Whenever I go about my day at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, I am greeted by the faces of hundreds of saints illustrated in dozens of statues, mosaics, and portraits. Certainly, the focus of the Shrine — and indeed, any Catholic church — is on Christ (in this case through the Blessed Mother), but invariably one notices the honoring of God’s holy ones as well in side chapels and oratories. While one can hardly wander into the Great Upper Church of the Basilica without gazing in awe at the dominating mosaic Christ in Majesty — one of the largest images of Jesus in the world — it’s also impossible to miss the mere fraction of the Communion of Saints honored throughout the space; those who were so moved in their encounters with the Lord that they devoted their lives to the pursuit of Him.
Why does this church (and the Universal Church) assign so much importance to these figures? While the act of adoration and worship is solely reserved for God, the saints (including Mary) are, by contrast, venerated. When properly done, veneration does not interfere with the worship due to God, but rather fosters it. As the Second Vatican Council noted: “Our communion with those in heaven, provided that it is understood in the fuller light of faith according to its genuine nature, in no way weakens, but conversely, more thoroughly enriches the latreutic [what is allowed to God alone] worship we give to God the Father, through Christ, in the Spirit” (Lumen Gentium 51).
Hailing from all walks of life, the saints represent the fervent love of God as he calls them to participate in and enrich the ministries of the Church, whether through charity, scholarship, prayer, catechesis, or apologetics. The saints rejected the status quo of society. They reformed society to be more like Christ’s ministry — sometimes at the cost of their own lives. They met people wherever they were in life in order to bring about a fruitful encounter with the Lord. If we have ever felt that we could not strive for the holiness God calls each of us to, we surely have countless role models to look to in the saints. We might think: “But I can’t possibly attain those standards — I’m a sinner!” But as the recently canonized Mother Teresa reportedly observed, “Saints are only sinners who keep trying.” Recognizing that their own shortcomings, however frequent, are infinitesimal compared to the love and mercy of God, the saints sought and found comfort in our perfect Lord, rather than wallowing in the imperfect condition of their lives.
In our own struggles for holiness, if we ever feel alone or without guidance, we have only to look to the saints for inspiration. The trials we face, whether they be doubts, abandonment, threats, or scorn were similarly faced by them. Yet the example of Christ’s experiences with these difficulties drove them forward, and so should also motivates us. We need not be intimidated with what is asked of us or the great witness of the saints. Again, in words attributed to Mother Teresa, we have only to concern ourselves with offering God “small things with great love.”
In the Basilica, the bas-relief of the Universal Call to Holiness rests directly opposite of Christ in Majesty, reflecting the theme of Lumen Gentium discussed above. Illustrated in the huge marble slab are people from all walks of life gazing upon and approaching God, the Holy Spirit. As Lumen Gentium, the bas-relief, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church all emphasize: “all are called to holiness” (CCC 2013). The saints have embraced this, and not necessarily early in their lives. St. Augustine, one of the Church’s greatest converts, admitted to God in his autobiography called Confessions, “Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new.” God can turn our failures into moments of grace at any point in our lives (Romans 5:20)! The saints did not go about the great evangelical enterprise for their own sake or glory, but to share the Mystery of God’s unceasing love that so moved them to reject what the world offers in comforts and powers. Just as Christ initiated this work on earth during His ministry and the saints have sustained it throughout the millennia, it is now entrusted to us that the light of God’s truth may forever shine bright and call back to Him those who are lost in the world’s darkness.
Being a “cradle Catholic” I never questioned why we had 4 different statues of Mary in our kitchen or why every May we put a crown of flowers on our “Garden Mary” outside. It was common to hear the advice of praying to the rosary if you couldn’t sleep and thus one would be able to find countless glow-in-the-dark rosary beads tucked into my bed. Almost every woman in my family had Marie as their middle name and like myself, if it wasn’t a middle name it was taken as a confirmation name. It wasn’t until college, living under the shadow of “Mary’s House”, the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC, that I began to understand that it was through Mary that I would come to know her Son.
St. Vincent Pallotti understood this and had a deep connection with Our Lady and entrusted himself to her. He wrote “I resolve, my God, from all eternity and for all eternity . . . to love, honor and glorify my beloved Mother Mary; and to behold her loved, honored and glorified to the same degree that You, O Eternal Father, have showered her as Your Daughter, that You, O Divine Lord, have esteemed her as Your Mother, and that You, O Holy Spirit, have accorded her as Your most pure spouse.” (Soul of a Saint, p. 82)
His devotion went beyond the pious practice of the time and enlightened a burning love within him. He spoke of Our Lady as, “Mother of Divine Love” and “Queen of Apostles.” It is said that he spoke, “I shall not rest until I, if this is possible, have achieved an infinitely tender love for my much beloved and much loving mother, Mary.”
St. Vincent, in his deep love for Mary and a desire to be humble, work a silver reliquary box around his wrist with the image of the Mother of Divine Love painted on ivory mounted on it. He did this so that when people came to kiss his hand, a practice of that time, instead of kissing how own hand they would instead kiss the image of Our Lady.
During this Month dedicated to Mary, let us look to St. Vincent as an example of how a love for our blessed mother can help us in reviving faith, enkindling charity and become an apostle of Christ.
Pam Tremblay is a Collaborator with the Catholic Apostolate Center
Prayer to Mary Queen of Apostles
This past Sunday, we celebrated Mother’s Day. This is an important day to remember the important role that our mother and mother-figures play in our lives. From aunts to grandmothers to friends, we all have many women in our lives that we can look up to. In my own life, my mother is a constant source of inspiration to me. Giving up a successful career to stay home with my siblings and I was a sacrifice she made joyfully. Raising the four of us could not have been an easy task, and I will always appreciate the happy home she created for all of us to come home to each day. She formed our faith and gave us the tools to go out and live that faith in our own individual ways.
One of the ways in which I enjoy participating in my faith is through serving masses at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. This Basilica is dedicated to the Blessed Mother, and throughout the entire building you can wander through chapels dedicated to her many titles. One of the priests of the Basilica always welcomes visiting pilgrimage groups with a short message about how if we let the Blessed Mother into our lives, she will bring us closer to her Son. He reminds each visiting group that by allowing Mary a place in our hearts, she will teach us and help us grow in our faith. On Mother’s Day this is a particularly applicable message as we remember our own mothers as well as the Blessed Mother.
Mary has a unique place in the Catholic faith. She is the Mother of God, born without sin, yet still one of us. Her willingness to say “yes” to God’s calling is one which we try to emulate in our lives every day. Mary demonstrates the important role a mother plays in their child’s life, even if that child is the Son of God. We see her gentle guidance in Jesus’ formative years, and it was through Mary’s prompting that Jesus performed his first miracle at the wedding in Cana. Through Mary’s “yes” to God we are also reminded of the importance of answering our own vocations. Although it is often difficult to find our place in this world, the example of the Blessed Mother reminds us that saying “yes” is the greatest choice we can make.
As we have spent this past weekend celebrating the mothers in our lives, let us also remember the special place that the Blessed Mother has in our faith. She can help us find and say yes to God’s calling in our own lives. I will leave you with one of my favorite prayers to Mary:
Remember, Oh Most Gracious Virgin Mary.
That never was it known, that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, our sought thy intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence I fly unto you, Oh Virgin of Virgins, my mother. To thee I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. Oh Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy, hear and answer me.
Rebecca Ruesch is the Blog Editor for the Catholic Apostolate Center