By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Feb 6, 2016)
This is the fourth column in our series, a response to the question about why we call Mary "Mother of Mercy." (Read part one, part two, and part three.)
By now, after three installments of this column, some of my readers may be wondering just how many reasons we can find for rejoicing in Mary's title, "Mother of Mercy"! Well, the answer is, no doubt: "more than I can name, and more than I have the wisdom even to appreciate." But I promised to restrict myself to the four biggest ones that I could think of. So here is the forth and final reason.
Mary is "Mother of Mercy" because from heaven she continues to come to our aid. By her tender intercession for us, she looks after our needs and nurtures the Christ-life within us, from now until the hour of death.
Mary's continuing role as our Mother of Mercy was actually foreshadowed at the time of the Annunciation. Remember how the angel Gabriel promised that Mary's Son would reign forever as the Messiah? The angel said:
He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there will be no end. (Lk 1:32-33)
Now, if Mary's Son was to inherit an everlasting kingdom, this implies that Mary was to become literally "Queen-Mother" of His Kingdom, for we know for a fact that in ancient Israel, the mother of a king usually received the title and role of "Queen-Mother." As the theologian Dr. Mark Miravalle has pointed out:
Because the kings of Israel normally had numerous wives, the mother of the king was chosen to be queen of the kingdom, due to her singular familial relationship with the king. The "Gabirah" or "Great Lady" of the kingdom assisted the king in the ruling of the kingdom in her noble office as the queen mother (cf. 2 Kings 11:3, 1 Kings 2:19; 1 Kings 15:9-13; Jer 13:18-20).
The office and authority of the queen mother in her close relationship with the king made her the strongest "advocate" to the king for the people of the kingdom ... no one had more intercessory power to the king than the queen mother, who at times sat enthroned at the right side of the king (cf. 1 Kings 2:19-20). The queen mother also had the function of "counselor" to the king in regards to matters of the kingdom (Prov 31:8-9; 2 Chr 22:2-4) The Old Testament image and role of the queen mother, the "Great Lady," as advocate to the king for the people of the kingdom prophetically foreshadows the role of the great Queen Mother and Lady of the New Testament. For it is Mary of Nazareth who becomes the Queen and Mother in the Kingdom of God, as the Mother of Christ, King of All Nations. (Introduction to Mary, Queenship Press)
It was at the foot of the Cross, however, that Mary explicitly received her role as our everlasting Mother of Mercy. Jesus said to her from the Cross, "Woman, behold thy Son," and then, turning to His beloved disciple St. John, "Son, behold thy mother" (Jn 19:25-27). According to the ancient Fathers of the Church, all Christian believers were prefigured in this beloved disciple who stood beneath the Cross, and to whom Jesus said "Behold thy Mother." Thus, Mary was given to be not only St. John's mother, but our mother, too, the mother of all the faithful disciples of Christ. What could this mean for us, if it did not mean, principally, that she was meant to be our Mother in Heaven, who ever comes to our aid by her loving intercessions on our behalf? If she is willing to intercede for us and pray for us, and open the door (so to speak) to all the graces that Christ wants to shower upon us, then she is indeed our "Mother of Mercy" — for all of God's graces are acts of His Divine Mercy to weak and sinful creatures such as we all are. In short, by her maternal intercession and compassion for us, Mary opens the floodgates to all the merciful love that God wants to pour out upon the world.
The Second Vatican Council summed up for us this role of Mary, Mother of Mercy, which the Council Father wrote these words in the Council document entitled Lumen Gentium (no. 62):
The motherhood of Mary in the order of grace lasts without interruption from the consent which she faithfully gave at the annunciation, and which she sustained without hesitation under the cross until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. In fact, being assumed into heaven, she has not laid aside this office of salvation, but by her manifold intercession, she continues to obtain for us the graces of eternal salvation. By her maternal charity, she takes care of the brethren of her Son who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led into their blessed home.
Now, let us move off of the theological level, and bring this whole discussion "down to earth."
What do we think of when we think of a "mother?" A mother is someone who cares for us tenderly, someone we can run to whenever we are hurt or sad, someone in whom we can always find understanding and compassion. A mother is always ready to comfort us, to care for our needs, to help us go on, and even to help us grow up.
If Mary Immaculate is our Mother of tender compassion, therefore, she must be a mother who understands all our sorrows because her own life was full of them. The Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy's first Cenacle Formation Manual tells us:
Mary's life was full of contradictions. She carried the Son of God in her womb and had many joys, but also many sorrows. Reflecting on her sorrows, we recall the prophecy of Simeon (Lk 2:34-35), the flight into Egypt (Matt 2:13-14), the loss of Jesus in the Temple (Lk 2:43-45), the meeting of Jesus and Mary on the Way of the Cross, the crucifixion (Jn 19:25-27), the taking down of the body of Jesus from the Cross, and the burial of Jesus. Each of these must have pierced her heart like a sharp sword, and inflicted pain that only a loving mother could understand.
When speaking to St. Faustina on suffering and humility, Our Lady told her "Know my daughter, that although I was raised to the dignity of the Mother of God, seven swords of pain pierced my heart" (entry 786). On another occasion, Our Lady told her, "I know how much you suffer, but do not be afraid. I share with you your suffering, and I shall always do so (entry 25). Thus, Mary, "full of grace," is the Mother who understands our joys, our sorrows, and our true needs better than anyone.
Saint Maria Faustina knew all this very well. That is why she placed her complete trust in Mary right from the beginning: a childlike trust that knew no bounds. In the early pages of her Diary, for example, she consecrated her whole being to Mary, entrusting her life to Mary with these words (entry 79):
O Mary, my Mother and my Lady, I offer You my soul, my body, my life and my death, And all that will follow it. I place everything in Your hands.
Later, when St. Faustina went to Czestochowa to pray there before the great miraculous icon of Our Lady, she wrote (entry 260):
The Mother of God told me many things. I entrusted my perpetual vows to her. I felt that I was her child and she was my Mother. She did not refuse any of my requests.
Toward the end of Faustina's life, Mary encouraged her again to place complete childlike trust in her by saying to her (entry 1414): "My daughter, at God's command I am to be in a special and exclusive way your Mother; but I desire that you too, in a special way be My child."
Saint Faustina's childlike trust in Mary was especially evident in the times of great suffering. It was then, above all, that she placed herself in the arms of her Mother Mary, and entrusted herself completely to Mary's tender care and heavenly intercession. In Diary entry 315, for example, Faustina prayed:
Mother of God, Your soul was plunged into a sea of bitterness; look upon Your child and teach her to suffer and to love while suffering. Fortify my soul that pain may not break it. Mother of grace, teach me to live by [the power of] God.
As her physical and spiritual sufferings increased St. Faustina again entrusted herself to the care of the Mother of God, and fortified herself by meditating on Mary's own patience and courage (entry 915).
O Mary, today a terrible sword has pierced Your holy soul. Except for God, no one knows of Your suffering. Your soul does not break; it is brave because it is with Jesus. Sweet mother, unite my soul to Jesus, because it is only then that I will be able to endure all trials and tribulations, and only in union with Jesus will my little sacrifice be pleasing to God. Sweetest Mother, continue to teach me about the interior life. May the sword of suffering never break me. O pure Virgin, pour courage into my heart and guide it.
Whether in times of sorrow or of joy, the Blessed Virgin Mary was the one St. Faustina always turned to, again and again, to help her live in close union with Jesus Christ. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Mother of God often appeared to St. Faustina or spoke to her right before Holy Communion, as if Mary's special office was to prepare Faustina for receiving Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament (e.g., entries 449, 597, 608, 846, 1414). As she wrote in entry 840:
I am spending this time with the Mother of God, and preparing myself for the solemn coming of the Lord Jesus. The Mother of God is instructing me in the interior life of the soul with Jesus; especially in Holy Communion.
Again, this is precisely what we should expect. Jesus says to us in the Book of Revelation (3:20): "Behold. I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear My voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me." So, at each Holy Communion Jesus stands at the door of our hearts and knocks — but He will not force His way in. As He said, He waits for us to "open the door" and let Him in of our own free will. We may think to ourselves: "Of course I will let Him in; I will welcome Him and accept Him as my Lord and Savior every day of my life, and at every Holy Communion." Sadly, however, it is not as easy as that! The door of our hearts is heavy with pride, the hinges rusted by our doubts, the latches chained by our fears. It is not so easy to swing such a door open wide, even if we want to do so. And that is another reason we have such need of Mary, our Mother of Mercy. She is always ready to help us by her prayers to open the door of our hearts to her Son.
Moreover, in carrying out this role, our heavenly Mother does not reckon our sins (after all, when in the Catholic Tradition did you ever hear her called "Mother of Divine Punishment"? Of course not — she is never that!). Her role is not to be concerned with our moral debts, but with the application of the Merciful Love of her Son to our wounded souls.
To conclude our entire four-part series, let us review the four ways in which Mary is rightly called our "Mother of Mercy."
First of all, we said that Mary is Mother of Mercy because, through her Immaculate Conception, God made her the created masterpiece of His Mercy in the world.
Second, we can call her Mother of Mercy because she was the one chosen by God to be the Mother of our merciful Savior, Mercy Incarnate; she literally brought Divine Mercy Himself to birth in our world.
Third, we can call her Mother of Mercy because she showed us the way to live as disciples of Jesus Christ. Through living her 10 "evangelical virtues," she set the shining example for us of true Christian discipleship, and this was a great work of mercy she did for us all.
Finally, we said that Mary is our Mother of Mercy because, from heaven, she continues to come to our aid with her intercessory prayers, nurturing and caring for all of our needs, both of body and of soul, from now until the hour of our death.
In the end, the merciful motherhood of Mary is one of those topics for meditation that can never be exhausted. Until we join her one day in heaven, we shall never know all the ways in which Mary has been, and always will be, our Mother of Mercy!
Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy and author of Divine Mercy: A Guide from Genesis to Benedict XVI (Marian Press). Got a question? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.