May, which is quickly coming to a conclusion, is the month of Mary. This particular year the month of Mary has a special significance as it celebrated the hundredth anniversary of the appearances of Our Lady at Fatima. So significant is this that Pope Francis went to Portugal for this occasion and canonized two of the young people, Francisco and Jacinta Marta, to whom Mary appeared at Fatima. Pope Francis is the fourth Pope to visit Fatima, following Blessed Pope Paul VI, St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. On the occasion of his pilgrimage to Fatima, Pope Francis referred to traveling with Mary as a Pilgrim of Hope and Peace.
On the First Sunday of May, we were blessed to have our Annual Diocesan Marian Festival at the Rosary Walk at Emmanuel Church. It was a beautiful Sunday on which so many pilgrims of our Diocese from many different ethnic backgrounds came to honor Mary, especially under her title of Our Lady of Fatima. As in past festivals, different images of Our Lady, particular to the cultures of the ethnic backgrounds, were processed around the Rosary Walk. The celebration was a testimony to the faith of our Diocese in our Blessed Mother as a Pilgrim of Hope and Peace as well as our patroness, under the title, Our Lady Queen of the Apostles. Mary truly is our Mother and our model as to how to live as a follower of her Son. On the occasion of the Marian Festival, each pilgrim consecrated themselves to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and all of us consecrated our Diocese to her heart as we do each year.
As we come to the conclusion of May, this year we come to the celebration of the Solemnity of the Ascension of our Lord on Sunday, May 26, and on the following Sunday, June 4, the culmination of the Easter season on the Solemnity of Pentecost. On May 31, in the midst of these two great solemnities we also celebrate the Feast of Mary's Visitation to her cousin, Elizabeth, after it is announced to Mary that she would be the Mother of the Savior. The final day of May truly celebrates Mary as a Pilgrim of Hope and Peace. It especially does so by emphasizing, at the beginning of Mary's carrying the Child Jesus in her womb, the particular role she would play in the ministry of Christ among us especially as the Holy Spirit is sent upon us in the Church.
In the account of Mary's visit to Elizabeth in the Gospel of Saint Luke, we experience the joy which Mary brought to Elizabeth. Six months prior to Mary's visit, Elizabeth had also miraculously conceived in her advanced age a child who would be the precursor of Christ, St. John the Baptist. As Mary approaches Elizabeth, the child leaps in her womb and she cries out the words we say in the Hail Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Lk 1:42). Saint Luke tells us that at this point that Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit. How fitting it is that Mary would bring the Holy Spirit to Elizabeth as the Holy Spirit had come upon her at the Annunciation and would come upon her at Pentecost. She is a Pilgrim of Hope and Peace as she fulfills the unique role given to her by God.
There is no mention of Mary being present as our Lord ascended into heaven. However, it is not at all far-fetched to believe that she was. After the Resurrection of Christ, Mary was a Pilgrim of Peace and Hope to the Apostles who still were frightened and confused over the Lord’s mission even though they had experienced His appearances. There was absolutely no doubt in Mary's mind as to the fulfillment of the promise of Christ in His Resurrection as well as the completion of His sanctifying work. While Mary felt the pain of the Crucifixion more than any of the Apostles could even begin to experience, she was joined with the Lord in a most intimate manner and understood completely what the Crucifixion would accomplish. While there is no account of a formal appearance of the Resurrected Christ to Mary, this does not in any way discount the reality that it was most likely to Mary that the Lord first appeared and that this appearance was beyond the recognition of words.
After the Resurrection, Mary was an anchor for the Apostles. She held them together and handed on to them all that she treasured in her heart about the Lord. When they were confused and frightened, she brought them peace and hope. When there was hesitancy among them to gather together, it certainly was Mary who brought them together in the hope and peace of her sure faith and love. As the Apostles gathered to experience the Ascension of Christ from this earth to His heavenly Father, it is very likely that Mary was not only present with them but brought them together for that occasion. It was there that the Lord sent the apostles out with the commission that they be Pilgrims of Hope and Peace.
Mary was present in the midst of the Apostles on Pentecost. Saint Luke clearly tells us this in the Acts of the Apostles. It is so fitting that the Holy Spirit came upon Mary at the same time that He came upon the Apostles and the Church was born. It is again very likely that Mary gathered the Apostles in the upper room for the Feast of Pentecost. It was she who first received the Holy Spirit when the Angel appeared to her to announce that the Son of God would become incarnate in her womb. As the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles, the fear and confusion that still was with them up until this time, left them and they were able to go forth to proclaim Christ's message of hope and peace just as Mary was able to do for them and continues to do for us.
Mary is with all of us as our Mother. As Christ died on the Cross, He gave her to us as our Mother just as He gave her to the Apostles as their source of unity. Mary spoke to the children of Fatima in a particular way with a particular message of hope and peace. She speaks to each and every one of us with a similar message but in different ways. Just as she visited Elizabeth, who was filled with the Holy Spirit when Mary arrived, so she visits each and every one of us and as she does, the Holy Spirit becomes evident to us. As she encouraged the Apostles, she encourages us.
As we come to the conclusion of May and as we celebrate the great Solemnities of the Ascension and of Pentecost, culminating the Easter season, may we always be aware of the gift of our Mother, Mary, in our spiritual lives. Just as Pope Francis acknowledged that she traveled with him to Fatima as a Pilgrim of Hope and Peace, so she travels with us in our lives in the same manner. She brings us to her Son, Jesus Christ, who brings us to the fullness of life both now and in the life to come. Christ gives us His Mother because He wants us to know His hope and His peace.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
May 26, 2017