Bishop’s Message

PASTOR SPEAKS – MAY 2017

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

After having celebrated Easter with intense preparation, we now begin the month of May dedicated to the Blessed Mother. While congratulating all the priests for their zeal and the way our people are motivated to lead a life worthy of their name during the Lent, I bring before you some reflections for the month of May. The Marian devotion is seen as the “remedy” for the contemporary challenges and crisis for the Church and the world today. To the crisis in the understanding of the Church, to the crisis of morality, to the crisis of woman, Pope Benedict XVI, when he was the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith had proposed a remedy, among others, “that has concretely shown its effectiveness throughout the centuries.” “A remedy whose reputation seems to be clouded today with some Catholics but one that is more than ever relevant.” It is the remedy that he designated with a short name: Mary. “It is necessary to go back to Mary if we want to return to that ‘truth about Jesus Christ,’ truth about the Church’ and the ‘truth about man’ that John Paul II proposed as a program to the whole of Christianity when, in 1979, he opened the Latin American episcopal conference in Puebla. He gave six reasons for holding on to Mary with regard to the equilibrium and completeness of the Catholic Faith.

Six Reasons For Not Forgetting Mary:  First point: “When one recognizes the place assigned to Mary by dogma and tradition, one is solidly rooted in authentic Christology. (According to Vatican II: ‘Devoutly meditating on her and contemplating her in the light of the Word made man, the Church reverently penetrates more deeply into the great mystery of the Incarnation and becomes more and more like her spouse,’ Lumen Gentium, no. 65). It is, moreover in direct service to faith in Christ—not, therefore, primarily out of devotion to the Mother—that the Church has proclaimed her Marian dogmas: first that of her perpetual virginity and divine motherhood and then, after a long period of maturation and reflection, those of her Immaculate Conception and bodily Assumption into heavenly glory. These dogmas protect the original faith in Christ as true God and true man: two natures in a single Person. They also secure the indispensable eschatological tension by pointing to Mary’s Assumption as the immortal destiny that awaits us all. And they also protect the faith—threatened today—in God the Creator, who (and this, among other things, is the meaning of the truth of the perpetual virginity of Mary, more than ever not understood today) can freely intervene also in matter. Finally, Mary, as the Council recalls: ‘having entered deeply into the history of salvation, … in a way unites in her person and re-echoes the most important mysteries of the Faith’” (Lumen Gentium, no. 65).

This first point is followed by a second: “The Mariology of the Church comprises the right relationship, the necessary integration between Scripture and tradition. The four Marian dogmas have their clear foundation in sacred Scripture. But it is there like a seed that grows and bears fruit in the life of tradition just as it finds expression in the liturgy, in the perception of the believing people and in the reflection of theology guided by the Magisterium.” Third point: “In her very person as a Jewish girl become the mother of the Messiah, Mary binds together, in a living and indissoluble way, the old and the new People of God, Israel and Christianity, synagogue and church. She is, as it were, the connecting link without which the Faith (as is happening today) runs the risk of losing its balance by either forsaking the New Testament for the Old or dispensing with the Old. In her, instead, we can live the unity of Sacred Scripture in its entirety.” Fourth point: “The correct Marian devotion guarantees to faith the coexistence of indispensable ‘reason’ with the equally indispensable ‘reasons of the heart,’ as Pascal would say. For the Church, man is neither mere reason nor mere feeling; he is the unity of these two dimensions. The head must reflect with lucidity, but the heart must be able to feel warmth: devotion to Mary (which ‘avoids every false exaggeration on the one hand, and excessive narrow-mindedness in the contemplation of the surpassing dignity of the Mother of God on the other,’ as the Council urges) thus assures the faith its full human dimension.” Continuing his synthesis, Benedict XVI lists a fifth point: “To use the very formulations of Vatican II, Mary is ‘figure,’ ‘image’ and ‘model’ of the Church. Beholding her, the Church is shielded against the aforementioned masculinized model that views her as an instrument for a program of social-political action. In Mary, as figure and archetype, the Church again finds her own visage as Mother and cannot degenerate into the complexity of a party, an organization or a pressure group in the service of human interests, even the noblest. If Mary no longer finds a place in many theologies and Ecclesiologies, the reason is obvious: they have reduced faith to an abstraction. And an abstraction does not need a Mother.” Here is the sixth and last point of this synthesis: “With her destiny, which is at one and the same time that of Virgin and of Mother, Mary continues to project a light upon that which the Creator intended for women in every age, ours included, or, better said, perhaps precisely in our time, in which— as we know—the very essence of femininity is threatened. Through her virginity and her motherhood, the mystery of woman receives a very loft y destiny from which she cannot be torn away. Mary undauntedly proclaims the Magnificat, but she is also the one who renders silence and seclusion fruitful. She is the one who does not fear to stand under the Cross, who is present at the birth of the Church. But she is also the one who, as the evangelist emphasizes more than once, ‘keeps and ponders in her heart’ that which transpires around her. As a creature of courage and of obedience she was and is still an example to which every Christian—man and woman—can and should look.”

It is the month of May, the month of Our Lady. This is the month when nature is flowering in Europe and the west and life is reborn. All around us we breathe the perfume of the resurrection, of hope and of eternity. To spread Marian devotion in the month of May is a way to awaken Christian life in the hearts of the faithful. It asks us to grow and flourish spiritually under the gaze of Our Lady. As Fr. Stefano De Fiores said, “the success of this practice in the Catholic world is confirmation that it responds to popular devotion and to the cycle of the seasons”. The tradition of celebrating the month of Mary was to be found in the colleges of the religious and in private homes until the end of the 1600s. Then it spread to parish life, and by 1800 it had become a practice in the whole Church. There is a long tradition about the Marian Devotion in the month of May. The Holy Father spoke about this tradition: “we feel in communion with every community, even with the smallest, in which the tradition of dedicating the month of May to Marian devotion is kept alive. This finds expression in very many signs: shrines, churches, works of art, and especially in the prayer of the Holy Rosary, through which the People of God give thanks for the gift s they continually receive from the Lord, through the intercession of Mary Most Holy, and entreat Him for their many needs. Prayer […] is always to make space for God: His action involves us in the history of salvation. […] Prayer helps us to recognize in Him the centre of our life, to remain in his presence, to conform our will to his, to do “whatever he tells us” (cf. Jn. 2:5), convinced of his fidelity. This is the essential task of the Church, whom he crowned as mystical bride […]. Mary is the model: it is she who holds out the mirror in which we are invited to recognize our identity. Her life is a call which brings us back to listening to and welcoming the Word through faith to give praise to the Lord, before whom our only possible greatness is that which is expressed in filial obedience: “Let it be done to me according to your word” (Lk. 1:38). Mary entrusted herself: she is the “blessed one” (cf. Lk 1:42), who is such for having believed (cf. Lk. 1:45) […] The dispositions of her heart: the listening, welcome, humility, the faithfulness, praise and waiting — correspond to the inner attitude and gestures that shape Christian life. The Church nourishes herself on them, aware that they express what God expects from her” May we never lose our devotion to Mary, a woman of strength who sustains our faith; a woman who is closely united to God and God’s work; a woman who grew in wisdom through suffering, living and sharing; a woman who communicates with words and with silence; a woman with roots planted deep and with wide horizons; a woman who generates abundant life. There are countless writers, poets and mystics who have sung her praises. This is what every one of us should do during this holy month, when many good things are happening to us: rest from our work; new initiatives for our children and youth; summer programmes of continued education; though very warm in some places we still enjoy nature’s gift of good fruit, and many happy occasions taking place during this month. Wishing you a restful month of May and a happy faith-journey with Mary, our Mother.

 + Thelagathoti J. Raja Rao, S.M.M.,
Bishop of Vijayawada