Bishop of Lake Charles
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Lake Charles, Louisiana
May 6, 2012
Fifth Sunday of Easter
“The church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was at peace. It was being built up and walked in the fear of the Lord, and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit it grew in numbers.” Acts 9:31
Entering the month of May, my thoughts cannot help but turn to Mary. Once on a trip to Italy I came across a beautiful, yet small church in the countryside overlooking a lake called Lake Orta. The church sat on the slope of a hillside that had been at one time the crater of a volcano. Now overgrown with trees, lush foliage, and gorgeous flowering gardens, the church enjoyed a privileged view and setting. The church was a small site for pilgrimage built in the 17th century to commemorate an apparition of our Lady to a young blind shepherdess. The Blessed Mother appeared to her in the branches of a tree. Her blindness was cured, and the spot became a place of pilgrimage named after the fruit of the tree in which Mary appeared, thus its name, Our Lady of the Wild Plum (Sanctuario della Madonna della Bocciola). Only in the Catholic world, could something so charming and so beautiful have taken place.
The tradition of honoring Mary, as Mother and Queen, has its origins in the Old Testament. The Mother of the King is called “the great lady,” as when King Solomon’s mother goes to meet him to ask a favor. The text reads, “The king stood to meet her and paid her homage. Then he sat down upon his throne, and a throne was provided for the king’s mother” (I Kings 2:19). Even the king pays his mother respect. This image of the honored mother is so strong that the Sacred Scriptures use it to describe God’s love. The prophet Isaiah will write, “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you” (Isaiah 49:15). The attributes of a mother are applied even to the holy city of Jerusalem, “a city that is a mother in Israel,” as Second Samuel describes it (II Samuel 20:19). Our Lady is the mother of the king, a unique intercessor, and the impression she leaves is so strong that it influenced even the imagination of the early Church.
When the Book of Revelation reveals the Church giving birth, the sacred writer under divine inspiration turns to the image of the mother. “A great sign appeared in the sky,” Revelation reads, “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Revelation 12:1). The woman is about to give birth, but a dragon stands ready “to devour her child.” God sweeps up her child and protects the woman by hiding her away in safety. How can a Catholic miss the symbolism?
The Church is a mother giving birth to her children, just as Jerusalem was the mother of Israel. The devil seeks to devour, but God protects those who are His own and will not allow His Church to be destroyed. Mary is the image of that Church, because if the Church is the Body of Christ, as St. Paul describes her, then Mary gives birth to it in a mystical symbolism. Every virtue, every truth, every dignity that we admire in Christ is brought into the world and made possible by a Mother’s love. It is Mary that prompts Christ’s first miracle when she says at Cana, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). She ignites the beginning of Christ’s work and mission, as the Church will continue that work. For this reason, Our Lady says, “from now on will all ages call me blessed” (Luke 1:48). Christ from the cross itself will call her mother, when He gives her to St. John and says, “Behold, your mother” (John 19:27). And she, like the mother she was and remains, will be present at the birth of the Church at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles gathered “together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus” (Acts 1:14). She is a mother to the end.
If Jesus is a “true vine” and we are the branches, then the relationship between Jesus and us is living. It is an organic relationship. It is like a body where Jesus is the head and we are the members. It is like a family where God is the Father, Jesus a Brother, and Mary a Mother. If the sap of life is to run through the vine into branches, then there must be a loving union, and what more loving union can there be than the union of a mother with her children. To affirm that Mary is our Mother is to say that we are the spiritual descendents of the Beloved Disciple at the foot of the cross. To call Mary “Our Lady” is to say that we are one with her Son in His Body the Church. Whether we speak of vine or body, father or mother, we speak of union, never separation. Mary is the very image of everything a mother should be, whether that mother is the mother of a family or the Church.
I think back on that idyllic spot where Our Lady had appeared. Who was the mother to the blind shepherd girl? The Lady she saw in the branches of a tree, Our Lady of the Wild Plum.