In the minds of many, the jury is still out on Pope Francis. He is very much a Jesuit, meaning that he is – to paraphrase Churchill – a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. I don’t know if Churchill was trying to flatter the Russians when this description left his lips, but I am in no way trying to denigrate the present inhabitant of the Chair of St. Peter.
Whenever he seems to push the conservatives to the brink, as he did with his radical suggestion that there are better translations than the present one for the phrase “lead us not into temptation” in the Lord’s Prayer, he then stuns them with a pronouncement like the one he promulgated earlier this week declaring a new Marian feast day.
This dodging of ideological bullets has been a hallmark of Francis’ papacy. What other pope would have the audacity to, on the one hand invite Bernie Sanders to the Vatican to discuss economics and then on the other hand declare that pro-abortion politicians are not able to receive the Eucharist? Over and over again our Holy Father evades those easy labels so beloved in a world of sound bites and the simplistic political, non-theological, division into conservatives and liberals.
Clearly Francis is endowed with some of the same traits that made his predecessors lightning rods for the hot-button issues of their day, and each of them had their detractors as well. An easy parallel can be drawn with Blessed Paul VI who stood his ground against the sexual revolution of the 1960s and reiterated the Church’s perennial teaching in Humanae Vitae, while at the same time speaking in Populorum Progressio against the worldwide economic hegemony of the first-world nations and the oligarchy of what is now known pejoratively as “the one-percent.”
So for a lot of casual observers this new Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church seems to come out of the blue. For those like me who see Francis as a man in the same mold as Blessed Paul VI this declaration is a logical step in our understanding of the relationship between Mary and the Church. Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of Sacraments, helps out those who are at a loss for an explanation of this new feast by tying together the thoughts of Paul and Francis.
Cardinal Sarah reminds the Catholic faithful that at the conclusion of the Third Session of Vatican II in 1964 Pope Paul VI declared Mary to be the Mother of the Church, adding that “the Mother of God should be further honored and invoked by the entire Christian people by this tenderest of titles.” What better way to fulfill Paul’s wish than by declaring that the Monday after Pentecost will from now on be celebrated as this memorial in the honor of our Mother?
It is fitting that the Church in Argentina already includes this celebration in their liturgical calendar. It is also fitting that this new feast has been announced during Lent, a time when our thoughts are focused on the Cross. At no time in the life of the Blessed Mother are we made more aware of her motherhood than during this time when that hill called Golgotha looms so large.
When all others had abandoned Jesus, there at the foot of the Cross stood the Blessed Mother, her sister, Mary of Magdala, and the Beloved Disciple, John the Evangelist. Of all the words spoken by our Lord throughout His ministry, among the most iconic are those spoken to Mary and John: “Woman, behold, your son…Behold, your mother.” At this moment, Jesus bestows upon Mary the title Mother of the Church.
In this case, as with so many others, Francis is not so much acting as an innovator, but is looking back to the roots of our Faith. The Latin word for ‘root’ is radix, from which we get the English word ‘radical’. To the consternation of many, Pope Francis is not a radical liberal or a radical conservative, but he is a radical Catholic, and to follow him is to be led to the root of our Faith: the Cross at Calvary where we will not only find our Lord, but also Mary, our Mother and the Mother of our Church.
Share Lessons from Loyola Hall with friends and family. Use the links below!