I am delighted to have the opportunity to gather with you this morning for the Maryland Catholic Women’s Conference. I would like to thank Jeanne Link and all who organized this important gathering here at Mount Saint Mary’s University, the Mount that is so dear to Our Blessed Lady. May this be a day when you experience more deeply the beauty of prayer, when you open your hearts more widely to the beauty of the faith, and when you are renewed in your calling to be missionary disciples by growing in holiness by living the vocation to which you have been called.
Saturday, as we know, is the day traditionally devoted to Our Lady. While a normal Saturday might be crowded with all kinds of activities, today will offer a measure of quiet and stillness, an opportunity to appreciate Mary’s closeness to us in prayer and to absorb the teaching of her life. In the words of Pope Francis: “As a true mother, Mary walks at our side, she shares our struggles, and she constantly surrounds us with God’s love” (EG, no. 286).
Blessed are Those Who Hear the Word of God
In the Gospel we just heard, someone from the crowd, who likely knew and admired Our Lady, called out to Christ, “Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed.” Jesus responds somewhat surprisingly: “Rather,” he says, “blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”
In his encyclical letter Redemptoris Mater – the Mother of the Redeemer, Blessed John Paul II explains that, by responding as he does, Jesus “wishes to divert attention from motherhood understood only as a fleshly bond, in order to direct it towards those mysterious bonds of the spirit which develop from hearing and keeping God’s Word.”
Far from minimizing the role of his own Mother – who stood at the foot of the Cross, who was likely the first witness of the Resurrection, and who today is the Mother of the Church – Christ is extending to all of his disciples the invitation to love God as strongly and deeply as his own Mother does.
The Witness of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta
In this regard, it’s well known that Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta often used to say to her Sisters, “Remember, you are mothers.” There was, of course, no biological bond between these Sisters and the poor and destitute from around the world whom they cared for and loved.
Yet the Sisters’ care and love for the poorest of the poor was precisely a manifestation of their hearing of the word of God, and keeping it. Truly, they were, and are, mothers to the poor: mothers to those who experience not only material poverty, but the poverty of feeling unwanted, unloved, and forgotten.
How many are the stories of the men and women, whose hearts formerly had been filled with anger and resentment against their lot in life who came to know the depths of God’s love for them precisely through the Sisters’ witness of love and charity. The exact number of deathbed Baptisms and Confirmations which have taken place – and continue to take place – in shelters of the Missionaries of Charity, are known only to God.
Indeed, these Sisters are witnesses to you and me, and to the whole Church, “that hearing the word of God and observ[ing] it” leads us day by day to an ever-deeper capacity for charity, truly a charity that makes us credible witnesses of God’s love, truly a charity that evangelizes.
The Marian Style of Evangelizing
We have all been inspired by the presence of the Holy Father in the United States. During his brief stay in our country, he touched the lives of millions and in a way that was endearing and engaging challenges us to become missionary disciples who have encountered Christ, who have fallen deeply in love with Him, and whose lives are being transformed by his love.
Whether he was speaking to public officials, or canonizing St. Junipero Serra, defending religious freedom, or encouraging married couples and families – the Pope was in our midst, he said, as a missionary of mercy, as a Pope who is first and foremost a disciple of Jesus. He came to do for us what he asks us to do for others: to listen to their questions and worries, to accompany them in their need, and by the witness of our lives to lead them to Christ and to the Church.
In his exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis taught us that the New Evangelization cannot be understood apart from Mary, “the Mother of the Church which evangelizes” (ibid). Through the overshadowing Spirit, she became the path through which Jesus, the Good News in the flesh, entered the world. Sinless from the first moment of her existence, she lived the Beatitudes before they were proclaimed and shared more fully than anyone else in Jesus sacrifice of love on the Cross. Indeed she sums up in herself all the great mysteries of our salvation.
Pope Francis also tells us that Mary influences how the Church goes about proclaiming the Gospel – that there is a Marian “style” of evangelization…allow me to quote him directly: “Whenever we look to Mary, we come to believe once again in the revolutionary nature of love and tenderness. In her we see that humility and tenderness are not virtues of the weak but of the strong who need not treat others poorly in order to feel important themselves… She is the woman of prayer and work in Nazareth and she is also Our Lady of Help who sets out from her town ‘with haste’ in order to be of service to others” (ibid., no. 265). Mary embodies that spirit of love, that spirit of charity that evangelizes.
As we take part in this day of time of prayer and reflection, let us ask Our Lady to obtain for us the capacity for an ever more attentive hearing of the word of God, and an ever more faithful observing of it. And in words prayed so often by Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, asking Our Lady’s help with the big things and the small things which came to her in everyday life, let us pray too: “Mary, Mother of Jesus, be a Mother to me now.”