Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
May is the month of Mary! Just as the sudden disappearance of winter and appearance of spring signals the year’s renewal, so also our devotion to Mary calls us back to deeper faith and discipleship to her son. She is our patron, our greatest intercessor, and our perfect model for following Jesus Christ to the very end. We should strive to be totally hers, so that we might be better followers of Christ. “To Jesus, through Mary!”
God has given Mary the special vocation of being the mother of his son. The human nature which Christ shares with all of us, so that we might thereby come to be united to his divine nature and thus saved, he took from Mary. In this marvelous exchange, Mary makes a gift our of her perfect fidelity on our behalf.
As the patron of our diocese and our country, she associates all of us, in a spiritual sense, with that gift. Because of her “yes” to God, and the Easter covenant that happened as a result, we too can say “yes” to God, in Christ. Our faithful affirmation of God’s will in our life, every day, is bound up also in Mary’s acceptance of God’s will, and therefore magnified for us and for our salvation. God continues to pour out so many spiritual gifts on us, through Mary’s patronage.
As our greatest intercessor, moreover, we can always turn to her to gain her help and support for our prayers and petitions. Of course, we intercede in prayer for each other, and all the saints in heaven intercede for all of us believers here on earth. Mary’s intercession is not different from this, but it is “more,” again because of her unique role in salvation history.
God desires us to be joined together in this communion of saints, which is the whole church, and for this whole communion also to be given into Mary’s care, just as God himself gave himself into her care as an infant. When we seek out Mary’s intercession, then, we are not (as many non-Catholics often imagine) seeking grace from a human source, but rather uniting ourselves both with the infant Christ, to whom Mary was totally devoted, and also to Mary as the one to whom Christ is likewise obedient (see Lk 2:51).
Mary’s intercession never fails to win for us what we desire. But sometimes, of course, what we desire is not what God wills for us to have, because it would be harmful to us, or because there is something even better that he wills. In these cases, Mary’s intercession helps us to become more obedient to God’s will and more detached from our own fallible human will. This is also an excellent fruit of prayer.
This is another way in which Mary gives us so perfect an example of following Christ, from the moment of the Annunciation, to her suffering at the foot of the cross, to her joy at the resurrection, to her eventual passing from this world in the home of St. John, the beloved disciple. The strength of Mary’s faith shines so clearly from the pages of the Gospel.
Her sharing in Christ’s mission of salvation, as both mother and disciple, show us how to follow faithfully. She accepted God’s will for her with joy, even when she did not understand, and even when it seemed too hard to follow. She is now rewarded with the fulfillment of every promise of salvation, taken body and soul into heaven, just as we all hope to be through our faith and obedience.
How can we strive to live closer to Mary, as patron, intercessor, and model of faith, so that we can be better disciples to her Son? The easiest and most obvious way is by regularly praying the rosary. The rosary is the prayer of Mary and Jesus.
Far from being “vain repetition,” the rosary brings the life of Mary into our heart and helps us to imitate her in seeking grace, abiding in the Lord, and receiving blessings from Jesus, the fruit of her womb, and the assistance of them both at the hour of death. In our reflection on the mysteries, the main aspects of Christ’s mission of salvation are brought to light, and we begin to see how we fit into them. The rosary can form and shape us to be better disciples. It is easy to learn and memorize and can be prayed anywhere at any time. Pope Francis, in fact, has asked all Catholics to pray the rosary more, for peace in the world.
If we have a little more time, we can also contemplate the mysteries of Mary and our salvation in Scripture itself. In addition, there are a great many pious books and papal writings about Mary, her role in salvation and in the church and our devotion to her within our faith in Christ.
Pope St. John Paul II gave us two such, the 2002 letter “The Rosary of the Virgin Mary,” and the 1987 encyclical “The Mother of the Redeemer.” There are also the approved apparitions of Mary, throughout all the centuries of the church and all the regions of the world. All these things are worth reading and pondering and can help us understand our living faith more deeply.
“To Jesus, through Mary!” In this month of May, may our hearts be more attentive to Mary, the mother of our Lord and our spiritual mother and grow in faith in her son, our redeemer.
Please pray for me, just as I pray daily for all of you, and for all the needs of our diocese and the church in the whole world.
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City