Tag Archives: Mary

Pietà – Mother and Child

Mary, at the foot of the Cross, received Jesus in her arms – weeping as many mothers have throughout the ages. Here are a few images


By Frederick Franck in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine


Kathe Kollwitz, Berlin – Memorial of the victims of war; Neue Wache


Michelangelo – Florence


Michelangelo – Saint Peter’s Basilica, The Vatican

Even when all despaired
at the hour when Christ was dying on the cross,
Mary, serene,
awaited the hour of the resurrection.
Mary is the symbol
of the people who suffer oppression and injustice.
Theirs is the calm suffering
that awaits the resurrection.
It is Christian suffering,
the suffering of the church,
which does not accept the present injustices
but awaits without rancor the moment
when the Risen One will return
to give us the redemption we await.
– – – Saint Óscar Arnulfo Romero, December 11, 1977

Bearing Jesus

Today I went to Buena Vista Concepción for a Celebration of the Word with Communion. This is the first time I visited this aldea and so, if I hadn’t had a friend with me, I’d have landed somewhere up in the middle of nowhere.

As I preached on the Gospel of Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth, I mentioned how Mary carried Jesus in her womb to her cousin and the child, John the Baptist, in Elizabeth’s womb.


All of a sudden I realized that I had been bearing Jesus to these people, bearing Jesus in the Eucharist. This became even clearer to me when I returned to Plan Grande and visited a gravely ill eighty-one-year-old woman. The woman was barely conscious, but opened her eyes as I prayed. I had a consecrated host with me, since I went directly to the house of Doña Raimunda. I didn’t give her communion but still, in some sense, I bore Jesus with me.

This is the mystery of bringing Communion to the sick or to distant communities. We are following in the footsteps of Mary who brought Jesus to her cousin.

Even if we don’t bring Communion to the sick or to distant communities, all of us can bear Jesus to others as Mary did – coming to serve her cousin, a person in need.

Meditating with Mary

Mary is a juggler who reveals the face of God.DSC06035

After hearing the report of the shepherds who had come to worship her Son, she treasures her experiences and throws them together in her heart. (Luke 2: 19)

The usual translation is that Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. But the Greek συμβαλλειν means to “throw together.” But I think it’s more like juggling – continuing to keep things together while keeping them moving.

Sometimes when I sit down and pray over the Gospel of the day, I find myself throwing together the words of the scripture, the events happening in the world, and my personal feelings.

This morning I find myself contemplating the “face,” the Rostro, of God. God wishes to shine his face upon us – with love (Numbers 6: 22-27).

It is not the face of domination, of power, of violence, of control. It is the face of the vulnerable, the weak, the face of a child – revealed to the outcasts, the shepherds – lying in a feed trough.

When I allow myself to contemplate the face of the poor, the outcast, to listen to them – to accompany them – then I can see the face of God and recognize the presence of the vulnerable God, Jesus, in our midst.

This happened one day this past year.

It was a busy day. In the course of the day our pastor asked me to sit in while he spoke to a couple whose adolescent son had been abused. Later, listening to a woman concerned about her son who seemed to be suffering severe depression, I heard her speak of the abuse she received at home. I felt helpless before such pain, such violence. Later that night, back home, I dropped in to the Holy Hour. Sitting in the back, ignoring all the words, I could only place all that I had heard that day in the hands of a vulnerable God, who had made Himself present to me in the suffering and who was present in the Host – how vulnerable is a piece of bread. God shined his face on me and gave me peace – even though, or maybe because, I felt weak and helpless.

I pray that this year I may recognize the face of God shining on me, offering me peace, and calling me to share these marvels to those I meet.

This will require some juggling.


The photo is a close-up of the Icon of Mary, Virgin of Tenderness, in St. Thomas Aquinas Church, Ames, Iowa, written by Yaroslava Sumach Mills.

Our Mother of Sorrows

Today the Catholic world celebrates Our Lady of Sorrows – Mary, the Mother of God, sorrowful, at the foot of the Cross.

It has been an important feast for me – for many years.

In the 1960s, I helped for a few summer months in the school of the Parish of Our Mother of Sorrows in West Philadelphia, in a poor African-American neighborhood. I also played the organ for Sunday Mass a few times.

I had a strong sense then of the need to reach out to serve the marginalized, those who experienced poverty and racism. Somehow I found this parish and my short time there has left a mark on my life. Helping a teacher with kids during summer school was a real gift for me.

Later when I began to visit Central America, especially El Salvador, I discovered that La Virgen de Dolores is one of the touching ways Central Americans approach Mary. Many churches have a statue of the Sorrowful Mother that they carry in procession during Holy Week.


The people who have suffered much see in the Sorrowful Mother a source of consolation and hope. As Blessed Archbishop Oscar Romero said in a homily on December 1, 1977:

“Even when all despaired, at the hour when Christ was dying on the cross, Mary, serene, awaited the hour of the resurrection. Mary is the symbol of the people who suffer oppression and injustice. Theirs is the calm suffering that awaits the resurrection. It is Christ suffering, the suffering of the Church, which does not accept the present injustices, but awaits without rancor the moment when the Risen One will return to give us the redemption we await.”

But today is also the anniversary of the death of my father on September 15, 1999. I still miss him and dream about him and my mother (who died in January 1986).

Mother of Sorrows, comfort us in our losses and give us courage to live in love and compassion with all those who suffer.


The image is the statue of La Virgen de Dolores of the cathedral in Santa Rosa de Copán, carried in the diocesan Stations of the Cross, March 26, 2010.


The Virgin of Tenderness

One of my favorite icons of Mary is the Virgin of Tenderness, also known as the Vladimir Mother of God.

There is a stunning icon of the Virgin in the church of St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames, Iowa, written by Yaroslava Sumach Mills.

The iconographer worked with the parish to write an icon that fits so well into the church – for example, the color of Mary’s mantle matches the color of the rosewood of the altar.

Yaroslava came to Ames and spoke about her work and even provided the parish with a series of photos of the icon being written. She also left a line drawing of the Vladimir icon.

I brought a copy of that line drawing to Honduras and have passed it on to the catechists in the parish of Dulce Nombre so that the children can color the icon or make copies.

Wednesday, I went to the village of Pasquingual to lead a Celebration of the Word with Communion for the father of one of the Delegates of the Word there. On the wall of the church there were several drawings, including this one of the Vladimir Mother of God, by Nicol, one of the children there.


I was overwhelmed. Nicol captured the life and spirit of the icon.

You  can compare this with the line drawing she had


or with this detail of the original


We may have a young iconographer in our midst.

And so we pray,

Mary, Mother of God, pray for us and for all the world.


Mary and Adam, grace and sin

Today is the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. By the grace of God, Mary was free from sin from the moment of conception in the womb of Saint Ann. So today we celebrate that original sin had no power over her.

In her commentary in Give Us This Day, Benedictine Sister Jeana Visel, writes:

In short, we are free, but we are supposed to be opposed to evil. The fact that we tend to give in to evil when we ought to choose good is the basic conflict driving the redemption story.

Mary was freed from this tendency to give in to evil.

But, today’s Gospel may confuse some of us, for it speaks of the annunciation of Mary when Jesus was conceived in her womb.

There is an amazing mural by Giotto of the Annunciation in the Dominican convent of San Marcos in Florence. I knew it was there, but walking up to the former dormitory on the second floor, I was astounded as I turned the corner and saw the image at the top of the stairs. Spell-bound, I remained there in awe. Giotto had captured the moment when God became flesh in Mary.


Doing a little internet search this morning I came across a painting of Giotto of the Annunciation which is strikingly similar, but includes Adam and Eve expelled from the Garden of Eden.


As I prayed, I recalled the difference between Adam and Eve in the first reading today and the Gospel of the Annunciation.

Adam and Eve hid themselves. Sin hides. When we sin, we separate ourselves from God and so we need the security of being hidden – in the bushes or in darkness.

But Mary is there in the open, almost as if she were waiting for the angel. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord.” Here I am, Lord. I am here to serve you.

But Adam and Eve try to explain away their sin by refusing to take responsibility. Adam blames Eve, who in turn blames the serpent.

Mary takes responsibility. “Be it done to me according to your word.” I am willing to take on this, even though I do not know all the implications.

This is what grace is. Grace frees us from darkness and opens us to the work of God in the light of day. Grace helps us respond in love to God’s call and frees us from blaming others.

Sin moves us into ourselves, but in a self-protective way that moves us to blame others. Grace opens ourselves to become instruments of God’s love, not blaming others but cooperating in God’s work of salvation.

So today we can reflect on the mystery of the immaculate conception of Mary, preserving her from sin. But it is also a time to reflect and thank God for the grace that moves us out of the darkness of sin, out of all attempts to close in on ourselves and opens us to the angels that call us to bring the saving power of the Incarnate God to a world in darkness.


Sending the rich away empty

God casts down the mighty from the thrones
and raises the lowly,
fills the hungry with good things
and send the rich away empty.
Luke 1: 52-53

DSC04679When Mary, pregnant with Jesus, visited her cousin Elizabeth, pregnant with John the Baptist, she broke into the song we call the Magnificat. This hymn, rooted in the hymn of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2: 1-10, is a revolutionary call to recognize and live the Reign of God which has begun in this world with the incarnation of Jesus in the womb of a young poor woman from the backwoods hamlet of Nazareth.

Something new has happened: God has become flesh.

Something new can begin: human beings saved by God can begin to live in the light of the Reign of God.

“God sends the rich away empty,” Mary sings.

Now that’s a bit much for some of us who have more than we need – even if we are not super-rich. It’s really a challenge to those of us who live among the poor but with all the security of a US bank account, Social Security, and more.

But what might God be saying to us?

During my canonical retreat before ordination as a deacon, the retreat director led a session on Mary. Sometime later that day, I was praying the Magnificat when this insight came to me, which I quote from my notes:

You fill the hungry with good things
and send the rich away empty
so that we may experience
the emptiness that you alone can fill,
with the emptying out of ourselves for others.

We who are rich need to be emptied out of all that keeps us safe and isolated from the precariousness of existence for so many in the world.

This became very clear to me the last week. I live a comfortable, uncomplicated life here in Honduras, with easy access to what I need. But this past week the village has been digging up the road to put in a sewage line before the road is paved. It’s a major inconvenience. I cannot park my car by the house. I have to find alternative places to park the car and walk ten minutes to the house.

Yesterday, I had to travel an alternative route to get to where I wanted to go. We were going to a nearby village to celebrate Mass on their feast day – anticipating the Assumption of Mary. The truck was full – with people and with the drinks for the meal after Mass.

But even this adventure proved to be a valuable lesson in the vision of the Reign of God. Isaias helped me find a back way out of Plan Grande. But we got stuck in the mud and even four-wheel drive wasn’t enough. So almost everyone got out of the truck and tried pulling and pushing. No luck.  Sure enough, about five men from nearby came and pushed and pulled the truck. We proceeded to Mass but, as I look back, I realized that act of being pushed and pulled by the poor was also a sign of God’s presence and what God wants for us.

May God continue to empty me of my attempts to be self-sufficient and move me to serve at the table of the poor.

The photo was taken in the Cloisters Museum in New York City.

A revolutionary song

Today is the feast of the Visitation. In haste, Mary – pregnant with Jesus – goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth – pregnant with John the Baptist.


It is a feast of hospitality, solidarity, joy.

The passage in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 1: 39-56) ends with the Magnificat, Mary’s canticle in praise of a revolutionary God.

During my retreat last week to prepare for my diaconal ordination, I picked up Sister Elizabeth Johnson’s book of essays Abounding in Kindness: Writing for the People of God, and came across her beautiful and pointed essay on the Magnificat, “Hearts on Fire: A Revolutionary Song.”

I recommend the essay but want to share a few quotations that touched me:

Young, poor, female, member of a subjugated people, [Mary] belongs to a group given a negative valuation by worldly powers. Yet it is to precisely such a woman that the living God has done great things. (p. 301)


Through God’s action the social hierarchy of wealth and poverty, power and subjugation, will be turned upside down. (p. 302)

Mary speaks of a God who has transformed this world and keeps transforming it.

May our souls glorify this Lord who turn things upside down, who in Mary’s song gives us “a profound sense of the odd mercy of the God of Israel who graciously chooses to be in solidarity with those who suffer and are of no account.” (p.301)

The photo is of a painting for the church in El Sitio, Suchitoto, El Salvador.

Homeless saint Benedict

Today is the feast of St. Benedict-Joseph Labré who died on April 16, 1783, in Rome.

Like the holy fools of Russia, he was for many years a wandering pilgrim – carrying his rosary, a breviary, a New Testament, and the Imitation of Christ. He did not beg but when someone gave him more than he needed he shared it with the poor. He is thus considered the patron saint of the homeless.

He lived many years in Rome, sleeping first in a Coliseum and then in a home when he was ill. He fell mortally ill at the church of Saint Maria dei Monte and died in the nearby house of a butcher who took him in.

When I was in Rome in 2013 I visited the church where his body is buried. No one else was there but I felt a real desire to honor this poor man totally devoted to God.

I noted the image of Mary over the altar but not until this morning did I realize that Mary is flanked by two deacons, Lawrence and Stephen, and Augustine and Francis are kneeling before her. St. Benedict had a great devotion to this image.


St. Benedict Joseph Labré was rejected by several monasteries but is claimed by the Franciscans since he was a Cord-Bearer, a confraternity connected with the followers of St. Francis.

As I contemplate possible ordination as a deacon, a servant, I think of St. Benedict Joseph Labré and ask for his inspiration. I also look with wonder at the image of Mary and remember the witness of the two deacons – serving God and God’s people, especially the poor – men and women like St. Benedict, men and women whom St. Francis honored.

And I ask for the gifts of generosity and detachment – which is the closest I think I can get to the poverty of St. Benedict and St. Francis.


Photograph taken February 16, 2013, by author.


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Going out to meet the other

Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.
Luke 1:39


Today, the church in the Americas celebrates the visitation of the Mother of God to an Indian, Juan Diego, on a hilltop in Mexico.

Mary appears to Juan Diego several times and asks him to go to the bishop to have a church built on the site, “so that I can show and bestow my love, compassion, help, and protection to all who inhabit this land…”

Twice he receives a lukewarm reception from the bishop.

On December 12, 1531, Juan Diego set out for the city to get a priest to hear his ill uncle’s confession. As Antonio Valeriano writes, “he went around the hill and passed on the other side, to the east, so as to arrive quickly in Mexico City and to avoid being detained by the Heavenly Lady.”

But Mary was insistent: “she came out to meet him.”

Mary had gone in haste to her cousin Elizabeth’s and then went out to meet Juan Diego on the road.

Mary shows us a God, the God she bore in her womb, who goes out to encounter the other, especially those in need. She reaches out to the poor, the outcast, the nothings of this world.

What a contrast to what a friend experienced a few months ago. He went to a government office to ask for help to get some soil samples tested. He was told that they didn’t have time for him.

In contrast, Mary takes time for the other, for us, and especially for the poor.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is a challenge to us to take time for others, especially the poor, to welcome those who are without power, who are despised by the rich and powerful.

For, as Pope Francis said in a general audience on December 11, 2013:

When the image of the Virgin appeared on the tilma of Juan Diego, it was the prophecy of an embrace: Mary’s embrace of all the peoples of the vast expanses of America — the peoples who already lived there, and those who were yet to come.
Mary’s embrace showed what America — North and South — is called to be: a land where different peoples come together; a land prepared to accept human life at every stage, from the mother’s womb to old age; a land which welcomes immigrants, and the poor and the marginalized, in every age. A land of generosity.