Fr. Peter West also contributed to this article.
The month of May is traditionally a time to honor Mary, the Mother of God. This is a fitting time to reflect on the essential role she plays in our salvation and in our missionary apostolate promoting life and family.
During this month we should strive to deepen our knowledge and love of her through prayer, especially the rosary, the veneration of her images, the reading of Sacred Scripture, the study of the Church’s teachings and the great Marian theologians. The Bible tells us not to despise prophecy. Therefore, we should also be open to the Marian apparitions that the Church tells us are worthy of our belief.
At the very beginning of history, after the tragedy of the sin of our first parents, her intervention is promised by God in what the Church Fathers call the protoevangelium, or first Gospel (Genesis 3:15). The Blessed Virgin Mary is the woman whose child will strike at the head of the infernal serpent.
Many Popes, saints, Fathers and Doctors of the Church have stated that the woman in this passage refers to Mary. Pope St. John Paul II taught: “In the light of the New Testament and the Church’s tradition, we know that the new woman announced by the Protogospel (Genesis 3:15) is Mary, and in ‘her seed’ we recognize her Son, Jesus who triumphed through the Easter Mystery over the power of Satan.”
Our Lady of Victory, depicted in many magnificent works of art, is shown holding the child Jesus who assists Her in crushing the head of a serpent that is ready to strike at Her heel — with a cross shaped like a lance.
Fulfilling this promise, the Second Person of the Trinity became incarnate through her cooperation. As St. John Paul points in Evangelium vitae,
Mary’s consent at the Annunciation and her motherhood stand at the very beginning of the mystery of life which Christ came to bestow on humanity. Through her acceptance and loving care for the life of the Incarnate Word, human life has been rescued from condemnation to final and eternal death. (102)
Then the Holy Father adds that she is the “incomparable model of how life should be welcomed and cared for.”
In our catechesis about the family we have to insist that Mary, as St. John Paul underlines in Evangelium vitae, is truly the Mother of God, the Theotokos, in whose motherhood the vocation to motherhood bestowed by God on every woman is raised to its highest level (103). In the motherhood of Our Lady, the Creator gives humanity the greatest example of motherhood for two reasons: it was the motherhood of her divine Son and it was the motherhood brought about by a woman who, was free from original sin and thus was full of grace, as the Archangel Gabriel proclaims at the Annunciation. She, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, is “the new Eve, ‘full of grace’ of the Holy Spirit, is preserved from sin and the corruption of death….” (2853). Our Lady was not only free from Original Sin but also: “By the grace of God Mary remained free of every personal sin in her whole life long.” (CCC 493)
On the Cross, Jesus made Mary the mother of all by giving her as mother to St. John the Apostle. This incredible gift is fully actualized by the ones who receive in baptism the magnificent status of adopted children of God and thus become incorporated into His divine family.
At the same time her motherly heart is particularly concerned for the ones who have not received baptism through no fault of their own. As a consequence, her motherly heart has particular concern for the babies in the womb at risk of abortion. Her heart is also filled with compassion toward those children born in irregular situations and who are deprived of a proper family formed by a man and a woman committed to one another in a permanent and faithful union.
In 1531, Mary appeared to St. Juan Diego as Our Lady of Guadalupe. She left her image imprinted on his tilma. The image clearly shows she is pregnant. She wears the black band around her waste that Aztec women wore when they were pregnant. She revealed herself as the mother of Christ and the mother of the Mexican people. She helped them break the bond of a false religion which involved the abominable practice of human sacrifice.
Now we turn to Mary, under her title of Our Lady of Guadalupe to ask her to intercede again to break the bond of the culture of death in our society and especially to protect unborn babies in the womb.
Mary also intercedes to protect the natural family. All families are called to imitate the virtues of the Holy Family of Nazareth, the “prototype and example for all Christian families.” (Familiaris consortio, #86) Parents are the primary educators of their children. Mary and Joseph certainly gave Jesus an excellent education.
Mary herself likely received an excellent education in the Temple. The Church celebrates the Feast of the Presentation of Mary in the Temple on November 21. The Fathers of the Church believe that she received a special education there to prepare her for her eventual role as the Mother of the Redeemer. In the Orthodox Church, Saints Joachim and Anna, the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary, are considered Patron Saints of a Pious Education for this reason.
To build a culture of life we must also promote the virtue of chastity. Mary is a model of chastity for all, not because everyone is called to practice chastity in the same way she did, but because she gave placed her procreative powers completely at the service of God so that He could make her the instrument for the conception and birth of the Son of God.
Since life and family are under such a severe attack in our secularized society, we ask the Blessed Virgin Mary’s protection, knowing that she is the intercessor of all graces. St. Bernard of Clairvaux stated: “God has willed that we should have nothing which would not pass through the hands of Mary” (Hom. III in vig. nativit., n. 10, PL 183, 100). Through her intercession the hour of Christ was moved forward, and water was transformed into wine at the wedding in Cana.
When the very essence of marriage between a man and woman is under attack and we find many that some propose the so-called marriage between persons of the same sex, we ask the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary to defend marriage as God designed it. We ask her intercession as the Seat of Wisdom to be able to help us teach and defend the true nature of marriage in a clear and precise way so that we will be well understood by all persons of good will.
Each Christian is called to defend life and the family to some extent and to the best of our abilities. The success of our apostolate depends upon prayer. In this, as in many other ways, we have to imitate Our Lady. Fr. Charles de Foucald reminds us “If we do not pray, we are responsible for all the good we might have done through prayer and have not done.”
In the protection of the Blessed Virgin we place our total confidence and hope, our and inspired by the Memorare of St. Bernard we express our assurance that if we seek her protection, implore her help and pray for her intercession we will never be left unaided.