Wednesday, June 27, 2012

We Place Our Hands Within Hers

Happy Feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help!St.  Alphonsus and Ven. Mother Maria Celeste Crostarosa both had great devotion to our Lady and placed all their cares and concerns within the hands of our Lady though neither mention the icon of our Mother of Perpetual Help.

Alphonsus wrote the classic book on Mariology, ‘The Glories of Mary;’ and had his Redemptorists defend the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception years before it became dogma.  He always had a painting of the Madonna of Our Lady of Good Counsel on his desk.  Alphonsus even painted depictions of Mary himself such as his La Divina Pastora, the Divine Shepherdess: a woman dressed in humble attire, not as a distant queen of heaven, with the child Jesus on her lap reaching to play with the sheep. The painting represents Alphonsus' Marian theology: "Jesus and Mary are not distant supernatural figures but ever close to the poor, in their midst, and involved in the struggles of their lives."
Alphonsus may have known of the icon of Perpetual Help because it hung, at the time, in St Matthew’s in Rome between the basilicas of St Mary Major and St John Lateran.  Twelve years after St Alphonsus’ death it went into hiding and was lost for some sixty years until it was reinstated in the church that had been rebuilt after Napoleon’s army destroyed St Matthew’s and named it in honor of a new saint, Alphonsus, where his brother Redemptorists functioned then and continue to do so today.
In 1865 Pope Pius IX commissioned the Redemptorists to use the miraculous image of Perpetual Help to ‘Make Her Known’ throughout the world.  They have done so with weekly prayers and novenas held across the earth in her honor.
I doubt Ven. Mother Maria Celeste ever saw or even heard of Our Mother of Perpetual Help but she also had a deep devotion to the Blessed Virgin.  She writes in her ‘Exercise of love for every day:’ “O my Lady and Mother, well can you say that all generations in heaven and on earth will call you blessed.  You are our only Hope, all nations will call you blessed; the angels and all the heavenly spirits look on you as their Queen, since you are the Mother of the great King; the just have recourse to you as to a Rock of strength and the Teacher of Virtues, safe Guide in this vale of tears, Gate of salvation; under your patronage sinners hurry to you to obtain pardon and protection… and all generations recognize you as Mediatrix and instrument of our Redemption.”   Florilegium 10.
Both Alphonsus and Celeste turned to Mary in their times of need, as we turn to Mary in ours. We have as our model, Jesus, who ran into his mother’s arms for help and comfort. We see in the icon of Mother of Perpetual Help Jesus looking over his shoulder at the vision of his crucifixion while holding on to his Mother’s strong, steady hands.   Mary’s gaze invites us to take hold of her hands in our times of distress and to be of hope.
Our community has been standing at the foot of the cross with Mary these last few months as we planned a move, canceled the move, sought temporary accommodations here at Mother Cabrini’s, actually moved and settled in only to have Sr. Lydia break her leg and Sr. Mary Anne come down with shingles. 
All the while I picture us, and all those who have mailed us their intentions which are in the bowl under the icon standing in a circle holding on to Mary’s hands and one another.  Her calm, sympathetic, steady gaze assures us of God’s tender care.
I really am not attracted to the icon style as art.  In Perpetual Help Mary looks stern to me. But once, when I was young in religious life and looking at our large icon I thought I saw her smile.  How reassuring, encouraging to be aware of her presence to me personally.  But what really draw me are her hands:  they are at the center of the icon and large enough for us all to place our hands in hers. 
So today, aware that we can turn to our Mother of Perpetual Help in any need we thank her for her past favors and continue with confidence and hope to place all our cares in her strong hands to bring whatever lies heavy on our hearts to her Son, our Most Holy Redeemer. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012


Reading:   Jesus went with his disciples to the villages and on the way he asked them, ‘Who do the people say that I am?’  And they answered him, ‘Some say John the Baptist and others Elijah and still others one of the prophets.’  Jesus asked them, ‘But you, who do you say that I am?’  Mk 8:27-29
Who do YOU say Jesus is?

Who do you say God is?

That is the eternal question we all ask ourselves. How can we truly know who is God.  It is a mystery, an unfolding revelation that we will never completely know or understand.

So, WHO DO we say Jesus/God is? We can only use symbols, images, words, actions, experiences to suggest the presence of a Being which is beyond our ken.

In Hebrew scriptures God has names such as Creator, Warrior, Rock, Nursing Mother. Jesus is called Shepherd, Servant, Friend.    Today we find ourselves between the feasts of John the Baptist and Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Both point to Jesus – John says, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God.’  Mary says with her eyes, ‘Behold my Son.’   Celeste calls him the Sun, the Wayfarer, Our Savior.  There are so many beautiful images we could use to describe God.  How do you envision God? 

GOD CALLS US through our senses.  And the words we use to describe what we experience are decidedly unearthly.  We say the smell of coffee or the taste of chocolate is heavenly, the sight of a sunset glorious, certain music enraptures us, the embrace of lovers moves them to ecstasy.  How does God speak to you?

Artists down through the ages have painted with their brushed ICONS, such as OLPH, as WINDOWS that we may glimpse the unseen God.  Poets have flourished their pens to give WORDS to the ineffable name of God. We may not be artists or poets but our lives as Redemptoristines bespeak the name of God, the name of Jesus.  Our life is a WINDOW, our life is the WORD that tells the world WHO we say Jesus/God is.  Be a WINDOW, be the WORD, proclaim the name of God.

As woman called to know, love and incarnate God as Redemptoristines and Associates in the Church and for the world, let us renew our vows on this 25th of the month.