Like a Fragrance Filling the House: the Presence of Mary

Fr.MarkKirbyCard.jpgIt will soon be possible to obtain magnificent reproductions of the icon of the Virgin Mother, Adorer of the Eucharistic Face of Christ. This icon, inspired by the teachings of Pope John Paul II during the Year of the Eucharist, was blessed last June on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart. I will be carrying the original with me to Rome on Wednesday.

The Presence of Mary
For the Church, all the days between Christmas and Epiphany are one continuous celebration: the festival of the Advent of God among us. Through it all, there is a mysterious presence of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a nearness of the Mother, a pervasive tenderness. In today’s Gospel, the Virgin Mother is all silence, but her silence is — to borrow an image from the Gospel of Saint John — like a fragrance filling the house (cf. Jn 12:3). “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19).

On today’s Solemnity of the Mother of God, the Holy Spirit gifts the Church with a renewed consciousness of the presence of Mary. It is as if the Church, surprised by the nearness of the Mother of God on the threshold of the New Year and graced with a new awareness of just how close Mary always is, wants and needs today to acknowledge her unfailing presence. The Virgin Mother’s nearness to the Church is like her breath, warm on the face of the sleeping Infant Christ. The Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins compared this presence of the Blessed Virgin to the air we breathe:

This air, which, by life’s law,
My lung must draw and draw
Now but to breathe its praise,
Minds me in many ways
Of her who not only
Gave God’s infinity
Dwindled to infancy
Welcome in womb and breast,
Birth, milk, and all the rest
But mothers each new grace
That does now reach our race—
Mary Immaculate,
Merely a woman, yet
Whose presence, power is
Great as no goddess’s
Was deemèd, dreamèd; who
This one work has to do—
Let all God’s glory through,
God’s glory which would go
Through her and from her flow
Off, and no way but so.

Mediatrix of All Blessings
Today, Mary, the Mother of God and Mediatrix of all blessings, obtains for us the fullness of that ancient blessing given by God to Moses for Aaron and his descendants. “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you: The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace” (Num 6:24–26). It strikes me that the liturgy teaches us to pray to Mary, saying, “Turn then, most gracious Advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us.”

The Countenance of Mary
One who would contemplate the face of Christ must begin by seeking the countenance of Mary. This is no merely personal opinion of mine: it is something the Church teaches through the liturgy by making us pray in the Common of the Blessed Virgin Mary, “All the rich among the people shall entreat thy countenance” (Ps 44:13). Those who seek the countenance of the Virgin Mother will hear her good counsel, “Look to the Eucharistic Face of my Son, and be radiant, so your faces shall never be ashamed” (cf. Ps 33:5).

Before Her Image
In the eyes of the Mother, we begin to understand the mercy of the Son. In the gaze of the Mother, there is “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding” (Phil 4:7). I invite all of you on this first day of the New Year to spend some time before your favourite image of the Mother of God. Light a candle before her image, and seek there her silent, compassionate gaze. On her most pure countenance, you will discover the peace that is the gift of her Divine Child wondrously reflected as in a spotless mirror.

Restored to Childhood
The Blessed Virgin Mary is present in today’s Lesson from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. Mary is the woman to whom, through whom, in the fullness of time, the Son is sent — of Mary is born the Son, so that all of us, receiving the Child from the Mother, might, in the Child be restored to childhood, and to the embrace of the Father in the Holy Spirit.

The Heart of Mary
“But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19). Saint Luke, ever the iconographer, sets before us an image that summons us, in a particular way, to live this New Year conscious of Mary’s presence, of her nearness, of her attention not only to the Infant Christ, but also to each and every member of His Mystical Body. He shows us the Mother of Jesus contemplating His mysteries and preserving the memory of them for the sake of all in whom those same mysteries will be reproduced by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Consecration to Mary
Many years ago, my dear friend Father Jacob and I began the practice of consecrating ourselves to Mary on the first day of the year. So long as we were together we did this kneeling before the icon of the Mother of God. Although apart, we have remained faithful to doing this on New Year’s Day. It is a way of saying, “Most Holy Mother of God, we choose, I choose to live out this year in your presence, trusting in your care for me, a care in every way as tender and solicitous as the care you lavished on the Infant Christ.”

Find your own words, invent your own formula, but do this. Consecrate yourself anew to Mary. Allow yourself to be surprised by Mary. Like the Infant Christ waking from His sleep, open your eyes to gaze into the eyes of the Mother and in them, see all the tenderness of the Father, all the compassion of the Son, all the peace of the Holy Spirit.

The Rosary
This is the experience that lies at the heart of the humble prayer of the Rosary, a prayer for and for every day of the year; the conteplation of the Face of Christ with Mary. With the Mother of God this New Year can be for each of us and for the world a year of grace, a year of healing, a year of peace for you. Listen again to the poet:

I say that we are wound
with mercy round and round
As if with air: the same
Is Mary, more by name.
She, wild web, wondrous robe,
Mantles the guilty globe,
Since God has let her dispense
Her prayers his providence:
Nay, more than almoner,
The sweet alms’ self is her
And men are meant to share
Her life as life does air.

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