It is said that the unmistakable sign of the end of a homily or a document of the Church is the mention of Mary. In a homily that has gone on too long, the name of Mary comes as a clear hope of liberation. In this sense Mary always comes last, but I think she’s very happy to be the one to close, or to summarize, that which has been said. Coming last, after the great truths of God have been expressed, she always remains the closest to us. When the Son has already crossed the finish line, Mary is still on the track so as to wait for the slowest and perhaps push him a little, discretely.
The Bull of indiction of the Jubilee is not an exception. When Misericordiae Vultus – who is Jesus Himself, face (vultus) of the Father’s mercy – softens towards the conclusion (#24), another face, a sweet look, is offered to us: Mary’s countenance. «My thoughts now turn to the Mother of Mercy. May the sweetness of her countenance watch over us in this Holy Year, so that all of us may rediscover the joy of God’s tenderness».
Mary is given to us, as Jesus did on the Cross, as Mother of Mercy so that we can rejoice in God’s tenderness. Joy, tenderness: words that pope Francis holds very dear. Words that, to be honest, sound hard to live out in a time like ours marked by fear, instability, defensiveness from those who are different from us. Only a mother can convince us to use these words. When our heart is blocked by fear, what it needs are not lessons on courage, but the sweetness of a look that is able to regenerate, to give life the certainty that it originates from love, and that it will remain in that love no matter what. We need the tenderness of a mother who changes us by betting again and again on us. I read this in the words of a medieval abbot, who prays for the monks entrusted to him with a maternal heart: «Sweet Lord, you know how much I love them, how much my tenderness is poured out on them, how much my affection flows over them. Be faithful to your promise and remain in their midst. Because you know what each of them needs, I plead that you strengthen what is weak in them, that you do not reject what is frail, that you heal what is sick, pour out joy on what is sad, put fire to what is lukewarm, give strength to what is unstable, so that each of them can feel that in his needs and temptations your grace is not absent» (Blessed Aelred of Rievaulx, Pastoral Prayer). What strikes me about this gaze is that every negative aspect is read as only part of the person, and never as “all” of the person; Aelred does not ask God to heal he “whom” is sick, but that “which” is sick in somebody.
The liturgical sequence Come, Holy Spirit accustoms us to the same gaze on ourselves and our neighbours: what a profound pedagogy is held in this invocation to the Holy Spirit! We should recite it often in our waiting for the feast of Pentecost. Where the Spirit is invoked on our weakness, Mary is present. She has been surrounded and filled by the Spirit at the Annunciation; she received the Spirit under the Cross in the last breath of her Son; she gathered in the upper room with the apostles who were frightened. Mary always dwells in the air of the Spirit. That place where our heart awaits healing, that is the new upper room that Mary comes to visit, to open us up to mercy. «Mary attests that the mercy of the Son of God knows no bounds and extends to everyone, without exception».
Mary is truly “the Mother of mercy”, as the prayer of the “Hail, Holy Queen” teaches us: «No one has penetrated the profound mystery of the incarnation like Mary. Her entire life was patterned after the presence of mercy made flesh. The Mother of the Crucified and Risen One has entered the sanctuary of divine mercy because she participated intimately in the mystery of His love».
If the Father’s mercy is the mystery of His heart, who unceasingly beats to give life to the world and to each of his sons, Mary, who welcomed Jesus in herself and gave him her own blood, entered in the most intimate communion with mercy: communion of blood, breath, heartbeat. Mary has been inhabited and surprised by a mercy that was unknown to human kind, and she believed in the incredible mercy who told her: you will be the Mother of a new world, regenerated by forgiveness and tenderness. Mary let herself be dragged in by that hurricane of mercy, and she immediately brought it to Elizabeth: From generation to generation his mercy extends on those who fear him (Lk 1:50). «We too were included in those prophetic words of the Virgin Mary».
Every time we become aware of our need to stop, to ask for help in our temptation, to be sustained in our trials, to be enlightened, encouraged, consoled, bended in our rigidity, let us be encountered by Mary’s gaze. Let us be looked at by her, so that through her tenderness we also can feel the new breath of mercy on our sores, our anxiety, our tired relationships. The poet G. M. Hopkins speaks of Mary as the air that surrounds us giving us breath and life (The Blessed Virgin compared to the air we breathe):
«I say that we are wound/ with mercy round and round/ as if with air: the same/ is Mary, more by name./ She, wild web, wondrous robe,/ mantles the guilty globe,/ since God has let dispense/ her prayers his providence:/ nay, more than almoner,/ the sweet alms’ self is her/ and men are meant to share/ her life as life does air».
Mary is the Mother of mercy: everything that God works in us and that is new, beautiful, transforming, is worked through Mary. That’s why Hopkins says that she “mothers each new grace”! Let us always safeguard Mary’s presence in our prayer. No matter if we are in need like at Cana, or in our daily routine like at Nazareth, or surprised by joy like at the Annunciation. We could even be in Bethlehem, or on the Calvary; wherever we are, let us always meet the gaze of Mary; let us expose ourselves to the breath of the Spirit… and after awhile, we too will realize that every grace has always come to us through her.
* Let us invoke the Holy Spirit, waiting for the Pentecost (May 15th), with the words of the sequence “Come, Holy Spirit” and remain under Mary’s gaze.
* Let us ask Mary to help us recognize which person around us needs to be looked upon in tenderness and trust, for that look could be ours! Let us pray for that person with the words of Blessed Aelred.