Pope Francis prays in front of the original statue of Our Lady of Fatima during a Marian vigil in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican in this Oct. 12, 2013, file photo. The pope has invited "every community and every believer" to join him in consecrating and entrusting Russia and Ukraine to Mary March 25, 2022. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Glen Argan: Mary intercedes for Ukraine and for us

  • March 24, 2022

Friday, March 25 marks the 35th anniversary of the publication of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Mother of the Redeemer in 1987. One might ask, “Why should I care about such an anniversary?” However, the Church does care about it, asking herself how the anniversary of a teaching document might speak to us in the light of changed circumstances. The anniversary, if we attend to it, renews the grace of the original event.

This encyclical itself was written to commemorate an anniversary — the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of Christ’s Virgin Mother. It was also released in the year of another jubilee, that of the 1,000th anniversary of the conversion of St. Vladimir, the year of the conversion of Ukraine and Russia. The link between the encyclical and the war on Ukraine is today a matter of significance.

Mother of the Redeemer did not introduce new teaching. But it did deepen the Second Vatican Council’s teaching on Mary’s mediation and her role as mother of the Church.

Our reflection on Mary as the mother of the Church can help the Church grow closer to Christ through His mother. The Church is renewed not through disputes between left and right, liberal and conservative. Mary’s motherhood builds the unity of the Church.

Mary’s motherhood, Pope John Paul wrote, is “completely pervaded by her spousal attitude as the ‘handmaid of the Lord.’ ” This attitude is part of what we celebrate on this feast of the Annunciation. Mary’s declaration to the angel Gabriel, “Let it be with me according to your word” (Lk 1:38), is the model for our own following of Christ in every aspect of our lives. Because she is full of grace, Mary’s gift of self to God’s plans is perfect while our self-giving is less so.

Mary was the one who realized she had no right to exist, that her very being was a gift of the Creator. When today we become obsessed with defending our rights, we ought to take a step back and realize that existence itself is a gift, not a right. Everything about us is contingent on God’s gratuity. The proper stance of any human person is to give thanks and be God’s handmaid.

Because Mary is the perfect handmaid, she becomes our mediator with her son. Jesus’ mediation is not eclipsed because of her maternal mediation; it is highlighted even more. Christ’s mediation is the unique and total mediation between humanity and the Father. It is also a mediation which is open to the mediation of others. Through this openness, the Church is a place of spiritual freedom and cooperation, a mystical body shaped by the prayers and holy actions of the faithful in union with Christ.

At a press conference releasing the encyclical, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said Mary’s mediation is ordered to an ever-new birth of Christ in the world. Her mediation and motherhood of the Church are united. Not only did Mary give physical birth to Jesus, she also continually gives birth to Christ through the Church. Thus, Jesus’ words, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it” (Lk 11:28) are realized down through the ages.

They are realized particularly in Mary who was the ultimate handmaid of God’s word. It is fitting that we turn to her and follow her. We take our sorrows and desires to Mary so she will make them her own and take them to her son. What son could deny the requests of his mother?

It is appropriate that we take our prayers for peace and the defence of Ukraine to Mary. The seemingly coincidental conversion of Holy Rus’ with the 1,000th anniversary of Mary’s birth is now seen in a different light. The lands of the Slavic east and of Russia have been marked by a millennium of veneration of our Holy Mother.

At Fatima, Our Lady of Peace spoke of the need for prayer for the conversion of Russia to bring an end to her spreading “her errors” throughout the world. Those errors now include the merciless bombing of hospitals, schools and cities. Mary is already interceding with Jesus to bring peace and justice to Ukraine. So are millions of people throughout the world. We ask that God would turn the hearts of Vladimir Putin and Russian leaders toward peace and coexistence. Their conversion would be the fulfillment of Pope John Paul’s encyclical.

(Glen Argan writes his online column Epiphany at https://glenargan.substack.com.)

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