Devotion to Mary can help us maintain our focus on Advent season

      During Advent, the Church encourages us to reflect upon and invoke the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary who always points us in the direction of her Son, Jesus. Under what title do you prefer to invoke Our Lady’s intercession? Through which prayer do you prefer to honor Our Lady and invoke her aid?

      The day after his election as pope, Pope Francis, without fanfare or advance notice, traveled from the Vatican to the Basilica of St. Mary Major to dedicate his papacy to Our Lady under her title “Salus Populo Romani” (Help of the Roman People). Pope Francis seeks her intercession at that shrine before each of his foreign trips.

      Pope Francis, like Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II, travels to the center of Rome at the foot of the Spanish Steps to offer a bouquet of roses at the shrine dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of Mary on December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

      Blessed Pope Paul VI placed our efforts at evangelization under the patronage of the Mother of God using the title “Star of Evangelization.” Blessed Pope Paul VI gave an even more important title to Mary 50 years ago this past November 21 at the conclusion of the third session of the Second Vatican Council when he proclaimed Mary “Mother of the Church.” Also on that occasion, Blessed Pope Paul VI promulgated the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church and the Decrees on Ecumenism and Oriental Rites.

      St. John Paul II had a great devotion to Our Lady, especially to the rosary. He attributed his recovery from his assassination attempt to Mary. His most favorite title for Our Lady was Our Lady of Czestochowa.

      A favorite title used by Pope Francis in invoking Mary is one he discovered in Germany, “Our Lady, Untier of Knots.” He likes this prayer:  “Through your grace, your intercession, and your example, deliver us from all evil, Our Lady, and untie the knots that prevent us from being united with God, so that we, free from sin and error, may find Him in all things, and have our hearts placed in Him, and may serve Him always in our brothers and sisters. Amen.”

      As far back as I can remember, I have invoked the Mother of God through the daily recitation of the rosary, the Memorare, and the Angelus. I am particularly attentive to invoking her each day during the most solemn part of Holy Mass, the Eucharistic Prayer. While I love to honor Mary under several titles and with several hymns, the title “Mother of the Church” is my favorite. When I was appointed to the Diocese of Gary in August of 1992, I committed my ministry here to Mary, Mother of the Church.

      We are blessed to celebrate two very significant Marian feasts this week:  the Immaculate Conception on Monday, a holy day of obligation, and Our Lady of Guadalupe on Friday.

      Mary is patroness of the United States under her title of the Immaculate Conception. To prepare her to be the dwelling place for God, the Son, God preserved Mary from the stain of Adam’s sin by letting her share beforehand in the merits of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Through the action of the Holy Spirit, Mary was full of grace from the moment of her conception. She was completely with and for God. Mary was what we hope to be at the end of our journey of faith. We reflect on her unique prerogative by invoking her:  “O, Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”

      At the request of the bishops of North and South America, St. John Paul II assigned Our Lady of Guadalupe as patroness of all our countries. Many of our parishes prepare for the celebration of this feast with a full novena.

      The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe recalls the apparitions of Mary to the native convert, St. Juan Diego, at the Hill of Tepeyac in the valley of Mexico City from December 9-12, 1531. In many parishes, Mary’s appearances to St. Juan are acted out. In those appearances, Mary asked St. Juan to tell the bishop to build a sacred shrine where she would console and help all those who sought her. As a sign for the bishop, the imprint of our Heavenly Lady appeared on St. Juan’s cape and from it fell fragrant flowers.

      You may recall that as Jesus was dying on the cross, He gave His mother to all of us when He said to the apostle John:  “Behold thy mother.” In Mary’s appearance to St. Juan Diego, she affirmed her desire to accompany us as a loving, compassionate mother on our continuing journey to her Son. With the Advent prophet St. John the Baptist, Mary points us to Jesus. She asks us to accept her Son, the gift of God, our Father, as our Lord and Savior.

      May our daily devotion to Mary during these Advent weeks keep us focused on the real purpose of Advent – to acknowledge in our own poverty and lowliness that Jesus alone can fulfill the deepest desires of our hearts.

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