Mary, Mother of Holy Hope
Some years back, Sr. Catherine Marie CP delivered the following Keynote Address to our Diocesan Marian Congress, which had as its theme, "Mary, Mother of Hope."
Bishop McRaith, all of our Fathers, Brothers, Sisters and Catholic laity—I bring you greetings and prayers from the Passionist Nuns of Whitesville. Our Sisters back home are with us in prayer today as we honor Our Blessed Mother under the title of Mother of Divine Hope, or as she is called in the Passionist community, Our Mother of Holy Hope.
Why this choice is timely
I think that the choice of this year’s Marian title is very providential and Spirit led. For all around us, temptations against hope abound. So much in our world seems out of control, and falling apart, while so many people seem to be plunging more and more into all manner of sin and evil. After reading the newspaper or watching news on TV, or when we ourselves are faced with personal or family trials, we can find ourselves feeling very hopeless and overwhelmed. What can ever remedy the situation? What can ever stop the spread of evil in our world today? When this happens to us–when we find ourselves feeling hopeless and worried---it is so important not to just stop there. It is so important that we take all our personal and family problems, as well as the sin and needs of the whole world, to God in prayer in union with the Heart of Mary. It is so important that with Mary our Mother we cross over the threshold of hope, into a prayerful attitude of hope in God. For it’s precisely in hopeless places and in hopeless situations that God wills to glorify His mercy, just like on Calvary.
Jesus told us in the Gospel: "Fear is useless; what is needed is trust." Yes, what is so needed today is a sustained prayer of hope. Pope John Paul the Great told the Church that there are never any grounds for losing hope. Never–no matter how serious our personal situations, our family trials, no matter how much sin and evil spread throughout the world–there are never any grounds for losing divine hope!
Today as we sit down together in the school of Mary, we look to her to teach us anew how to be for our times, men and women of steadfast and persevering hope in God.
So, today, let’s reflect first of all on the virtue of hope itself. Then we’ll take a look at Mary’s hope on Calvary. And finally we’ll try to draw out some lessons for our own lives from the two images of Our Mother of Divine Hope that we have on our handouts.
So we ask---what is Hope??
Well, we find a simple definition in the Catholic Catechism. In #1817 we read: "hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the Holy Spirit." There is so much to be meditated on and to be lived in that simple definition.
We might ask ourselves—how much do I truly desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as my happiness?? How often do I lift my desires away from the passing things of this world and set them on heaven? When I forget to keep heaven in view, when I forget that all of life is a pilgrimage to my Father’s house in heaven, I can find myself running around in circles of frustration, looking for the kind of satisfaction and fulfillment that can be found ultimately only in God.
I often think that we Christians need to have a kind of double vision. What I mean by this double vision is that we need to be able to see through the trials and sufferings of life to the everlasting joy God has prepared for those who love Him. Today, we need to be people who can see through the suffering of our times to eternal happiness.
Eternal happiness comes only through the cross. In chapter 14 of Acts we read that "we must undergo many trials if we are to enter into the reign of God." (Acts 14:22) Those many trials, when accepted with trust, will bring us into that imperishable inheritance St. Peter says is waiting for us in heaven. It is the virtue of hope that anchors us to heaven. The ancient Christian symbol for hope is, in fact, an anchor. With divine hope in our hearts, we are truly anchored to heaven, while we struggle through the storms of life on earth. So, hope is that wonderful Christian virtue that keeps heaven before us as we go through the trials of life.
The Catholic Catechism goes on to say that hope enables us to place our trust in the promises of Christ; and not to rely upon our own strength, but upon the help of the Holy Spirit. The Angel Gabriel told Mary at the Annunciation, "With God, all things are possible."
If we try to rely only on our own strength and intelligence, we very soon find out how weak and poor we are without the help of the Holy Spirit. But if, on the other hand, when faced with the trials of life, we will just take that first step, if we will just step over the threshold of divine hope, we will find the help and power of the Holy Spirit in situations that otherwise would paralyze and discourage us. So we need to cross over that threshold! With the help of the Holy Spirit we can have that double vision that is able to see through daily suffering to eternal joy. And with this joy set before us, we can more easily pick up our cross each day and follow Christ with hope.
This hope, St. Paul says in Romans, is not going to disappoint us. (cf Rom 5:5) And in Hebrews we read that we must never surrender our confidence [our hope], for it is going to have a great reward. (Heb 10:35) Mary our Mother certainly did not surrender her hope on Calvary.
What about Mary’s hope?
So, let’s think about that for a few minutes. Our Lady’s whole life on earth was a journey of hope. Mary relied totally on the promises of God, but she was not exempt from temptation. Her hope was tested far beyond anything we will have to undergo. The Heavenly Father asked Our Lady to follow her Son all the way to the cross. And Mary was faithful. She stood there watching her Son die a brutal death. Mary stood there united with her Son in offering His sacrifice and in trusting the Father. Having joy set before them, Jesus and Mary endured the cross, heedless of its shame. None of us will ever have to face the seeming hopelessness Mary faced that day.
As Mary stood beneath the cross, did she remember the words spoken to her at the Annunciation? The words spoken to her by the Angel were God’s promises to her, promises however, that God intended to fulfill in a paradoxical way–through the mystery of the cross.
What Mary witnessed at the cross seemed to cancel out all these promises. God had promised that her Son would be called great, but now He was dying in disgrace. God had promised that her Son would sit on the throne of David His Father, but now He was rejected and thrown out of the city of David! Mary was told by the Angel that Jesus would be the very Son of God, but now God’s mighty voice did not thunder from heaven when His Son was being put to death. It’s impossible for us to imagine the magnitude of the testing of Mary’s hope. Was it all over? Would evil have the last word? Mary persevered in hope, anchored securely in God’s promises. Mary trusted that God would do what He had promised. And this steadfast hope carried her safely into the joy of His resurrection. Mary’s anchor of hope did not break loose. Truly, with good reason, the Church honors her as Mother of Divine Hope! But how can we apply all this to our own lives??
The Two Images
Let’s look now at the two images of Our Mother of Hope. The presence of the cross in both images is very striking. This clearly suggests a relationship between the cross and divine hope. The one image of Mother and Child presenting the cross to us, teaches us about accepting our crosses from the hand of God with trust, with hope. The other image teaches us about the spiritual power of praying with the cross, and interceding with Mary in hopeless situations.
Reflecting on the first image then, we notice that Our Mother of Holy Hope is presenting to us both her Divine Son Jesus and His saving cross. We see too that the hands of Jesus and Mary are both touching our cross as they look directly at us. And then we notice that the Holy Infant has His hand raised to bless us. Think about this–Jesus and Mary are touching our cross! We are not alone. Jesus and Mary are helping to hold our cross. And somehow as we accept our cross, the hand of God is raised in blessing over us! Learning how to "see" the hand of God at work in the sufferings of life is a hard lesson to learn, and takes faith. We usually get stuck focusing only on the person, thing or situation that’s causing our suffering.
The riddle of sin, evil and suffering is not given us to understand here on earth, but scripture tells us, as we said earlier, that we must undergo many trials if we are to enter into the reign of God. Divine hope gives us the wisdom needed to change the things we can and to accept the things we cannot change. This is why trust and hope in the mercy and love of God is so important. God is trustworthy. If we will just trust Him, if we will just put our hope in Him, God will bring much good out of our sufferings. God promises that in scripture. And so, the next time we are feeling worried and hopeless, or weighed down under difficulties and sorrows, we might want to pray with this picture of Our Mother of Holy Hope, asking Our Lady to help us accept the difficulties of life with greater hope, trusting that there is redemptive value in our sufferings, trusting God knows the way to bring good out of them.
Let’s look now to the other image. This again is a picture of Our Mother of Hope, also known as Our Lady of Pontmain, and the Madonna of the Crucifix. This image depicts Mary as she appeared in 1871 during a time of war and almost certain destruction to the French town of Pontmain. The situation looked totally hopeless as the Prussian army was ready to destroy the town the very next day. Even the French soldiers were fleeing for their own lives, leaving the townspeople feeling unprotected and desolate. On the human level it truly was a hopeless situation.
But the Mother of Divine Hope was aware of the fright and desolation of her people, and she came to their help by teaching them a powerful lesson of praying with the cross. The night before the Prussian army was to invade the town, a child named Joseph saw Our Lady standing in the air above one of the houses. Mary was dressed as you see in the picture, and her eyes were filled with tenderness. Three other children soon came out and they also saw her. After a while the children saw this message written in the sky: "Pray, my children; God will soon answer your prayers. My Son allows Himself to be moved with compassion." Those are beautiful words to inspire hope. "Pray, my children; God will soon answer your prayers. My Son allows Himself to be moved with compassion."
It wasn’t long before the whole town, the parish priest, the Sisters and the people, began a penitential prayer vigil as they stood in a blanket of snow. They kept praying: "Mother of Hope, protect our country. Pray for us! Pray for us!" As the people prayed, the children now saw that Mary herself was praying with a large red crucifix. If you look closely, you can see this on your handout. Notice that the way she’s holding the crucifix reminds us of battle armor. The crucifix is the true battle armor of a Christian. Unknown to the people, as they prayed with Mary and the cross, the Prussian General received the order to withdraw his troops. That was totally unexpected! And ten days later, an armistice was signed.
In this true story, Mary is teaching us to put our hope in the cross of Jesus. In the cross of Jesus, there is power to overcome evil, and even to stop wars. In the liturgy for the feast of the Triumph of the Cross, the Church tells us that it is through the cross that evil is destroyed. That’s why the cross is our battle armor. And in one of the Church’s hymns we sing, "Hail, Cross, our only hope!" Praying with the merits of the Holy Cross, Passion and Death of Jesus can even stop wars.
We need more people today to join Our Blessed Mother in praying with the cross, and with the infinite merits of Jesus. What else is the Divine Mercy chaplet? "For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world." What else is the Rosary, where we pray the saving mysteries of Jesus? And above all, what else is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? The merits of Jesus Christ, His cross and His Blood are our battle armor in overcoming evil.
Divine hope comes through the cross. If we believe in the merits of the Cross and Passion of Jesus, there are never any grounds for losing hope. It doesn’t take a lot of virtue to hope in God when everything is going our way. But to hope in God when a situation is difficult and looks hopeless on the human level–that takes heroism.
On one of his trips to the United States, Pope John Paul the Great said that what our country today needs most of all is SAINTS. In the midst of all the evil around us, God is trying to form saints, people of heroic hope.
Remember what we said earlier: Hope protects us from becoming paralyzed by fear and discouragement. And this divine hope is not going to leave us disappointed. Pope John Paul II said that even if the lost sheep should number millions, even if evil should seem to prevail over goodness, even if the world gets so bad that it deserves a new "flood" on account of its sins, we need to keep hoping in God’s fatherly mercy, in that divine love revealed to us in the Passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, for there we learn that God’s merciful love is more powerful than all the evil in our world. Pope John Paul also said that when victory comes, it will come through Mary.
So, to pray with Mary and the cross, is to trust that God’s merciful love will conquer the world.
To pray with Mary and the cross, is to pray with hope that the Passion, death and resurrection of her Son may have its full effect in every human heart–to bring us all into the happiness of the Kingdom of Heaven and eternal life.
Our Mother of Holy Hope, tells us today: Do not be afraid! Fear is useless. What is needed is trust, what is needed is unshakeable hope. Our Mother of Divine Hope also says to us: Accept your cross in this valley of tears. Pray with the power of the cross. Have confidence that God will answer with His saving help! "Pray, my children", said Our Lady at Pontmain. "God will soon answer your prayers. My Son allows Himself to be moved with compassion."
O Mary, help us your children to be men and women of hope! Help us remember that imperishable inheritance being kept for us in heaven. Help us remember that if we suffer with Christ here on earth, we will also one day be glorified with Him in heaven. O Mary, Mother of Divine Hope, keep this joy set before us, so that we can faithfully carry our cross with Christ, and bring many souls with us to heaven. Amen.