When the Encyclical was published on 25th July 1968, it caused an impressive -some would say possibly catastrophic- stir among Catholics throughout the world, which Cardinal Heenan, the then Archbishop of Westminster, described as “the greatest shock since the Reformation”. Today, it is also seen as prophetic. A cartoon circulating in the media this week, gives some food for thought!
The Encyclical aimed at reiterating the Church’s teaching in modern-day language and facing up to the recent developments especially in the area of artificial and medical contraceptives. The overwhelming conclusion of those consulted was that the Pope should slacken the traditional prohibitions. Despite this, Paul VI felt compelled by virtue of the Petrine ministry which he had received directly from Christ as successor of St. Peter, to enunciate with clarity “the mind of Christ” on this matter.
There can be no doubt that since the so-called ‘sexual revolution’ of the 60’s, there has been a seismic change in what society previously considered wrong, to becoming very much the universally accepted fashion. Lamentably, those who disparage Humanae Vitae often have not read the actual document themselves and conclude that if everyone is doing it, it cannot therefore be wrong. However, as the Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen said:
“Moral principles do not depend on a majority vote.
Wrong is wrong even if everybody is wrong.
Right is right even if nobody is right”.
In a nutshell, that was the dilemma facing Pope Paul VI.
The final text of the Encyclical shows an awareness that what was being taught would not be easy to accept within that burgeoning permissive social environment of the day. At the same time, it was not blind or deaf to the need for compassion and an awareness of weaknesses and sins in people’s lives. The tone of the Encyclical’s language showed that Paul VI had kept in mind many of the objections that had been raised in the stage of gathering opinions from around the world as he prepared to write the encyclical. Given the nature of an encyclical, understandably the Pope could not argue each and every one of those objections in detail. Instead, he focused on the perennial moral principles at stake. He readily acknowledged the difficult cultural and social conditions in which many married couples live and showed a realistic recognition of the impact of weakness and sin. The Pope was speaking not only to Catholics, but to all Christian consciences that strive daily to take seriously the gift of Grace and the call to conversion. This is what ultimately concerns the moral teaching of the Church: the salvation of all.
The choice of language therefore places at the centre a fundamental element of the moral life of every Christian: even if human freedom always adheres imperfectly to the salvation offered in the Gospel, the Church must always propose it with fidelity and completeness. She cannot fall into the temptation of the sort of popular ethical relativisms that can easily drive a mistaken sense of social progress, which drifts us ever further away from God’s perspective of what is good, authentic, true development for all.
The Encyclical’s pastoral concern is also very significant. Three fundamental elements are highlighted:
- an indispensable, constant need to have recourse to the support of divine Grace in the daily struggles we face in our moral life and human action;
- the call not to isolate the practice of regulating births from the broader context of a married life embraced in all its constitutive dimensions;
- Christ’s Gospel call to a “mastery of oneself” and of “conjugal chastity” which no true disciple of Christ can ignore.
St. Aloysius Gonzaga (1568 - 1591)
St Aloysius was the eldest son of a Mantuan nobleman, and was intended by his father to be a soldier. Aloysius, on the other hand, had determined to be a missionary, and even to die for his faith.
He renounced his birthright in favour of his brother and at the age of 16 became a Jesuit novice in Rome, living the same life of severe austerity and penance that he had followed even when serving in the courts of dukes and princes. In 1591 an epidemic of plague broke out in Rome, and the Jesuits opened a hospital to care for the sick. Aloysius, still a novice, worked hard in the hospital until he himself caught the plague. He did not recover; but, his determination to die for the faith having been fulfilled, died at midnight on the 20th of June with the name of Jesus on his lips.
Saints John Fisher and Thomas More, Martyrs
St. John Fisher (1469 – 1535)
He was born in Beverley, in Yorkshire, in 1469. He studied theology at the University of Cambridge, and had a successful career there, finally becoming chancellor of the University and bishop of Rochester: unusually for the time, he paid a great deal of attention to the welfare of his diocese.
He wrote much against the errors and corruption into which the Church had fallen, and was a friend and supporter of great humanists such as Erasmus of Rotterdam; but he was greatly opposed to Lutheranism, both in its doctrine and in its ideas of reform.
He supported the validity of King Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, and for this he was briefly imprisoned. When the King had divorced Catherine, married Anne Boleyn, and constituted himself the supreme Head of the Church in England, John Fisher refused to assent. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London on a charge of treason, and on 22 June 1535, a month after having been made a Cardinal by the Pope, he was executed. He was so ill and weak that he had to be carried in a chair to the place of execution.
He was the only bishop to oppose Henry VIII’s actions, on the grounds that they were a repudiation of papal authority, but even so he avoided direct confrontation with the other bishops, not holding himself up as a hero or boasting of his coming martyrdom: I condemn no other man’s conscience: their conscience may save them, and mine must save me. We should remember, in all the controversies in which we engage, to treat our opponents as if they were acting in good faith, even if they seem to us to be acting out of spite or self-interest.
St Thomas More (1477 – 1535)
He was born in London, the son of a judge, and himself became an eminent lawyer. He married twice, and had four children. He was a humanist and a reformer, and his book, Utopia, depicting a society regulated by the natural virtues, is still read today.
Thomas More was a close friend of King Henry VIII. As a judge, he was famous for his incorruptibility and impartiality, and he was made Lord Chancellor – the highest legal position in England – in 1529.
When Henry VIII demanded a divorce from Catherine of Aragon, Thomas More opposed him. He resigned the chancellorship in 1532 and retired from public life; but he could not retire from his reputation, and so it was demanded that he take an oath to support the Act of Succession, which effectively repudiated papal religious authority. He refused, and was imprisoned in the Tower of London. After the execution of John Fisher, he was tried on the charge of high treason for denying the King’s supreme headship of the Church, found guilty, and sentenced to death. He went to his execution, on 6 July 1535, with a clear conscience and a light heart; he told the spectators that he was still “the king’s good servant – but God’s first,” and carefully adjusted his beard before he was beheaded.
He wrote a number of devotional works, some of the best of them while in prison awaiting trial. He fought his fight without acrimony, telling his judges that he wished that “we may yet hereafter in Heaven merrily all meet together to everlasting salvation.”
Birthday of St. john the Baptist
Apart from Mary and Joseph, John the Baptist is the only saint in the calendar who has two feasts to himself. One, in August, celebrates his death, and one, in June, celebrates his birth. And this is as it should be, for as Christ himself said, John was the greatest of the sons of men.
The greatest, but also the most tragic. A prophet from before his birth, leaping in the womb to announce the coming of the incarnate God, his task was to proclaim the fulfilment of all prophecies – and thus his own obsolescence. And he did it: with unequalled courage he spread the news that he, the greatest of all men, was the least in the kingdom of heaven. His disciples, and the devil, would have preferred him to fight, to build his sect, to defeat this upstart whom he himself had baptized, to seize his place in history. But he did not – and so, rightly, he has his place, and he has glory in heaven.
We envy the great and the talented, and sometimes we think that they themselves are beyond envy. But when they come across someone with greater gifts, as one day most of them will, they will see for the first time what it means to feel like us. Let us pray that they, like John the Baptist, may pass that test.
St. Cyril of Alexandria, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (370 - 444)
Alexandria was the largest city in the ancient world. Rather like Los Angeles, it was a sprawling mixture of races and creeds; and it was a byword for the violence of its sectarian politics, whether of Greeks against Jews or of orthodox Christians against heretics. Cyril began his career as a worthy follower of this tradition. He succeeded his uncle as bishop of Alexandria in 412, and promptly solved a number of outstanding problems by closing the churches of the Novatian heretics and expelling the Jews from the city. This caused trouble and led to an ongoing quarrel with the Imperial governor of the city and to murderous riots. It is not for this part of his life that St Cyril is celebrated.
In 428, Nestorius, the new Patriarch of Constantinople (and hence one of the most important bishops in the world) made statements that could be interpreted as denying the divinity of Christ. The dual nature – human and divine – has always been hard for us to accept or understand, and if it seems easy it is only because we have not thought about it properly. Those who dislike problems have had two responses: to deny the human nature of Christ or to deny his divinity: and either leads to disaster, since both deny the Incarnation and hence the divinisation of human nature.
Irenaeus, Bishop and Martyr
Irenaeus was born in Smyrna, in Asia Minor (now Izmir in Turkey) and emigrated to Lyons, in France, where he eventually became the bishop. It is not known for certain whether he was martyred or died a natural death.
Whenever we take up a Bible we touch Irenaeus’s work, for he played a decisive role in fixing the canon of the New Testament. It is easy for us, now, to think of Scripture – and the New Testament in particular – as the basis of the Church, and harder to remember that it was the Church that had to decide, early on, what was scriptural and what was not.
Before Irenaeus, there was vague general agreement on what scripture was, but a system based on this kind of common consent was too weak. As people meditated on the intolerable event of the Redemption, dissensions and heresies inevitably arose, and reference to scripture was the obvious way of trying to settle what the truth really was. But in the absence of an agreed canon of scripture it was all too easy to attack one’s opponent’s arguments by saying that his texts were corrupt or unscriptural; and easy, too, to do a little fine-tuning of texts on one’s own behalf.
So Irenaeus went through all the books of the New Testament, and all the candidates (such as the magical pseudo-Gospels, and the entertaining and uplifting novel the Shepherd of Hermas). He did not simply accept or reject each book, because his enemies could have said that he was doing it to bolster his own arguments: he gave reasons for and against the canonicity of each book. Irenaeus’s canon of scripture is very nearly the modern one (he does not quote from three of the short universal epistles), but more important is the fact that he started the tradition of biblical scholarship.
Irenaeus had to fight against the Gnostics, who believed that the world was irredeemably wicked, and against the Valentinians, who claimed to be possessors of a secret tradition that had never been written down but passed from master to disciple through the ages. This pessimism and this arcane élitism remain with us even today, and each generation must renew the fight against them. Let us pray for the inspiration of St Irenaeus in our battle.
Ss. Peter and Paul
St Peter (died 64 A.D.).
He was appointed by Jesus Christ as the first Pope (Matthew 16: 13-20):
“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples,
‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’
And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’
He said to them, ’But who do you say that I am?’
Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah] the Son of the living God.’
And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’”
St. Paul (died c. 62-64 A.D.)
Saul in Hebrew or Paul in Latin (since he was also a Roman Citizen) was born in Tarsus (now in Turkey). He was a leading pharisee who persecuted the early Christians until his conversion. We read an account of this in Acts 9:3-9:
“Now as he journeyed he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him. And he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him,
‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’
And he said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’
And he said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting; but rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.’
The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul arose from the ground; and when his eyes were opened, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank’.
After his dramatic conversion, he became a tireless missionary who through his writings, gave shape to the Church’s doctrine in an unparalleled way. Of the 27 books in the New Testament, 13 are attributed to Paul (7 were actually dictated by him), and approximately half of another, Acts of the Apostles, deals with Paul’s life and works. Thus, about half of the New Testament stems from Paul and the people whom he influenced.
First Martyrs of the See of Rome
The First Martyrs of the See of Rome
When the city of Rome had been devastated by fire in the year 64, the Emperor Nero launched a persecution against the Christians, who were thrown to the wild beasts in the arena or soaked in tar and used as living torches. Their deaths are documented in the writings of the Roman historian Tacitus and in Pope St Clement’s letter to the Corinthians. Their feast was celebrated the day after the feast of Saints Peter and Paul.
The Saxum Institute began in 2017 as a Catholic catechetical institute. The Cornerstone Bookshop works in collaboration with the Institute and stocks all the books that are required by the courses they have to offer. The courses cover a range of topics that are fundamental to Christianity and are ordered towards a deeper understanding and living out of the Christian life. These courses are announced through this website and everyone is welcome to enrol.
The Cornerstone Bookshop, in collaboration with The Saxum Institute, stocks many books by Professor Dr. SCOTT HAHN. Hahn is a renowned and incredibly gifted author, who is totally committed to the teaching mission of the Church and is faithful to her Magisterium (the Church’s official teaching). Therefore, his books have the advantage that their content will faithfully reflect the mind of the Church. An exceptionally popular speaker and teacher, Dr. Hahn has delivered numerous talks nationally and internationally on a wide variety of topics related to Sacred Scripture and the Catholic faith. His talks and publications have been effective in helping thousands to (re)embrace the Catholic faith. He is the founder and president of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and is currently a professor of biblical theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, U.S.A., both of which enjoy strong links with The Saxum Institute in Gibraltar.
Books available in the Book shop
- A Father Who Keeps His Promises by Scott Hahn PB
- The Fourth Cup by Scott Hahn HB
- First Comes Love by Scott Hahn PB
- The Creed: Professing the Faith Through the Ages by Scott Hahn
- The Lamb’s Supper by Scott Hahn
- Swear to God by Scott Hahn
- Signs of Life by Scott Hahn
- The First Society by Scott Hahn
- Politicizing the Bible by Scott Hahn
- Kinship by Covenant by Scott Hahn
- Letter and Spirit by Scott Hahn
- Consuming the Word by Scott Hahn HB
- Rome Sweet Home by Scott Hahn PB
- Covenant and Communion by Scott Hahn
- Evangelizing Catholics by Scott Hahn
- Angels and Saints by Scott Hahn
- Ordinary Work, Extraordinary Grace by Scott Hahn
- The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ by Brant Pitre and Robert Barron
- Jesus the Bridegroom: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told by Brant Pitre
- Jesus and the Last Supper by Brant Pitre
- Before Church and State by Andrew W Jones
From the treatise On the Holy Spirit by Saint Basil the Great, Bishop and Doctor of the Church:
The titles given to the Holy Spirit must surely stir the soul of anyone who hears them, and make him realise that they speak of nothing less than the supreme Being. Is he not called the Spirit of God, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, the steadfast Spirit, the guiding Spirit? But his principal and most personal title is the Holy Spirit.
To the Spirit all creatures turn in their need for sanctification; all living things seek him according to their ability. His breath empowers each to achieve its own natural end.
The Spirit is the source of holiness, a spiritual light, and he offers his own light to every mind to help it in its search for truth. By nature the Spirit is beyond the reach of our mind, but we can know him by his goodness. The power of the Spirit fills the whole universe, but he gives himself only to those who are worthy, acting in each according to the measure of his faith.
Simple in himself, the Spirit is manifold in his mighty works. The whole of his being is present to each individual; the whole of his being is present everywhere. Though shared in by many, he remains unchanged; his self giving is no loss to himself. Like the sunshine, which permeates all the atmosphere, spreading over land and sea, and yet is enjoyed by each person as though it were for him alone, so the Spirit pours forth his grace in full measure, sufficient for all, and yet is present as though exclusively to everyone who can receive him. To all creatures that share in him he gives a delight limited only by their own nature, not by his ability to give.
The Spirit raises our hearts to heaven, guides the steps of the weak, and brings to perfection those who are making progress. He enlightens those who have been cleansed from every stain of sin and makes them spiritual by communion with himself.
As clear, transparent substances become very bright when sunlight falls on them and shine with a new radiance, so also souls in whom the Spirit shines become spiritual themselves and a source of grace for others.
From the Spirit comes foreknowledge of the future, understanding of the mysteries of faith, insight into the hidden meaning of Scripture, and other special gifts. Through the Spirit we become citizens of heaven, we enter into eternal happiness, and abide in God. Through the Spirit we acquire a likeness to God; indeed, we attain what is beyond our most sublime aspirations – we become God.
Tuesday 22nd May: Saint Rita of Cascia (1377 - 1447)
She was born near Cascia, in Umbria in Italy. She was married at the age of 12 despite her frequently repeated wish to become a nun. Her husband was rich, quick-tempered and immoral and had many enemies. She endured his insults, abuse and infidelities for 18 years and bore him two sons, who grew to be like him.
Towards the end of his life she helped to convert her husband to a more pious way of life, but he was stabbed to death by his enemies not long afterwards. He repented before he died and was reconciled to the Church.
Her sons planned to avenge their father’s death. When Rita’s pleas were unavailing, she prayed that God should take their lives if that was the only way to preserve them from the sin of murder. They died of natural causes a year later.
Rita asked to join the convent of St Mary Magdalen at Cascia. She was rejected for being a widow, since the convent was for virgins only, and later given the impossible task of reconciling her family with her husband’s murderers. She carried out the task and was allowed to enter the convent at the age of 36. She remained there until her death at the age of 70.
She is widely honoured as a patron saint of impossible or lost causes.
Friday 25th May: Pope St Gregory VII (1020 - 1085)
He was born in Tuscany and given the name Hildebrand. He became a monk, and assisted several successive Popes in reforming and purifying the Church. He was elected pope in 1073 and took the name of Gregory VII.
He fought single-mindedly to free the Church from harmful influences and dependence on the state. This brought him into conflict with the Emperor Henry IV, who was excommunicated by Gregory, then submitted to him, then changed his mind and besieged and captured Rome. Gregory was “rescued” by the Norman Robert Guiscard, who captured Rome amid scenes of appalling violence, and Gregory had to flee to Salerno, where he died.
Friday 25th May: Saint Mary Magdalen of Pazzi (1566 - 1607)
She was a Carmelite nun who led a hidden life of prayer and self-denial, praying especially for the reform of the Church and the conversion of the whole world. She guided her fellow sisters along the path to perfection. She was granted many spiritual gifts by God.
St Bede the Venerable (673 - 735), Doctor of the Church
He was born in the north of England, near the monastery of Wearmouth. He joined that monastery, and spent all his life there or at Jarrow, teaching and writing.
He was the outstanding ecclesiastical author of his time. He wrote commentaries on Scripture; an ecclesiastical history of the English people, which is a unique and irreplaceable resource for much of early English history; and the first martyrology (collection of saints’ lives) to be compiled on historical principles. He was also the first known writer of English prose, though this has not survived.
He died at Jarrow on 25 May 735: he taught and worked until the last moments of his life, which are narrated by Cuthbert in today’s Office of Readings. He is venerated as the “light of the Church” in the Dark Ages, and as a forerunner of the 8th and 9th century renaissance of the Western Church.
Saturday 26th: Saint Philip Neri (1515 - 1595)
He was born in Florence in 1515. At the age of eighteen he went to Rome, and earned his living as a tutor. He undertook much-needed charitable work among the young men of the city, and started a brotherhood to help the sick poor and pilgrims.
He was advised that he could do more good as a priest, and was ordained in 1551. He built an oratory over the church of San Girolamo, where he invented services, consisting of spiritual readings and hymns, which were the origin of the oratorio (tradition is a good thing; but innovation also has its place). He continued to serve the young men of Rome, rich and poor alike, with religious discussions and by organising charitable enterprises. He had a particular care for the young students at the English College in Rome, studying for a missionary life and probable martyrdom in England.
He inspired other clergy to emulate him, and formed them into the Congregation of the Oratory. Oratorian foundations still flourish in many countries today. He died in Rome in 1595.
St Philip Neri was an enemy of solemnity and conventionality. When some of his more pompous penitents made their confession to him (he was famous as a confessor) he imposed salutary and deflating penances on them, such as walking through the streets of Rome carrying his cat (he was very fond of cats). When a novice showed signs of excessive seriousness, Philip stood on his head in front of him, to make him laugh. When people looked up to him too much, he did something ridiculous so that they should not respect someone who was no wiser – and no less sinful – than they were. In every case there was an excellent point to his pranks: to combat pride, or melancholy, or hero-worship.
Laughter is not much heard in churches: perhaps that is to be expected… but outside church, Christians should laugh more than anyone else – laugh from sheer joy, that God bothered to make us, and that he continues to love us despite the idiots we are. Everyone is a sinner, but Christians are sinners redeemed – an undeserved rescue that we make even less deserved by everything we do. It is too serious a matter to be serious about: all we can reasonably do is rejoice.
Very many of the saints, not just St Philip, have an abiding terror of being looked up to. For they know their imperfections better than anyone else, and being revered by other people is doubly bad. It is bad for the others, who should be revering God instead, and for themselves, because they might be tempted to believe their own image and believe themselves to be worthy.
We are not saints yet, but we, too, should beware. Uprightness and virtue do have their rewards, in self-respect and in respect from others, and it is easy to find ourselves aiming for the result rather than the cause. Let us aim for joy, rather than respectability. Let us make fools of ourselves from time to time, and thus see ourselves, for a moment, as the all-wise God sees us.
Jesus promised us He would send the Holy Spirit after His Resurrection. St. Luke tells us what happened:
“When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God”. (Luke 24: 50 – 53).
Nine days later, the disciples were gathered together in the Upper Room
united in constant prayer, with Mary the Mother of Jesus, when the Holy Spirit came down upon them: “And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability” (Acts 2: 1 – 31). And so… the Catholic Church was born.
The word itself comes from the Greek word for “fiftieth” (pentecoste), indicating that Pentecost is the fiftieth day after Easter Sunday. It is from this period, between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost Sunday, that we derive the concept of the Novena (nine days of prayer): as Acts tell us, Mary and the Apostles prayed together “continuously” for these nine days. For this reason, traditionally, the Church prays a Novena to the Holy Spirit in the days before Pentecost.
There will be a Novena at 19:30, Cathedral of St. Mary the Crowned, organized by the Catholic Charismatic Renewal from Friday 11th to Saturday 19th May, preached during Holy Mass by Fr. Jonathan
On April 29, 1965, the second year of his pontificate, Blessed Paul VI wrote his encyclical (meaning, a letter the Pope sends throughout the world) “MENSE MAIO” (the Month of May), on prayers during May for the preservation of world peace.
The Second Vatican Council was meeting in Rome with the aim, as the Holy Father explained:
“to adapt herself, in a suitable way, to the needs of our day. On the success of this endeavour will depend, for a long time to come, the future of Christ’s spouse and the fate of many souls. It is indeed a great moment which God has injected into the life of the Church and the history of the world” (n. 4).
The Pope wrote:
“The month of May is … a month which the piety of the faithful has long dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God. Our heart rejoices at the thought of the moving tribute of faith and love which will soon be paid to the Queen of Heaven in every corner of the earth. For this is the month during which Christians, in their churches and their homes, offer the Virgin Mother more fervent and loving acts of homage and veneration; and it is the month in which a greater abundance of God’s merciful gifts comes down to us from our Mother’s throne. We are delighted and consoled by this pious custom associated with the month of May, which pays honour to the Blessed Virgin and brings such rich benefits to the Christian people” (nn. 1-2).
The Encyclical was written in the aftermath of two horrible world wars —with all their macabre, insane loss of life— in the wake of so much instability and poverty left behind in many regions. The nuclear age was fast threatening to end humanity as we know it. The ‘cold war’ was freezing international relations. Although a man was about to step on the Moon, ushering in the digital age, this was also a period when science was claiming to have finally killed the need for God. Religion was often derided in Marxian terms, as das Opium des Volkes (often translated as: “Religion is the opium of the masses”). After the recent centuries of scientific and ideological revolution, religion was being pushed more and more into the private sphere, something only for the superstitious and unenlightened. Now humankind had come of age! There was no longer any need to invent and rely on those silly myths of the type propagated in the Bible and unscientifically expounded by blind devotees. And so, the age of indifference and scepticism, gave way to our current age of relativism and individualism.
Perhaps, as in every challenge humanity faces, paradoxically, the need for the spiritual seems to have become stronger than before. The promise of the irrelevance and absence of ‘religion’ in a ‘new age’, has been eclipsed by an almost explosion of a whole industry of self-awareness, self-help, mindfulness and alternative therapies to the historic old hat, supposedly opiate, institutional, collective varieties. Religion, in an intensely individualistic new age, has become rather à-la-carte; a supermarket experience of choice. For a Catholic with a sense of 2,000 years of history, we’ve seen similar eclectic trends become all the rage but only for a while, many times before! But why keep bringing Mary into the picture?
The simple answer, is that is precisely what God did! At the Annunciation, when the Angel Gabriel brought God’s personal invitation to Mary, to become mother of the incarnate Messiah, God-made-flesh, Mary was brought into the scene of the Mystery of God’s redemptive plan: to save us all from perdition, from being lost for ever.
As St. Paul taught, due to the Fall, when Original Sin came into the world through Adam and Eve, our first parents (for more on this, including evolution, read Pius XII’s Encyclical Humani generis , we became ‘dead in sin’, no longer able to walk freely in our relationship with God (see: Romans 5, 12 -21). We utterly ‘were lost’” (see: Ephesians 2:1-10), but Christ Jesus came to our rescue, bringing us back into the Father’s loving embrace.
Why do we Catholic honour Mary?
Because God did! The Angel Gabriel was sent with this message for the world and for her: “Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with you!”. Mary knew that her whole life was about to change from that moment onwards, and readily said “Yes!” to God, becoming forever “the handmaid of the Lord”, consecrated to doing His will in all things. For this reasons, as Mary herself prophesied: “all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48). It is therefore not only Catholics who honour her in this way, calling her blessed, but every Christian who acknowledges the gift of God’s Word-made-flesh in His humble servant Mary.
So… in this Month of Mary, we are conscious of our need for Christ. “It is right and just, our duty and our salvation” (a phrase often heard at the prefaces to the Eucharistic Prayer at Holy Mass), to acknowledge Him as Lord and so, to open wide the doors of our hearts to Him. Mary continues to do as she did on that day of the Annunciation: she gives birth to Christ in our hearts. We pray, that during the month of May, our blessed Mother will gently bring us closer to her Son, Jesus, the Saviour. In not dissimilar circumstances to our current situation, on 19th July 1830, our Lady appeared to St. Catherine Labouré (at her convent in Rue du Bac, Paris, France). She desired to bring spiritual consolation to her children, warning that “times are evil in France and in the world”, and left us the gift of the so-called ‘Miraculous Medal’ so beloved to many by Catholics everywhere. On it we can read —and during this month of Mary make our own— those words of prayer and childlike confidence: Ô Marie, conçue sans péché, priez pour nous qui avons recours à vous,
“O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee”.