By: Father Reginald Martin, OP

Although Advent is the liturgical season that celebrates Mary’s role in our salvation, those of us who have reached “a certain age” will undoubtedly recall the special devotion paid Our Blessed Mother during the month of May. The history behind the prayers, processions and May crownings that were part of our Catholic childhood is quite varied. They seem to have begun in Italy, as a protest against noisy student revels; in northern countries they evolved from prayers for good harvests, offered when fruit trees began to blossom.

Whatever its source, the title endures, and May continues to be known as “Mary’s Month.” This provides ample reason for us to turn this month to the closing paragraphs of Our Holy Father’s letter On the Face of Mercy, and consider his reflections on Mary, the Mother of Mercy. “May the sweetness of her countenance watch over us,” he prays, …so that all of us may rediscover the joy of God’s tenderness. 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. (MV, 24)

The reference to the crucifixion removes – or ought to remove – any trace of sentimentality as we consider Mary’s example, and its challenge. When we pray the Salve Regina we ask Mary to turn her “eyes of mercy” upon us, that we might see the “the blessed fruit of thy womb.” These words may sound a great deal like those that being us such joy at Christmas, but we must never forget Mary’s are eyes of mercy because she witnessed the mercy of her son’s death on Good Friday. If we hope to be instruments of God’s mercy, we, like Mary, must turn our eyes, to the cross.

There, Pope Francis reminds us, “Mary, together with John, the disciple of love, witnessed the words of forgiveness spoken by Jesus. This supreme expression of mercy towards those who crucified him show us the point to which the mercy of God can reach.” The cross is the paradox of our faith, an instrument of shame that becomes the key to our salvation. And at the foot of the cross is Mary, inviting us to her side, to watch and “…to be a credible witness to mercy, professing it and living it as the core of the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (MV, 25)

The challenging message of our Pontiff’s words could not be clearer: simply to look is not enough. At the Incarnation God’s love invaded the world, and God’s merciful Word made Flesh invites us to be his apostles. An apostle is “one who is sent,” and we who have received God’s mercy are its apostles, sent to strengthen others so they, in their turn, can touch the world with the merciful strength of God’s love.

We can construct very accurate psychological profiles for many of Jesus’ associates. This is not the case with Mary. We encounter her very seldom in the gospel accounts, and when we do, we find very little that presents a clear picture of her, as an individual. Rather, when we encounter Mary, the evangelists want us to find ourselves – accepting God’s Word, allowing it to take flesh in our hearts, and presenting it to the world. Mary was the first tabernacle, and we are called to follow her example: to carry the merciful Christ within us and strengthen those we meet with his presence.