converted sinner.

This is what the Lord desires and his dialogue with Abraham is a prolonged and unequivocal demonstration of his merciful love. The need to find enough righteous people in the city decreases and in the end 10 were to be enough to save the entire population. 

The reason why Abraham stops at 10 is not given in the text. Perhaps it is a figure that indicates a minimum community nucleus (still today, 10 people are the necessary quorum for public Jewish prayer). However, this is a small number, a tiny particle of goodness with which to start in order to save the rest from a great evil. 

However, not even 10 just people were to be found in Sodom and Gomorrah so the cities were destroyed; a destruction paradoxically deemed necessary by the prayer of Abraham’s intercession itself. Because that very prayer revealed the saving will of God: the Lord was prepared to forgive, he wanted to forgive but the cities were locked into a totalizing and paralyzing evil, without even a few innocents from whom to start in order to turn evil into good.

This the very path to salvation that Abraham too was asking for: being saved does not mean merely escaping punishment but being delivered from the evil that dwells within us. It is not punishment that must be eliminated but sin, the rejection of God and of love which already bears the punishment in itself. 

The Prophet Jeremiah was to say to the rebellious people: “Your wickedness will chasten you, and your apostasy will reprove you. Know and see that it is evil and bitter for you to forsake the Lord your God” (Jer 2:19).

It is from this sorrow and bitterness that the Lord wishes to save man, liberating him from sin. Therefore, however, a transformation from within is necessary, some foothold of of goodness, a beginning from which to start out in order to change evil into good, hatred into love, revenge into forgiveness.

For this reason there must be righteous people in the city and Abraham continuously repeats: “suppose there are...”. “There”: it is within the sick reality that there must be that seed of goodness which can heal and restore life. It is a word that is also addressed to us: so that in our cities the seed of goodness may be found; that we may do our utmost to ensure that there are not only 10 upright people, to make our cities truly live and survive and to save ourselves from the inner bitterness which is the absence of God. And in the unhealthy situation of Sodom and Gomorrah that seed of goodness was not to be found.

Yet God’s mercy in the history of his people extends further. If in order to save Sodom 10 righteous people were necessary, the Prophet Jeremiah was to say, on behalf of the Almighty, that only one upright person was necessary to save Jerusalem: “Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, look and take note! Search her squares to see if you can find a man, one who does justice and seeks truth; that I may pardon her” (5:1). 

The number dwindled further, God’s goodness proved even greater. Nonetheless this did not yet suffice, the superabundant mercy of God did not find the response of goodness that he sought, and under the  siege of the enemy Jerusalem fell. 

It was to be necessary for God himself to become that one righteous person. And this is the mystery of the Incarnation: to guarantee a just person he himself becomes man. There will always be one righteous person because it is he. However, God himself must become that just man. The infinite and surprising divine love was to be fully manifest when the Son of God was to become man, the definitive Righteous One, the perfect Innocent who would bring salvation to the whole world by dying on the Cross, forgiving and interceding for those who “know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). Therefore the prayer of each one will find its answer, therefore our every intercession will be fully heard.

Dear brothers and sisters, the prayer of intercession of Abraham, our father in the faith, teaches us to open our hearts ever wider to God’s superabundant mercy so that in daily prayer we may know how to desire the salvation of humanity and ask for it with perseverance and with trust in the Lord who is great in love. Many thanks.

© Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

MAY DEVOTION: Day Twenty-Eight - Mary the Mother of the Infant Church

28th Day — Mary the Mother of the Infant Church

Her children rose up and called her blessed. (Prov. xxxi. 28.)

1. When Our Lord ascended into heaven, we are told that the apostles went back to Jerusalem with great joy (St. Luke xxiv. 52). But there was none of them so joyful as Mary. Her sacred heart overflowed with happiness and delight. The greatest possible joy for her was thus to witness the triumph of her Son and to hear the angels welcoming the King of glory to His throne in heaven.

2. Yet Mary's life must have been one long desire after heaven, more so than ever after Jesus had ascended. Still she had no wish even for the heavenly paradise as long as it was God's will that she should remain on earth. She was quite content to wait. Am I resigned and patient when the will of God contradicts my inclinations and desires?

3. Why was Mary left on earth? To comfort and sustain, to instruct and advise the first disciples of Christ. None knew like her the secrets of His Sacred Heart; none had such an instinctive perception of what He would desire in the many doubts and difficulties that arose; none could impart such sweet consolation to the afflicted. How often the disciples beheld in her their Mother! In heaven she is still our comforter, adviser, guide.

The Mother sits all worshipful,
With her majestic mien;
The princes of the infant Church
Are gathered round their Queen.

Friday, May 27, 2011

MAY DEVOTION: Day Twenty-Seven - Jesus Appears to Mary after the Resurrection

27th Day — Jesus Appears to Mary after the Resurrection

According to the multitude of my sorrows in my heart: Thy comforts have given joy to my soul. (Psalm xciii. 19.)

1. Holy Scripture tells us nothing of Our Lord's appearance to His blessed Mother after His Resurrection. It takes it for granted that He must have appeared first to her. He who doubts it has but a poor understanding of Mary's part in the work and life of Jesus. As she was first in sharing His sufferings, so she was of necessity first in being partaker of His joy.

2. How Mary had been longing and praying for the Resurrection! It is a pious belief that for her sake those three days were shortened. How eagerly she had been expecting the dawn of that first Easter Day! She had been saying over and over again to herself, "I know that my Redeemer liveth." She knew that the darkness would in God's time usher in a glorious morning. This should be my comfort when all seems dark. I, too, must pray and wait.

3. What a meeting must that have been! All her anguish was more than compensated by the ecstasy of her joy at beholding her divine Son, radiant with heavenly beauty, conqueror over hell and death. See how she falls at His feet in rapture of delight! See how He raises her up with words of love! Who can tell the exquisite delight of hearing such words from Jesus' lips ?

See the Mother's fond embrace,
See her joy to view Thy face!
When all bright in radiant bloom
Thee she welcomed from the tomb.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

MAY DEVOTION: Day Twenty-Six - Mary Sees Jesus Laid in the Sepulcher

26th Day — Mary Sees Jesus Laid in the Sepulcher

Where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also. (St. Matt. vi. 21.)

I. When Mary had finished the mournful task of preparing the sacred body of her Son for burial, the disciples carried Him to the sepulcher in the garden of Joseph of Arimathea. Watch that mournful procession, and realize, if you can, the desolation of Mary's sacred heart. AH her hopes, all her joys, all her affections, were buried with Jesus. He was her one and only treasure, and where her treasure was laid, there was her heart also.

2. Mary amid all her anguish had experienced a strange and melancholy pleasure in embracing the dead body of her Son and performing for it the last offices of love. She knew, too, that though the human soul was parted from it, the divinity was still there. She could adore with the highest worship that mangled form, those limbs livid and cold. But now she was separated even from that sacred body. How empty, how blank, was all around without Jesus!

3. Yet Mary, in spite of her desolation, was never dejected, never gloomy. .She was full of joy and peace. In the angui.sh of her separation from Jesus she was more than comforted by the knowledge that all His sufferings were past, and that He had already begun to see the fruit of His travail. Those who love God more than themselves have always a fount of consolation in every sorrow.

By the hope thy name inspires,
By our doom reversed through thee,
Bring us, Queen of angel choirs,
To a blest eternity!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

MAY DEVOTION: Day Twenty-Five - Jesus is Placed in His Mother's Arms

25th Day — Jesus is Placed in His Mother's Arms

My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? (St. Matt, xxvii. 46.)

1. These words must have echoed in Mary's heart when the body of her divine Son was placed in her arms. She was alone! Jesus was dead. She had heard His last cry of agony, and seen the spear pierce His sacred side. She was alone! Oh, Mary, what must have been thy desolation now that thy Son and thy God was no more! Listen to her words: "Therefore do I weep, and my eyes run down with water: because the comforter of my soul is far from me." (Lament, i. 16.)

2. Watch the holy Mother as she washes the blood from the body of her Son! How she kisses each wound with adoring love! Amid all her desolation there is nevertheless an underlying fount of joy at knowing that those wounds have wrought the salvation of the world, that in the paradise of God they will shine like jewels to all eternity.

3. In this mingled joy and sorrow Mary is especially full of love for sinners, and she loves them because they cost her so much anguish and because her divine Son loved them so dearly that for them He suffered and died. Mary loves me because I am a sinner — this at least may comfort and encourage me — Jesus died for me because I am a sinner.

Pope Benedict XVI: Prayer to Our Lady for China

Virgin Most Holy, Mother of the Incarnate Word and our Mother,
venerated in the Shrine of Sheshan under the title "Help of Christians,"
the entire Church in China looks to you with devout affection.
We come before you today to implore your protection.
Look upon the People of God and, with a mother's care, guide them
along the paths of truth and love, so that they may always be
a leaven of harmonious coexistence among all citizens.

When you obediently said "yes" in the house of Nazareth,
you allowed God's eternal Son to take flesh in your virginal womb
and thus to begin in history the work of our redemption.
You willingly and generously co-operated in that work,
allowing the sword of pain to pierce your soul,
until the supreme hour of the Cross, when you kept watch on Calvary,
standing beside your Son, Who died that we might live.

From that moment, you became, in a new way,
the Mother of all those who receive your Son Jesus in faith
and choose to follow in His footsteps by taking up His Cross.
Mother of hope, in the darkness of Holy Saturday you journeyed
with unfailing trust towards the dawn of Easter.
Grant that your children may discern at all times,
even those that are darkest, the signs of God's loving presence.

Our Lady of Sheshan, sustain all those in China,
who, amid their daily trials, continue to believe, to hope, to love.
May they never be afraid to speak of Jesus to the world,
and of the world to Jesus.
In the statue overlooking the Shrine you lift your Son on high,
offering him to the world with open arms in a gesture of love.
Help Catholics always to be credible witnesses to this love,
ever clinging to the rock of Peter on which the Church is built.
Mother of China and all Asia, pray for us, now and for ever. Amen!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

MAY DEVOTION: Day Twenty-Four - Mary at the Foot of the Cross

24th Day — Mary at the Foot of the Cross

There stood by the cross of Jesus His Mother. (St. John xix. 25.)

1. What words can ever describe the indescribable anguish that rent the sacred heart of Mary as she looked upon her divine Son hanging on the cross! Was there ever such a spectacle? He is so torn and mangled, covered with a mantle of blood from head to foot, that one can scarcely recognize in that unsightly figure the human form. Can it be He, the fairest among the children of men? My God, what can have transformed Him into this piteous, this ghastly object?

2. Every wound in Jesus' body was also a wound in the heart of Mary: every fiber, every nerve throbbing in agony. Every pang He suffered reechoed in her heart. She endured by her compassion a share in all the anguish of His Passion. What was the thick darkness around compared with the black darkness that overspread her heart!

3. Why did Mary suffer all this? That she might be our Mother, the Mother of mankind. She who brought forth her divine Son without a pang suffered many a piercing pang when from the cross her dying Son commended to her the sinful sons of men. That was indeed a maternity of sorrow she suffered for our sins: for mine.

Jesus, when the three hours were run,
Bequeathed thee from the cross to me.
How can I rightly love thy Son,
Sweet Mother, if I love not thee?


Dear Brothers and Sisters, 

Today I wish to continue my reflection on how prayer and the sense of religion have been part of man throughout his history.

We live in an age in which the signs of secularism are glaringly obvious. God seems to have disappeared from the horizon of some people or to have become a reality that meets with indifference. Yet at the same time we see many signs of a reawakening of the religious sense, a rediscovery of the importance of God to the human being’s life, a need for spirituality, for going beyond a purely horizontal and materialistic vision of human life. 

A look at recent history reveals the failure of the predictions of those who, in the age of the Enlightenment, foretold the disappearance of religions and who exalted absolute reason, detached from faith, a reason that was to dispel the shadows of religious dogmatism and was to dissolve the “world of the sacred”, restoring to the human being freedom, dignity and autonomy from God. The experience of the past century, with the tragedy of the two World Wars, disrupted the progress that autonomous reason, man without God, seemed to have been able to guarantee. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “In the act of creation, God calls every being from nothingness into existence.... Even after losing through his sin his likeness to God, man remains an image of his Creator, and retains the desire for the one who calls him into existence. All religions bear witness to man’s essential search for God” (n. 2566). We could say — as I explained in my last Catecheses — that there has been no great civilization, from the most distant epoch to our day, which has not been religious.

Man is religious by nature, he is homo religiosus just as he is homo sapiens and homo faber: “The desire for God” the Catechism says further, “is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God” (n. 27). The image of the Creator is impressed on his being and he feels the need to find light to give a response to the questions that concern the deep sense of reality; a response that he cannot find in himself, in progress, in empirical science.

The homo religiosus does not only appear in the sphere of antiquity, he passes through the whole of human history. In this regard, the rich terrain of human experience has seen the religious sense develop in various forms, in the attempt to respond to the desire for fullness and happiness. The “digital” man, like the cave man, seeks in the religious experience ways to overcome his finiteness and to guarantee his precarious adventure on earth. Moreover, life without a transcendent horizon would not have its full meaning and happiness, for which we all seek, is spontaneously projected towards the future in a tomorrow that has yet to come.

In the Declaration Nostra Aetate the Second Vatican Council stressed in summary form: “Men look to their different religions for an answer to the unsolved riddles of human existence. The problems that weigh heavily on the hearts of men are the same today as in the ages past. What is man? — [who am I?] — What is the meaning and purpose of life? What is upright behaviour, and what is sinful? Where does suffering originate, and what end does it serve? How can genuine happiness be found? What happens at death? What is judgement? What reward follows death? And finally, what is the ultimate mystery, beyond human explanation, which embraces our entire existence, from which we take our origin and towards which we tend?” (n. 1).

Man knows that, by himself, he cannot respond to his own fundamental need to understand. However much he is deluded and still deludes himself that he is self-sufficient, he experiences his own insufficiency. He needs to open himself to something more, to something or to someone that can give him what he lacks, he must come out of himself towards the One who is able to fill the breadth and depth of his desire.

Man bears within him a thirst for the infinite, a longing for eternity, a quest for beauty, a desire for love, a need for light and for truth which impel him towards the Absolute; man bears within him the desire for God. And man knows, in a certain way, that he can turn to God, he knows he can pray to him. 

St Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest theologians of history, defines prayer as “an expression of man’s desire for God”. This attraction to God, which God himself has placed in man, is the soul of prayer, that then takes on a great many forms, in accordance with the history, the time, the moment, the grace and even the sin of every person praying. Man’s history has in fact known various forms of prayer, because he has developed different kinds of openness to the “Other” and to the Beyond, so that we may recognize prayer as an experience present in every religion and culture.

Indeed, dear brothers and sisters, as we saw last Wednesday, prayer is not linked to a specific context, but is written on the heart of every person and of every civilization. Of course, when we speak of prayer as an experience of the human being as such, of the homo orans, it is necessary to bear in mind that it is an inner attitude before being a series of practices and formulas, a manner of being in God’s presence before performing acts of worship or speaking words. 

Prayer is centred and rooted in the inmost depths of the person; it is therefore not easily decipherable and, for the same reason, can be subject to misunderstanding and mystification. In this sense too we can understand the expression: prayer is difficult. In fact, prayer is the place par excellence of free giving, of striving for the Invisible, the Unexpected and the Ineffable. Therefore, the experience of prayer is a challenge to everyone, a “grace” to invoke, a gift of the One to whom we turn.

In prayer, in every period of history, man considers himself and his situation before God, from God and in relation to God, and experiences being a creature in need of help, incapable of obtaining on his own the fulfilment of his life and his hope. The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein mentioned that “prayer means feeling that the world’s meaning is outside the world”. 

In the dynamic of this relationship with the one who gives meaning to existence, with God, prayer has one of its typical expressions in the gesture of kneeling. It is a gesture that has in itself a radical ambivalence. In fact, I can be forced to kneel — a condition of indigence and slavery — but I can also kneel spontaneously, declaring my limitations and therefore my being in need of Another. To him I declare I am weak, needy, “a sinner”. 

In the experience of prayer, the human creature expresses all his self-awareness, all that he succeeds in grasping of his own existence and, at the same time, he turns with his whole being to the One before whom he stands, directs his soul to that Mystery from which he expects the fulfilment of his deepest desires and help to overcome the neediness of his own life. In this turning to “Another”, in directing himself “beyond” lies the essence of prayer, as an experience of a reality that overcomes the tangible and the contingent.

Yet only in God who reveals himself does man’s seeking find complete fulfilment. The prayer that is openness and elevation of the heart to God, thus becomes a personal relationship with him. And even if man forgets his Creator, the living, true God does not cease to call man first to the mysterious encounter of prayer.

As the Catechism says: “in prayer, the faithful God’s initiative of love always comes first; our own first step is always a response. As God gradually reveals himself and reveals man to himself, prayer appears as a reciprocal call, a covenant drama. Through words and actions, this drama engages the heart. It unfolds throughout the whole history of salvation” (n. 2567).

Dear brothers and sisters, let us learn to pause longer before God, who revealed himself in Jesus Christ, let us learn to recognize in silence, in our own hearts, his voice that calls us and leads us back to the depths of our existence, to the source of life, to the source of salvation, to enable us to go beyond the limitations of our life and to open ourselves to God’s dimension, to the relationship with him, which is Infinite Love. Many thanks. 

St. Peter's Square
Wednesday, 11 May 2011