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Posts Tagged ‘Mary’

Today (April 16)  is her memorial, although Eastertide matters take precedence. You can read about her anyway!   Loyola has the entry I wrote on St. Bernadette for The Loyola Kids Book of Saints up on their website – you can read the whole thing here. 

Bernadette’s life wasn’t easy to begin with. She and her family lived in terrible poverty in a village in France called Lourdes. By the time she was 14, Bernadette had been sick so often that she hadn’t grown properly. She was the size of a much younger girl. She, her parents, and her younger brothers and sisters all lived in a tiny room at the back of someone else’s house, a building that had actually been a prison many years before.

They slept on three beds: one for the parents, one for the boys, and one for the girls. 12912673_1739425146300211_1906595173_nEvery night they battled mice and rats. Every morning, they woke up, put their feet on cold stone floors, and dressed in clothes that had been mended more times than anyone could count. Each day they hoped the work they could find would bring them enough bread to live on that day.

Bernadette’s life was terribly difficult, but she wasn’t a miserable girl. She had a deep, simple faith in God. She didn’t mind any of the work she had to do, whether it was helping her mother cook or taking care of her younger brothers and sisters. There was, though, one thing that bothered her. She hadn’t been able to attend school very often, and she didn’t know how to read. Because of that, she had never learned enough about her faith to be able to receive her first Communion. Bernadette wanted to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, but her days, which were full of hard work, left little time for learning

Like other girls, Bernadette had many friends. She spent time with them in the countryside, playing and gathering wood for their families’ fireplaces and stoves. One cold February day, Bernadette was out with her sister and a friend, doing just that. They wandered along the river until they came to a spot where a large, shallow cave called a grotto had formed in the hilly bank. Bernadette’s sister and friend decided to take off their shoes and cross the stream.

Because she was so sickly, Bernadette knew her mother would be angry if she plunged her thin legs into the icy water, so she stayed behind. But after a few minutes, she grew tired of waiting for her companions to return. She took off her stockings and crossed the stream herself.

What happened then was very strange. The bushes that grew out of the grotto walls started blowing around as if they were being blown by a strong wind. Bernadette looked up. High above her in the grotto stood a girl.

Some photos from our 2012 trip to Lourdes. The photo of the little image above is also from that trip. I bought it from an artist whose workshop was way off the main drag of religious souvenir shops in Lourdes. As I bought it and one of her hand-made rosaries, she quipped, “Now you can say that you have something that is really from Lourdes – not China.”

"amy welborn"

The family home

"amy welborn"

 

"amy welborn"

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The shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe is in the outskirts of Mexico City. I suppose it is a suburb? I don’t know. Rather than even attempt public transportation, we went the Uber route, getting up and out earlier than usual  – 9:30 – which meant we arrived at the Basilica a bit after 10.

I admit I was startled. We’re riding through this typical busy Mexican business area, the driver stops, I look to the left, and there’s the basilica right across the road!

I was startled a second time, when we actually went in. The basilica complex is, indeed, in the middle of the town, but large, with many different areas and buildings, including Tepayac hill where Our Lady appeared. All I knew about it ahead of time was: the new basilica has a negative reputation because it’s modern and secondly, you view the tilma via a moving walkway. I had envisioned that this moving walkway was in the midst of a vast space and that there was some buildup to the approach. Well, not the way we got in!

The driver dropped us off across from a bottom entrance to the basilica. We walked in, followed the crowd, and boom there we were on this maybe 30-foot moving walkway and, well, look up right now because there she is!

What I didn’t understand, but do now, is that the tilma is, of course, actually hanging in the church, so that you can see it while you are within that space, and also from underneath, where the moving walkway runs.

(If you want to see video, go to Instagram.)

You are also free to go back and forth on the moving walkway as much as you want. There’s no guard forcing crowd movement. It wasn’t super mobbed today, so we felt very comfortable going back on a the walkway a couple of times before we ascended to the church.

Where there was Mass going on. It was offertory – Mass with about 15 concelebrants a deacon, a slew of servers and a male choir (boys and men). The sign outside that I later read indicated this was the Chrism Mass – but is this a diocesan Cathedral, too? It isn’t, is it? Can non-Cathedrals do a Chrism Mass? Anyway, we got there too late to see any Chrism-related activity anyway. The core of the Mass congregation filled maybe half the church, with the rest of the space filled with people drifting in and out.

After Mass, we toured the site. Some notes:

The old basilica has been damaged in earthquakes, and you can really tell. The whole place is crooked – I tried to capture it in photos, but I am not sure if I was successful –  from the floor to the columns to the baldacchino. It’s a very strange feeling walking around. I can’t see how one more Big One isn’t going to do the place in.

I didn’t hate the new church. It’s not as bad as I thought it would be, and I’ll just go ahead and say that I didn’t think it was bad at all. I think what it is that the ceiling swoops so low (it’s supposed to evoke Mary’s mantle taking everyone into her care) that it obscures the lack of wall décor – you really don’t notice it, partly because of that low beamed ceiling and partly because most of your attention is on the tilma.

The place was fairly busy, but not crowded. The feeling was relaxed, grateful reverence. I saw one woman approaching the tilma on her knees. Priests were hearing confessions in the church after Mass, and there were long lines.

There are a lot of vendors on site – I was a little surprised that they sold refreshments on top of the hill around the chapels are out there, but, why not?

Third favorite personage after the Blessed Mother and St. Juan Diego? St. Pope John Paul, hands down. He was everywhere.

I’m very glad we went – one more layer added to This is Mexico.

Before we leave the shrine – take a look at these ex votos.  I have seen all different sorts of ex votos left in churches around the world: imitation body parts, crutches, plaques, blue and pink ribbons (in gratitude for babies), photographs – but never anything like this: small paintings relating the specific story of the answered prayer. They are fascinating and lovely. They help make it all very real.

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Our Uber driver back into the city spoke more English than any we’ve had before, so we had a chance to talk – an interesting story of a graduate student looking to emigrate to Canada in order to teach.

I had him drop him off at the Zocalo, where we ate a quick lunch at a Mexican fast food place, then wandered a bit back and forth until we ended up, first at the Cathedral – where we heard some choir and organ practice, but didn’t have a chance to see much more – it was closed off for Triduum preparations. A disappointment but one I probably should have expected. Back outside.

When you’re in this area, one of the things that is impossible to avoid is a constantly beating drum – it’s “Aztec” dancers right outside the Cathedral. I think they are there all the time, drumming, burning herbs and dancing. I didn’t hang around and watch because I think they’re annoying, and I don’t know the motivation for them being there – is it just because it’s a convenient place to snag a lot of tourist attention? Is it a protest against Christianity? Is it more than a protest? I don’t know. It may be nothing but opportunism, but it’s still aggravating. So we moved on to the very interesting site right next to the Cathedral – the Templo Mayor. You can read more about it here, but the short story is that it’s a fairly recently (1970’s – on) excavated site of a major Aztec (Mexica) temple. There’s a large outdoor section that shows the various stages of construction and a few artifacts and elements they have left in situ, and a museum – larger than I’d expected – that exhibited many more artifacts, including the huge stones depicting various gods that have been found.

Layers upon layers, both in the landscape and in the culture.

My next goal was to see the Diego Rivera murals in the National Palace, but alas, it was not to be. The place was closed up, tight as a drum, which I should have expected – late in the afternoon on the Wednesday of Holy Week. Closed, probably for the rest of the week. Oh well….next time.

A bit more wandering (one stop for a fresh pineapple drink), then caught an Uber back to the apartment. A few doors down from the apartment, a small crowd was gathered outside an office building and a mariachi band was playing. A man explained to us that a woman was retiring – it was her last day in the office – and this was her sendoff.

Time for some rest, and then dinner at a place I’d seen a day ago and pegged as a good spot for us – large busy, with roast chicken and other meats in evidence, as well as tortillas being made. It was good, although I’m still stumped by about 50% of the menu – my percentages are going down, so that’s progress. I had a fantastic Caldo de Gallina (basically…soup) with chicken. J had something that was not called flautas, but ended up being basically flautas, and M had a big plate of steak, cheese, peppers and onions all cooked together – sort of fajita-like, except, as I said, cooked together. There was a lot, so I helped. It was very tasty.

The atmosphere in the restaurant was fun to experience: all locals, every table, it seems, marked by large bottles of Victoria beer – nothing else was being consumed except liter after liter of Victoria beer. The jukebox was going and tables of women were singing along. A cat wandered through. Price? A little more than usual because I had a beer (not a liter of Victoria – a small bottle of Negra Modela. I think the tab was 268 pesos: about $15 for the three of us.

Tomorrow: a bit more Mexico City and then…the bus to Puebla.

As usual – head to Instagram for videos. I also have a real camera with me and am taking actual photographs with it, but I also left the doohicky that I need to transfer the photos from a SD card to the computer at home. 

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I’m sharing with you here the chapter on the Assumption from my book Mary and the Christian Life. You can click on each image for a larger, clearer version, or you can just make your life easier by downloading a pdf version of the book here. 

 

 

Interested in more free books? The following are all links to pdf versions of books of mine that our now out of print. Feel free to download and share and even use in the parish book groups.

De-Coding Mary Magdalene

Come Meet Jesus: An Invitation from Pope Benedict XVI

The Power of the Cross

 

 

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May, of course, is Mary’s month.  It’s a good time to read a free book on the Blessed Virgin – mine, originally published by Word Among Us, now out of print and available in a pdf version here.

Amy Welborn and Michael Dubruiel

This May is also the centenary of the first Fatima apparition – May 13, 1917. Plenty of books are being published to celebrate, and I want to draw your attention to one in particular that is the work, in part, of my friend and frequent collaborator Ann Kissane Engelhart:

Our Lady's Message cover

Written by Donna Marie Cooper O’Boyle and published by Sophia, Ann was brought in to do the illustrations, so let’s give her due credit, shall we? Isn’t that a nice cover? I don’t have a copy of the book, nor can I access illustrated pages online, so I don’t know how the interior illustrations were actually used, but here are some samples Ann sent me:

Blurbs for the book have specifically mentioned the illustrations as worthy of note. So if this appears on your radar, remember that the very talented artist involved has other books:

Another recent work to which Ann contributed is this:

Written by Nancy Carpentier Brown, it’s a fictional account of a friendship between G.K. and Frances Chesterton and another family. 

Ann and I aren’t working on anything specific at the moment, but we are tossing around ideas – it’s challenging to find a Catholic publisher willing to invest in quality illustrated children’s books, but we’re trying!

(If you would like a sneak peak at my newest, forthcoming book, check out Instagram Stories – you can only access the “stories” part via the app on a phone, by clicking on my photo.)

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— 1 —

Well, we started with four…and now there are two.

Big trees in the yard, that is.

The two remaining are solid, though, so I’m not worried.

This one, though, was due. I admit that I knew it, too, and at least once a day, I pondered its form, which seem to lean just a bit more every day, and I thought, I really should call someone.

And so I did…at 12:30 am Wednesday morning.

I was sitting here (#nightowl) when the silence was broken by a strong and earth-shaking THUD.

I peeked in the boys’ rooms, even though it really had not sounded like someone had tumbled out of bed or knocked over a lamp in their sleep. All was well. So I peered out the window in the front door, and what a strange, disorienting feeling to see emptiness where you’ve been trained to see a hulking mass of branches twisting up to the sky.

I had never been too worried about it, because I was 99% sure that if and when it did fall, it was angled so it wouldn’t hit anything…and it didn’t. Just the driveway, which it blocked, fully and effectively.

(It was a calm night – no winds or rain. So why did it fall? I suppose because after over two months of drought, the rains had come. Quite a bit of rain over the past week, as a matter of fact. It was not in good shape anyway, and I suppose whatever was left of its roots just slipped out of that soaked earth.)

So the first thing to do was to text my carpool partner with the news and the hope that she could take everyone in the morning because I was blocked in. Second was to call the tree service that promised 24/7 reponse…to get a voicemail. It was fine. I didn’t want anyone to come out right at that moment, but I did want to be first in line for the morning…which I was.

By noon it was all gone and smoothed over.

— 2 —

It was an old, rotting, gnarly tree, but we have each commented that we miss it. It was the only climbable tree in the yard, and it was a home and resting place for all sorts of life.  It really did seem as if the birds that were around that afternoon were confused. It was full of bird-home holes, it had spaces for pools of water to collect which satiated birds and squirrels, and the hummingbirds used it as a Launchpad for dive-bombing the feeder.

— 3—

In case you missed it, I was in Living Faith earlier this week – on the 4th and 5th.  And, as I pointed out yesterday on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, you can get my Mary book free here.

Speaking of the Immaculate Conception, nothing like hearing a homily at your IC Mass that is in essence: 1) You know, no one even thought of this thing until the 12th century.  2) Smart people like Thomas Aquinas and Bernard of Clairvaux were against it.  3) A Pope went ahead and made it dogmatic in 1854. Whatever, it’s a nice metaphor, guys, so feel free to believe..something.

Dude was old and has probably helped more people in his life than I would in ten lifetimes. But seriously.

— 4 —

Perhaps some of you remember the 1990’s PBS series, Wishbone. My older kids grew up with it, and I confess, I loved it. The conceit? A dog daydreams about being a character in various works of literature. It was kind of crazy, but it actually worked.

And believe it or not, the show actually dramatized a religious narrative in Viva, Wishbone! – which involved Our Lady of Guadalupe, in which our friend Wishbone portrays, yes, Juan Diego.

(Why do I bring this up? It’s his feast today)

Now, the story deviates. I just watched a bit of the climax, and the whole roses/tilma thing is not presented as the traditional narrative would have it. So you might not want to use it as a catechetical tool. But take a look on YouTube, and just remember a time – not so long ago – when even PBS portrayed religion as something other than the Opium of Particularly Stupid Bigots.

Access parts 2 & 3 via this link.

 

Also…St. Juan Diego in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints. Under “Saints are People Who See Beyond the Everyday.”

— 5 —.

Aside from Silence and other Endo and Endo-related work, this week I read A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin. I think it was less than two bucks on Kindle or something for a couple of days, so I picked it up.  Levin was a screenwriter and author of several high-concept novels which contributed both new words to the language and almost folkloric images: The Stepford Wives, Rosemary’s Baby and the Somebody-Cloned-Hitler Boys from Brazil.

A Kiss Before Dying was his first novel, written in his mid-20’s. It’s been adapted for film twice: first in 1956, starring Robert Wagner, and then in 1991, starring Matt Dillon. The trailer for the ’56 version is just so…over the top. Or over the roof. What have you.

Anyway, the first 2/3 of the novel were good and fairly absorbing, with some twisty-elements that made you pause, go back and re-read. The twists weren’t so much with the plot itself, but with the narrative framework, which trips you up. But there’s none of that in the last third – just a more routine cat-and-mouse trajectory which I skimmed pretty quickly. Those twists, being formal, are impossible to convey on film – let’s put it this way: even though it’s not the same “twist” – the situation would be like trying to convey the twist at the end of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd on film in a way that hits you the same way it does while reading. I don’t think it can be done. So, as the risible 1956 trailer makes clear, without that interest, you don’t have a lot left.

So sure, that’s what I do. You play video games or watch HGTV. I read odd mid-century novels that strike my fancy and are free, or at least cheap.

— 6—

I don’t think I have mentioned this article in the Atlantic by Deb Fallows. It’s about our downtown Birmingham Public Library. I have written – or at least Instagrammed – about this building before. The murals are quite something, and unfortunately nothing that anyone would ever to decorate a public building with today. Fallows writes about the murals, but more importantly, the research department, which holds some treasures, including a jail log book with Martin Luther King Jr’s signature for that time he spent…in a Birmingham jail.

— 7 —

 

Speaking of such things, it was great to hear that the feds are giving a chunk of our downtown National Historic Monument designation (not quite National Park…but good anyway).  If you are ever here in town, it’s an area you should go visit – the 16th Street Baptist Church, Linn Park, and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. I’ve been to most of the Civil Rights-centered museums in the Southeast, and I’m not going to hesitate to say that I think that BCRI is the best. It’s a very good museum.  This article in our local alt-weekly tells the story of this area and how and why the new status was obtained.

“This is the place. This place is me,” Herbert Simms said, as he walked along the slick, leaf-covered sidewalk. He stopped and hunched over a puddle near a statue of a young boy being violently handled by a police officer and his dog. “They beat me here. That statue right there, for I all I know, that’s me too.” Simms, now 75, spoke quietly as he reflected on his role in this place, Kelly Ingram Park, and how it has shaped his life and the world he’s come to know.

He wondered why it took so long for this particular spot he’s known to be designated as a national historic monument. “This place is all of us…all of us. We changed the world here,” Simms said.

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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I toss the same general post up every year. I don’t care. No need to search my brain for heartfelt spiritual metaphors from Daily Life™. When we have the Monkees!

Riu riu chiu, la guarda ribera;
Dios guardo el lobo de nuestra cordera,
Dios guardo el lobo de neustra cordera.

El lobo rabioso la quiso morder,
Mas Dios poderoso la supo defender;
Quisola hazer que no pudiese pecar,
Ni aun original esta Virgen no tuviera.

Riu, riu chiu…

Este qu’es nacido es el gran monarca,
Christo patriarca de carne vestido;
Hemos redemido con se hazer chiquito,
Aunqu’era infinito, finito se hiziera.

Translation:

River, roaring river, guard our homes in safety,
God has kept the black wolf from our lamb, our Lady.
God has kept the black wolf from our lamb, our Lady.

Raging mad to bite her, there the wolf did steal,
But our God Almighty defended her with zeal.
Pure He wished to keep Her so She could never sin,
That first sin of man never touched the Virgin sainted.

River, roaring river…

He who’s now begotten is our mighty Monarch,
Christ, our Holy Father, in human flesh embodied.
He has brough atonement by being born so humble,
Though He is immortal, as mortal was created.

River, roaring river…

And the Kingston Trio:

More from Fr. Steve Grunow on the song and the feast.

It’s a good day to download a free e-book on Mary – Mary and the Christian Life, which I wrote a few years ago, and is now out of print…you can have it!  Go here for the pdf download.

Also, today is a good day (as is every day!) to think about the rosary.  

Now for the good stuff, from someone who actually knows what he’s talking about…a few selections from “Father Benedict” – on this feast.

2005:

In Mary shines forth the eternal goodness of the Creator who chose her in his plan of salvation to be the mother of his Only-begotten Son; God, foreseeing his death, preserved her from every stain of sin (cf. Concluding Prayer). In this way, in the Mother of Christ and our Mother the vocation of every human being is perfectly fulfilled. All men and women, according to St Paul, are called to be holy and blameless in God’s sight, full of love (cf. Eph 1: 4, 5).

Looking at Mary, how can we, her children, fail to let the aspiration to beauty, goodness and purity of heart be aroused in us? Her heavenly candour draws us to God, helping us to overcome the temptation to live a mediocre life composed of compromises with evil, and directs us decisively towards the authentic good that is the source of joy.

2007

What a great gift to have Mary Immaculate as mother! A mother resplendent with beauty, the transparency of God’s love. I am thinking of today’s young people, who grow up in an environment saturated with messages that propose false models of happiness. These young men and women risk losing hope because they often seem orphans of true love, which fills life with true meaning and joy. This was a theme dear to my Venerable Predecessor John Paul II, who so often proposed Mary to the youth of our time as the “Mother of Fair Love”. Unfortunately, numerous experiences tell us that adolescents, young people and even children easily fall prey to corrupt love, deceived by unscrupulous adults who, lying to themselves and to them, lure them into the deadends of consumerism; even the most sacred realities, like the human body, a temple of God’s love and of life, thus become objects of consumption and this is happening earlier, even in pre-adolescence. How sad it is when youth lose the wonder, the enchantment of the most beautiful sentiments, the value of respect for the body, the manifestation of the person and his unfathomable mystery!

2008

Dear friends, in Mary Immaculate we contemplate the reflection of the Beauty that saves the world: the beauty of God resplendent on the Face of Christ. In Mary this beauty is totally pure, humble, free from all pride and presumption.

2009

On 8 December we celebrate one of the most beautiful Feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary: the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. But what does Mary being “Immaculate” mean? And what does this title tell us? First of all let us refer to the biblical texts of today’s Liturgy, especially the great “fresco” of the third chapter of the Book of Genesis and the account of the Annunciation in the Gospel according to Luke. After the original sin, God addresses the serpent, which represents Satan, curses it and adds a promise: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gn 3: 15). It is the announcement of revenge: at the dawn of the Creation, Satan seems to have the upper hand, but the son of a woman is to crush his head. Thus, through the descendence of a woman, God himself will triumph. Goodness will triumph. That woman is the Virgin Mary of whom was born Jesus Christ who, with his sacrifice, defeated the ancient tempter once and for all. This is why in so many paintings and statues of the Virgin Immaculate she is portrayed in the act of crushing a serpent with her foot.

Luke the Evangelist, on the other hand, shows the Virgin Mary receiving the Annunciation of the heavenly Messenger (cf. Lk 1: 26-38). She appears us the humble, authentic daughter of Israel, the true Zion in which God wishes to take up his abode. She is the shoot from which the Messiah, the just and merciful King, is to spring. In the simplicity of the house of Nazareth dwells the pure “remnant” of Israel from which God wants his People to be reborn, like a new tree that will spread its branches throughout the world, offering to all humanity the good fruit of salvation. Unlike Adam and Eve, Mary stays obedient to the Lord’s will, with her whole being she speaks her “yes” and makes herself entirely available to the divine plan. She is the new Eve, the true “mother of all the living”, namely, those who, because of their faith in Christ, receive eternal life.

2010

The mystery of the Immaculate Conception is a source of inner light, hope and comfort. Amidst the trials of life and, especially, the contradictions that man experiences within and around himself. Mary, Mother of Christ, tells us that Grace is greater than sin, that God’s mercy is more powerful than evil and it is able to transform it into good. Unfortunately, every day we experience evil, which is manifested in many ways including relationships and events, but whose root is in the human heart, a wounded, sick heart that is incapable of healing itself. Sacred Scripture reveals to us that the origin of all evil is disobedience to God’s will and that death has the upper hand because human freedom has yielded to the temptation of the Evil One.

But God does not fail in his plan of love and life: through a long and patient process of reconciliation he prepared the new and eternal Covenant, sealed in the Blood of his Son, who in order to offer himself in expiation was “born of woman” (Gal 4:4). This woman, the Virgin Mary, benefited in advance from the redeeming death of her Son and was preserved from the contagion of sin from the moment of her conception. Therefore, with her Immaculate Heart, she tells us: entrust yourselves to Jesus, he saves you.

2011

The expression “full of grace” indicates that marvellous work of the love of God, who through his Only-Begotten Son incarnate who died and rose again, wanted to restore to us the life and the freedom, lost by original sin. Because of this, since the 2nd century both in the East and the West, the Church invokes and celebrates the Virgin who with her “yes” brought Heaven closer to earth, becoming “Genetrix of God and nurturer of our life”, as St Romanus the Melodus expressed it in an old song…

2012

The light that shines from the figure of Mary also helps us to understand the true meaning of original sin. Indeed that relationship with God which sin truncates is fully alive and active in Mary. In her there is no opposition between God and her being: there is full communion, full understanding. There is a reciprocal “yes”: God to her and her to God. Mary is free from sin because she belongs entirely to God, she empties herself totally for him. She is full of his Grace and of his Love.

To conclude, the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary expresses the certainty of faith that God’s promises have been fulfilled and that his Covenant does not fail but has produced a holy root from which came forth the blessed Fruit of the whole universe, Jesus the Saviour. The Immaculate Virgin shows that Grace can give rise to a response, that God’s fidelity can bring forth a true and good faith.

 And for even more substance from a homily he gave in 2005 on the feast – it was also the 40th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council.  It’s lengthy but SO worth it, an excellent reflection of what he has written elsewhere on it (for example, in this book):

But now we must ask ourselves:  What does “Mary, the Immaculate” mean? Does this title have something to tell us? Today, the liturgy illuminates the content of these words for us in two great images.

First of all comes the marvellous narrative of the annunciation of the Messiah’s coming to Mary, the Virgin of Nazareth. The Angel’s greeting is interwoven with threads from the Old Testament, especially from the Prophet Zephaniah. He shows that Mary, the humble provincial woman who comes from a priestly race and bears within her the great priestly patrimony of Israel, is “the holy remnant” of Israel to which the prophets referred in all the periods of trial and darkness.

In her is present the true Zion, the pure, living dwelling-place of God. In her the Lord dwells, in her he finds the place of his repose. She is the living house of God, who does not dwell in buildings of stone but in the heart of living man. She is the shoot which sprouts from the stump of David in the dark winter night of history. In her, the words of the Psalm are fulfilled:  “The earth has yielded its fruits” (Ps 67: 7).

She is the offshoot from which grew the tree of redemption and of the redeemed. God has not failed, as it might have seemed formerly at the beginning of history with Adam and Eve or during the period of the Babylonian Exile, and as it seemed anew in Mary’s time when Israel had become a people with no importance in an occupied region and with very few recognizable signs of its holiness.

God did not fail. In the humility of the house in Nazareth lived holy Israel, the pure remnant. God saved and saves his people. From the felled tree trunk Israel’s history shone out anew, becoming a living force that guides and pervades the world.

Mary is holy Israel:  she says “yes” to the Lord, she puts herself totally at his disposal and thus becomes the living temple of God.

The second image is much more difficult and obscure. This metaphor from the Book of Genesis speaks to us from a great historical distance and can only be explained with difficulty; only in the course of history has it been possible to develop a deeper understanding of what it refers to.

It was foretold that the struggle between humanity and the serpent, that is, between man and the forces of evil and death, would continue throughout history.

It was also foretold, however, that the “offspring” of a woman would one day triumph and would crush the head of the serpent to death; it was foretold that the offspring of the woman – and in this offspring the woman and the mother herself – would be victorious and that thus, through man, God would triumph.

If we set ourselves with the believing and praying Church to listen to this text, then we can begin to understand what original sin, inherited sin, is and also what the protection against this inherited sin is, what redemption is.

What picture does this passage show us? The human being does not trust God. Tempted by the serpent, he harbours the suspicion that in the end, God takes something away from his life, that God is a rival who curtails our freedom and that we will be fully human only when we have cast him aside; in brief, that only in this way can we fully achieve our freedom.

The human being lives in the suspicion that God’s love creates a dependence and that he must rid himself of this dependency if he is to be fully himself. Man does not want to receive his existence and the fullness of his life from God.

He himself wants to obtain from the tree of knowledge the power to shape the world, to make himself a god, raising himself to God’s level, and to overcome death and darkness with his own efforts. He does not want to rely on love that to him seems untrustworthy; he relies solely on his own knowledge since it confers power upon him. Rather than on love, he sets his sights on power, with which he desires to take his own life autonomously in hand. And in doing so, he trusts in deceit rather than in truth and thereby sinks with his life into emptiness, into death.

Love is not dependence but a gift that makes us live. The freedom of a human being is the freedom of a limited being, and therefore is itself limited. We can possess it only as a shared freedom, in the communion of freedom:  only if we live in the right way, with one another and for one another, can freedom develop.

We live in the right way if we live in accordance with the truth of our being, and that is, in accordance with God’s will. For God’s will is not a law for the human being imposed from the outside and that constrains him, but the intrinsic measure of his nature, a measure that is engraved within him and makes him the image of God, hence, a free creature.

If we live in opposition to love and against the truth – in opposition to God – then we destroy one another and destroy the world. Then we do not find life but act in the interests of death. All this is recounted with immortal images in the history of the original fall of man and the expulsion of man from the earthly Paradise.

Dear brothers and sisters, if we sincerely reflect about ourselves and our history, we have to say that with this narrative is described not only the history of the beginning but the history of all times, and that we all carry within us a drop of the poison of that way of thinking, illustrated by the images in the Book of Genesis.

We call this drop of poison “original sin”. Precisely on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, we have a lurking suspicion that a person who does not sin must really be basically boring and that something is missing from his life:  the dramatic dimension of being autonomous; that the freedom to say no, to descend into the shadows of sin and to want to do things on one’s own is part of being truly human; that only then can we make the most of all the vastness and depth of our being men and women, of being truly ourselves; that we should put this freedom to the test, even in opposition to God, in order to become, in reality, fully ourselves.

In a word, we think that evil is basically good, we think that we need it, at least a little, in order to experience the fullness of being. We think that Mephistopheles – the tempter – is right when he says he is the power “that always wants evil and always does good” (J.W. von Goethe, Faust I, 3). We think that a little bargaining with evil, keeping for oneself a little freedom against God, is basically a good thing, perhaps even necessary.

If we look, however, at the world that surrounds us we can see that this is not so; in other words, that evil is always poisonous, does not uplift human beings but degrades and humiliates them. It does not make them any the greater, purer or wealthier, but harms and belittles them.

This is something we should indeed learn on the day of the Immaculate Conception:  the person who abandons himself totally in God’s hands does not become God’s puppet, a boring “yes man”; he does not lose his freedom. Only the person who entrusts himself totally to God finds true freedom, the great, creative immensity of the freedom of good.

The person who turns to God does not become smaller but greater, for through God and with God he becomes great, he becomes divine, he becomes truly himself. The person who puts himself in God’s hands does not distance himself from others, withdrawing into his private salvation; on the contrary, it is only then that his heart truly awakens and he becomes a sensitive, hence, benevolent and open person.

The closer a person is to God, the closer he is to people. We see this in Mary. The fact that she is totally with God is the reason why she is so close to human beings.

For this reason she can be the Mother of every consolation and every help, a Mother whom anyone can dare to address in any kind of need in weakness and in sin, for she has understanding for everything and is for everyone the open power of creative goodness.

In her, God has impressed his own image, the image of the One who follows the lost sheep even up into the mountains and among the briars and thornbushes of the sins of this world, letting himself be spiked by the crown of thorns of these sins in order to take the sheep on his shoulders and bring it home.

As a merciful Mother, Mary is the anticipated figure and everlasting portrait of the Son. Thus, we see that the image of the Sorrowful Virgin, of the Mother who shares her suffering and her love, is also a true image of the Immaculate Conception. Her heart was enlarged by being and feeling together with God. In her, God’s goodness came very close to us.

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Here is the background on the devotion.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI from 2008:

Yesterday we celebrated the Cross of Christ, the instrument of our salvation, which reveals the mercy of our God in all its fullness. The Cross is truly the place where God’s compassion for our world is perfectly manifested. Today, as we celebrate the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, we contemplate Mary sharing her Son’s compassion for sinners. As Saint Bernard declares, the Mother of Christ entered into the Passion of her Son through her compassion (cf. Homily for Sunday in the Octave of the Assumption). At the foot of the Cross, the prophecy of Simeon is fulfilled: her mother’s heart is pierced through (cf. Lk 2:35) by the torment inflicted on the Innocent One born of her flesh. Just as Jesus cried (cf. Jn 11:35), so too Mary certainly cried over the tortured body of her Son. Her self-restraint, however, prevents us from plumbing the depths of her grief; the full extent of her suffering is merely suggested by the traditional symbol of the seven swords. As in the case of her Son Jesus, one might say that she too was led to perfection through this suffering (cf. Heb 2:10), so as to make her capable of receiving the new spiritual mission that her Son entrusts to her immediately before “giving up his spirit” (cf. Jn 19:30): that of becoming the mother of Christ in his members. In that hour, through the figure of the beloved disciple, Jesus presents each of his disciples to his Mother when he says to her: Behold your Son (cf. Jn 19:26-27).

Today Mary dwells in the joy and the glory of the Resurrection. The tears shed at the foot of the Cross have been transformed into a smile which nothing can wipe away, even as her maternal compassion towards us remains unchanged. The intervention of the Virgin Mary in offering succour throughout history testifies to this, and does not cease to call forth, in the people of God, an unshakable confidence in her: the Memorare prayer expresses this sentiment very well. Mary loves each of her children, giving particular attention to those who, like her Son at the hour of his Passion, are prey to suffering; she loves them quite simply because they are her children, according to the will of Christ on the Cross.

And from 2011, from a visit to Germany:

When Christians of all times and places turn to Mary, they are acting on the spontaneous conviction that Jesus cannot refuse his mother what she asks; and they are relying on the unshakable trust that Mary is also our mother – a mother who has experienced the greatest of all sorrows, who feels all our griefs with us and ponders in a maternal way how to overcome them. How many people down the centuries have made pilgrimages to Mary, in order to find comfort and strength before the image of the Mother of Sorrows, as here at Etzelsbach!

Let us look upon her likeness: a woman of middle age, her eyelids heavy with much weeping, gazing pensively into the distance, as if meditating in her heart upon everything that had happened. On her knees rests the lifeless body of her son, she holds him gently and lovingly, like a precious gift. We see the marks of the crucifixion on his bare flesh. The left arm of the corpse is pointing straight down. Perhaps this sculpture of the Pietà, like so many others, was originally placed above an altar. The crucified Jesus would then be pointing with his outstretched arm to what was taking place on the altar, where the holy sacrifice that he had accomplished becomes present in the Eucharist.

A particular feature of the holy image of Etzelsbach is the position of Our Lord’s body. In most representations of the Pietà, the dead Jesus is lying with his head facing left, so that the observer can see the wounded side of the Crucified Lord. Here in Etzelsbach, however, the wounded side is concealed, because the body is facing the other way. It seems to me that a deep meaning lies hidden in this representation, that only becomes apparent through silent contemplation: in the Etzelsbach image, the hearts of Jesus and his mother are turned to one another; the hearts come close to each other. They exchange their love. We know that the heart is also the seat of the deepest affection and the most intimate compassion. In Mary’s heart there is room for the love that her divine Son wants to bestow upon the world.

Resources related to today’s feast, because they are about Mary:

Pray the Rosary 

and

my now-free e-book, Mary and the Christian Life

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