Where There's Suffering, There's Mary
A Reflection for the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes
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STEUBENVILLE, Ohio, FEB. 10, 2010 (Zenit.org).- On Feb. 11, 1858, the Immaculate One appeared to a true anawim, a "blessed poor of the Lord" from the mountain town of Lourdes -- 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous.
Beside the River Gave in the grotto of Massabielle, "Aquero" or "that One" -- as Bernadette first referred to her in her local patois dialect -- appeared with rosary in hand to convey a global message of prayer and penance in reparation to God for sin and for the conversion of sinners.
After the instruction by the Lady to dig for water, which caused a stream from which a supernatural generosity of miracles would flow down to our own day, Bernadette received the great Marian self-revelation which would awe the faithful and bewilder the theologian: "I am the Immaculate Conception."
The Marian dogma of the Immaculate Conception had been solemnly defined some four years earlier by Blessed Pius IX, but could it correctly be stated that Mary indeed was the Immaculate Conception, rather than establishing that she was conceived without original sin, as did the Vicar of Christ?
St. Maximilian Kolbe would later explain that for the Mother of Jesus to say "I am the Immaculate Conception" conveys that Mary is mysteriously in her very essence full of grace and free from sin. She is a new creation, the perfect creation of the Father, so as to be the immaculate Mother of God, and also to be the faithful co-redeemer with her Son the Redeemer.
Karol Cardinal Wojtyla preached powerfully on this theme in a Dec. 8, 1973, homily on the Immaculate Conception. The future John Paul II reminded his congregation at Cracow: "Mary was the Co-redemptrix, because she was first the Immaculate Conception."
In his Feb. 11, 2008, World Day of the Sick message, Pope Benedict XVI refers to Mary's unique co-redemptive suffering with Jesus as the foundation for her maternal compassion for "all those who are in affliction": "For this reason, Mary is a model of total self-abandonment to God's will: she received in her heart the eternal Word and she conceived it in her virginal womb; she trusted in God and, with her soul pierced by a sword (cf. Lk 2:35), she did not hesitate to share the Passion of her Son, renewing on Calvary at the foot of the Cross her 'yes' of the Annunciation. [...]
"Associated with the Sacrifice of Christ, Mary, Mater Dolorosa, who at the foot of the Cross suffers with her divine Son, is felt to be especially near by the Christian community, which gathers around its suffering members who bear the signs of the passion of the Lord. Mary suffers with those who are in affliction, with them she hopes, and she is their comfort, supporting them with her maternal help.
"And is it not perhaps true that the spiritual experience of very many sick people leads us to understand increasingly that "the Divine Redeemer wishes to penetrate the soul of every sufferer through the heart of his holy Mother, the first and the most exalted of all the redeemed?"
Not only does Our Lady bring to the sick a perfect human example of Christian redemptive suffering, but the Holy Father says further that "Mary suffers with those who are in affliction."
A mother's heart is not merely empathetic to the sufferings of her children, but through the very nature and necessity of Christian love, she enters into their sufferings, which brings forth the extraordinary fruit that comes only from the sacrificial experience of shared and united human suffering.
Javier Cardinal Lozano Barragán, president of the Pontifical Council on Health Care Ministry and main celebrant at the liturgical celebration for the 2008 World Day for the Sick at St. Peter's Basilica, re-echoed during his homily the sentiments of Benedict XVI. In regards to our sufferings in relation to Our Lady, he said, "our suffering is also her suffering": "In order to respond to the full love of the cross, we must pronounce an unreserved 'yes' to the mysterious plan of the Redeemer, a 'yes' that means fullness of Love.
"This complete 'yes' of love is the Immaculate Conception of our dear Mother, Mary, who participated on Calvary as the co-redemptrix with the Savior. [...] Christ on the cross suffered all the pains that his Most Holy Mother suffered. And she in Christ suffers all our pains, she assumes them and knows how to commiserate with us. Our suffering is also her suffering."
The intercessory power of Our Lady of Lourdes is not limited to the geographical confines of a French hamlet in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Where there is suffering and sickness, there is the Mother, hovering in wait to mediate graces of consolation, healing, and courage, all in conformity to the perfect and generous will of the Heavenly Father. She waits only for our fiat in faith, to be freely welcomed into our homes, into our hearts, as she was by the disciple who Jesus loved (John 19:27), to bring to each one of us extraordinary healing graces of the Crucified Christ.
Whatever our present ailment or cross may be, Our Lady of Lourdes is the universal Mediatrix of healing and persevering grace, universally for all humanity, and personally for you and for me.
Where there is suffering and sickness, there is the Mother hovering in wait to mediate graces of consolation, healing , and courage according to the Father's perfect will, contingent only upon our fiat to her. Whatever the present ailment or cross may be, Our Lady of Lourdes is the universal Mediatrix of healing grace and peace, universally for all humanity, and personally for you.
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Mark Miravalle is a professor of theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville. Author of more than a dozen books on Mariology, and editor of "Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons," he wrote "The Seven Sorrows of China" in 2007. He is married and has eight children.