ROME – Pope Francis started the New Year heaping praise not only on the Virgin Mary but on all mothers, saying their love is the foundation of humanity and the cure for a world often divided and filled with bitterness.
He praised mothers for the “heroism” they show “in self-giving, strength in compassion, wisdom in meekness,” saying they are people who know how to take their children by the hand and “lovingly introduce them to life.”
At times children can take the wrong path and, believing they are strong and free, they become lost and enslaved, forgetting the love of their mother and living in anger and bitterness, he said, noting that while being “malicious” might at times seem to be a sign of strength, “it is nothing more than weakness.”
“A world that looks to the future without a mother’s gaze is shortsighted. It may well increase its profits, but it will no longer see others as children. It will make money, but not for everyone. We will all dwell in the same house, but not as brothers and sisters,” the pope said.
Humanity “is built upon mothers,” he said, adding that “a world in which maternal tenderness is dismissed as mere sentiment may be rich materially, but poor where the future is concerned.”
Francis, as he does every year, celebrated Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica marking the Catholic solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, a title given to the Virgin Mary during the Council of Ephesus in 431. The day also marks the celebration of the global World Day of Peace, this year focusing on the theme “Good politics at the service of peace.”
Francis is known for having a longstanding “love affair” with Mary expressed in popular Catholic devotion. His devotion to Our Lady began well before his 2013 election to the papacy, and one concrete sign of this is a promise he made in 1990 to the Virgin of Carmel to give up television.
He was known to participate in massive Marian pilgrimages to the Argentine shrine of Our Lady of Lujan while archbishop of Buenos Aires, and even now before and after every international trip he takes, he visits the highly venerated icon, the Salus Populi Romani (protectress of the Roman people) to both entrust his travels to her, and to give thanks.
In interviews, the pope has also often said his devotion to Mary helps carry him through the papacy, having prayed three rosaries a day right after his election and also praying a rosary while closing his eyes when he needs to take a small break during the work day.
In his homily Tuesday, Francis said the start of the new year is a time to be “amazed” not only by the opportunity for new beginnings, but also by the Mother of God, who was deeply united with her son, Jesus.
“God is no distant lord, dwelling in splendid isolation above the heavens, but love incarnate, born like us of a mother, in order to become a brother to each of us,” he said, and urged Catholic faithful to ask Mary for “the grace to be amazed at the God of surprises” as 2019 gets started.
He urged each person to try to remember the amazement of when they first discovered faith, and similarly, said the Church must also remember its sense of amazement in being a mother to all those in need.
If the Church forgets this, “she risks turning into a beautiful museum of the past. Our Lady instead gives the Church the feel of home, a home in which the God of newness dwells,” he said, adding that Catholics should look to Mary in times of difficulty when their lives are “entangled in life’s knots.”
(The reference to knots, by the way, is likely a reference to “Our Lady, Untier of Knots,” a Marian title that originated from a painting inside a small chapel in a Bavarian parish that a younger Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis, discovered during a brief stint studying in Germany. He was so struck by the image that when he returned to Argentina, he made it a point to spread devotion to the image throughout his archdiocese.)
“How much dispersion and solitude there is all around us! The world is completely connected, yet seems increasingly disjointed,” Francis said. Faced with this reality, “we need to entrust ourselves to our Mother,” he said, noting how Elizabeth did this when Mary visited her, as did the newlyweds at Cana when Mary asked Jesus to intervene when the wine ran out.
Mary, he said, “is a cure for solitude and dispersion. She is the Mother of consolation: she stands ‘with’ those who are alone. She knows that words are not enough to console; presence is needed, and she is present as a mother.”
Francis closed his homily saying Our Lady “is not an optional accessory,” but rather, “has to be welcomed into our life. She is the Queen of peace, who triumphs over evil and leads us along paths of goodness, who restores unity to her children, who teaches us compassion.”
In his Angelus address after Mass, the pope said that Mary, as she holds her son, the savior of the world, in her arms and shows him to the world, “blesses us.”
“She blesses the path of every man and every woman in this year that is beginning, and which will be good precisely in the measure in which each person welcomes the goodness of God that Jesus came to bring into the world,” he said, adding that this blessing is what gives meaning to all of the well-wishes exchanged at the beginning of the new year.
He then noted how the day also marks the World Day of Peace, stressing that peace is not only reserved to those who govern, but “we are all responsible for the life of the city, for the common good.”
“Politics is also good in the measure in which each person does their part in the service of peace,” he said, and asked Our Lady to help and accompany people in their daily commitment to politics aimed at the common good. He then asked attendees to join him in saying together “Holy Mother of God” three times before reciting the traditional Marian prayer.