Monday, December 23, 2013

Pope Francis, the Blessed Mother and the Lesson of Silence

Pope Francis can never be accused of not getting people's attention.  He has done it once again with a statement regarding the Blessed Mother, and many of the traditional blogs have responded by calling the Pope "Protestant" or even "blasphemer".

Ebougis, in his continuing swipes against Pope Francis, tells us that "the Holy Father has decided to put a little arsenic in the collective egg nog." Ebougis links to The Eponymous Flower, who asks, "Is Pope Francis forming Marian theology? Mary not as co-redeemer, but as a rebel?" offered an article entitled, "Pope Francis Ignites Another Controversy?" One Catholic forum website entitled, "Suscipe Domine" had a thread entitled, "Pope Francis Insults Mary" with such comments as "In St. Nicholas fashion, is it ok if I imagine St. Louis de Montfort decking our Pope?

John Vennari of Catholic Family News was not to be left behind. He wrote an article entitled, "Pope Francis' Protestant Meditation On Our Lady."  Mr. Vennari states, "This meditation puts the Queen of Prophets on the same level as the blind Pharisees who had no idea of what Our Lord was talking about when Jesus told them He was establishing His Kingdom."  He goes on to write that  Pope Francis "continually utters confusing statements that leave Catholics reeling the world over. The above statement about Our Lady is certainly one of the most troublesome."

What is all the consternation about? Read on.

The Holy Father was reflecting on the Gospel from Friday, December 20, which was the story of the Annunciation of the Angel Gabriel to our Blessed Mother. Pope Francis talked about how important silence is in our spiritual lives, and how the Blessed Mother lived her life in silence. It is in the silence that we experience the great mystery of God.  God does not work in loud fanfare, but in silence, in the depths our hearts.  From Vatican Radio:
Only silence guards the mystery of the journey that a person walks with God, said Pope Francis in his homily at Mass on Friday morning at the Casa Santa Marta. May the Lord, the Pope added, give us “the grace to love the silence”, which needs to be guarded from all publicity.
In the history of salvation, neither in the clamour nor in the blatant, but the shadows and the silence are the places in which God chose to reveal himself to humankind.
The imperceptible reality from which his mystery, from time to time, took visible form, took flesh. The Pope’s reflections were inspired by the Annunciation, which was today’s Gospel reading, in particular the passage in which the angel tells Mary that the power of the Most High would “overshadow” her. The shadow, which has almost the same quality as the cloud, with which God protected the Jews in the desert, the Pope said.
“The Lord always took care of the mystery and hid the mystery. He did not publicize the mystery. A mystery that publicizes itself is not Christian; it is not the mystery of God: it is a fake mystery! And this is what happened to Our Lady, when she received her Son: the mystery of her virginal motherhood is hidden. It is hidden her whole life! And she knew it. This shadow of God in our lives helps us to discover our own mystery: the mystery of our encounter with the Lord, our mystery of our life’s journey with the Lord.
“Each of us,” affirmed the Pope, “knows how mysteriously the Lord works in our hearts, in our souls.” And what is “the cloud, the power, the way the Holy Spirit covers our mystery?”
“This cloud in us, in our lives is called silence: the silence is exactly the cloud that covers the mystery of our relationship with the Lord, of our holiness and of our sins. This mystery that we cannot explain. But when there is no silence in our lives, the mystery is lost, it goes away. Guarding the mystery with silence! That is the cloud, that is the power of God for us, that is the strength of the Holy Spirit.

The Mother of Jesus was the perfect icon of silence. From the proclamation of her exceptional maternity at Calvary. The Pope said he thinks about “how many times she remained quiet and how many times she did not say that which she felt in order to guard the mystery of her relationship with her Son,” up until the most raw silence “at the foot of the cross”.
These statements of Pope Francis are borne out in Luke 2:19. In telling the story of the birth of Christ and all of the miraculous events surrounding this birth, Luke tells us, "But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

When Mary and Joseph brought the baby Jesus to the temple to present Him to the Lord, the holy Simeon blessed the Child and made the great pronouncement that "my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel". However, Luke tells us that "The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him." Neither Mary nor Joseph understood the full import of Simeon's words, but they "marveled", pondering the words of Simeon in silence.

The only time we come even close to hearing Mary's commentary on the events of her Son's life of which she was an intimate part is when, after three days of not knowing where Jesus was, Mary found Him at the temple and said, to him, "Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you." (Luke 2:48). Our Blessed Mother was experiencing her own Dark Night of the Soul, and she wanted to know why her Son caused her so much angst. His response, "Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?" gave no light to Mary's understanding, as scripture tells us: "But they [Joseph and Mary] did not understand what he was saying to them." (Luke 2:41-50). But as the Pope tells us, Mary remained "the perfect icon of silence".

These few scriptures make it evident that our Blessed Mother did not always, and in fact, may have never had a complete understanding of the events in her and her Son's life right up to and including the events at Calvary.  Continuing on with the words of Pope Francis:
“The Gospel does not tell us anything: if she spoke a word or not… She was silent, but in her heart, how many things told the Lord! ‘You, that day, this and the other that we read, you had told me that he would be great, you had told me that you would have given him the throne of David, his forefather, that he would have reigned forever and now I see him there!’ Our Lady was human! And perhaps she even had the desire to say: ‘Lies! I was deceived!’ John Paul II would say this, speaking about Our Lady in that moment. But she, with her silence, hid the mystery that she did not understand and with this silence allowed for this mystery to grow and blossom in hope.”
Is it really possible that Mary, the sinless Mother of God, could have been tempted to accuse God of deceiving her?  Has Pope Francis, as so many accuse him, stepped over the line with this statement?

Father Frederick Faber wrote a wonderful book which I highly recommend entitled, "The Foot of the Cross: or, The Sorrows of Mary" which explores the tremendous suffering Our Lady endured during her lifetime.  As Father Faber writes, "When we think how we can best describe our Lady's dolours, it gradually dawns on us that they are in fact indescribable."

Father Faber goes on to state:  "Whatever cruelty was exercised upon the bodies of the martyrs was light, or rather it was nothing, compared to the cruelty of Mary's passion.  St. Bernardine of Siena says that so great was the dolour of the Blessed Virgin that if it was subdivided and parceled out among all creatures capable of suffering, they would perish instantly"  and "Even in respect of corporal anguish Mary exceeded the martyrs.  Her whole being was drenched with bitterness.  The swords in her soul reached to every nerve and fibre in he frame, and we can hardly doubt but that her sinless body with its exquisite perfections was delicately framed for suffering beyond all others, but that of her Son."

Father Faber himself makes a pretty controversial statement in the following:  "Jesus, the joy of the martyrs, is the executioner of His Mother.  Twice over to say the least, if not a third time also, did He crucify her, once by His Human Nature, once by His Divine, if indeed Body and Soul did not make two crucifixions from the Human Nature only.  No martyrdom was ever like to this."   Father Faber calls Jesus the executioner of His Mother.  Can you imagine the uproar that would result if Pope Francis said this?

Outside of Jesus Christ, Mary was the most perfect human who ever lived, the only sinless human.  But the fact remains that she was human.  It is only logical that because she was human, she was subject to temptation, just as Jesus Himself was subject to temptation:  "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet he did not sin."  (Hebrews 4:15)  If Jesus was subject to temptation, why is it so controversial to believe that His Mother was also subject to temptation (yet without sin), especially in the incredible suffering she endured at Calvary along with her Son?

Those who take offense at Pope Francis' statement do so by saying that Mary had foreknowledge of the events at Calvary, so how could she possibly have been tempted to accuse God of lying?  (And please note, the Pope does not say or hint in any way that Mary gave into such a temptation.)  Jesus Christ, unlike His Mother, had complete and total understanding of the events in His Life, and knew even better than she did how vital Calvary was to the salvation of mankind.  Yet in the Garden of Gethsemane, He actually asked the Father to remove the cup of suffering.  And one of His last statements from the Cross was, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"  Did this mean that Jesus did not know what was going to happen when He was dying? That is absurd.

Pope Francis has given us a tremendous lesson that far too many are missing because of their judgmental attitude.  Pope Francis is telling us that our human side will always be subject to temptation and to rebellion.  The devil will always be whispering in our ears, just as He did with Our Lord and our Blessed Mother.  How do we not give in to these temptations?

Pope Francis tells us the best way to combat this is to remain in silence with God, just as Mary did. When Mary was confronted with events or circumstances she did not understand, she dealt with them in silence, taking them to God and letting Him sort it out.  "But she, with her silence, hid the mystery that she did not understand and with this silence allowed for this mystery to grow and blossom in hope." She "pondered in her heart."  Silence with God draws us close to him and reveals what we do not understand.  

Today, almost no one "ponders in their heart." They just go to the Internet and start accusing those with whom they disagree of being bad Catholics, heretics, etc., not hesitating even if that person they are accusing is the Vicar of Christ. They condemn anyone who disagrees with them, and as a result, they never come to any real understanding. How much better would it be if we took this in silence to the Lord and "allow the mystery to grow and blossom in hope"?

Yes, it is very possible that Mary was tempted when at the foot of the Cross.  If she was not actually tempted then, then certainly there was other times, but we know that she never once gave into any temptation.  Our Blessed Mother shows us the way to deal with the sometimes conflicting, confusing circumstances in our lives, when nothing seems to make sense and evil seems to be defeating good.  As Pope Francis explains, Mary "hid the mystery that she did not understand and with this silence allowed for this mystery to grow and blossom in hope."  

In order to hear God in our lives, in order to understand His Mystery, we must be quiet, we must withdraw into silence. Our Lord will never push His way into our lives. We, like our Blessed Mother, must always be saying "Yes" to Him, and we do this best when we are silent and allow the great mystery of God into our lives.

From Pope Francis:
“Silence is that which guards the mystery,” for which the mystery “of our relationship with God, of our journey, of our salvation cannot be… publicized,” the Pope repeated.
“May the Lord give all of us the grace to love the silence, to seek him and to have a heart that is guarded by the cloud of silence,” he said.

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