August 2023 Allocutio
Fr. Paul Churchill, Concilium Spiritual Director
The August calendar is bedecked with bright jewels. By that I mean that a great array of wondrous saints is presented to us for our veneration and inspiration. And in there, without any ambiguity, one shines out the brightest, namely Our Lady. The month speaks not just of her Assumption and Crowning as Queen but also gives us such days as St. Mary Majors, Our Lady of Knock in Ireland, but also a crown of saints around her who all have a special connection to her. St Alphonsus Ligouri wrote of her glories, the Cure of Ars was known for his devotion to her, St. Dominic promoted the Rosary, Maximilian Kolbe the brave knight of the Immaculata battled with and for her, St John the Baptist’s death must have been a personal shock to her who introduced him to Jesus.
But I want to stay with one other August saint, St. Bartholomew, also known as Nathaniel, who said to Philip, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” He had not yet met Jesus nor his mother. But if we follow St. John’s Gospel, he would have been at the wedding at Cana and walked back with Jesus and Mary to Capernaum after that event (Jn 2:12), thus helping answer his question.
The Gospels have a few passages about Nazareth which speak volumes indirectly about Our Lady, the mother of Nazareth. We are told that after the Presentation in the Temple, Joseph and Mary returned to Nazareth and there Jesus “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom, the favour of God being with him” (Lk 2:40); and after his three days being “lost” in the Temple went home with them to Nazareth and “increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favour with God and man” (Lk 2:52).
Those special years of what is called the “hidden” life of Nazareth were rich. They are years during which Jesus grew and developed in his human life to reach a maturity unparalleled. While he was the second person of the Blessed Trinity in human flesh, his earthly development depended so much on the input he received from Mary and Joseph.
We are aware of the many cases of children who grow up in dysfunctional homes and carry wounds into their adulthood, some very serious ones. Indeed, all of us carry some wounds from our families; and many parents may be sorry for some of the errors they made. But in Nazareth, in the family of Joseph and Mary, a most suitable soil was provided so that the seed of Mary would germinate and flourish and provide a fruit for the world that would last.
So, can anything good come out of Nazareth? Even the Nazarenes were surprised. “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom given him? Is not this the carpenter, the Son of Mary?” (Mk 6:2-3). But in those very words they hit the nail on the head. Every child in the world carries in them so much they received through and from their mothers. Jesus, like us all, is the child of his mother. She was his first link to this world. For nine months she bore him, then suckled him, then reared him with Jospeh. It is clear from both the Finding in the Temple and her seeking him out anxiously during his ministry (Mk 3:31-35) that she cared deeply about him. She brought him to the Synagogue, to Passover in Jerusalem, it was she who fed him and encouraged him when he fell, who bandaged him when he cut himself, she who with Joseph taught him the Jewish faith, prayers, festivals. The intense and special relationship she had with him is underlined in how she got him to carry out the miracle of Cana.
In this I am not forgetting that in Jesus was the Word of God. I am not forgetting special relationship with the Heavenly Father nor the movements of the other divine person, the Holy Spirit. But in this human world of creatureliness the greatest influence was Mary. In short, part of Mary’s glory is the man Jesus turned out to be.
Let me stay a bit more with the theme of Nazareth. It is at one level astonishing that the God who came to unite himself to humanity and share our life and bring a new input of God into his creation should lie low for most of his earthly life in a village off the beaten track, such that Nathaniel can say—said, note, by one of whom Jesus said he was ‘incapable of deceit’—“Can anything good come out of that place?” But if he stayed in the backwoods of Nazareth then it points only to one simple fact, namely that you can only make a contribution out of your built-up resources. Those hidden years of Nazareth laid the foundation for the ministry that Jesus was to accomplish. “Where did this man get all this wisdom?” they asked. Right under their noses, in Nazareth! And in that mix one person stands out, has to stand out, his mother!
For us Legionaries I wish to draw two essential lessons. The first is that before we carry out any work, we need a Nazareth start. You cannot give what you don’t have. We must first build up our spiritual inner beings in the hidden world of prayer and union with God. It is by persevering prayer, patiently working on becoming charitable at all levels and dying to selfishness, by accepting your limitations as you learn the road of life, and by bringing all we do and suffer back to God in prayer, that we can change and become supple in the hands of the Holy Spirit. Thus, the object of the Legion is holiness, developed by prayer and active co-operation (Handbook Ch. 2).
But secondly, like Jesus, let us seek out Mary’s company, she who is the best mother of all mothers. If Jesus submitted himself to her for thirty years and listened to her, then we must all do the same. If that is what the Head did, then the Body must do the same. Our formation must be done under Mary’s tutelage. So let us enter the school of the hidden life wherein Jesus can teach us the secrets of his Kingdom. We have, just as Jesus did, the help of the best mother who will encourage us and reassure us and intercede for us and do all she can for us.
You may already have a public life, but Nazareth is whenever we go into that secret world of prayer and suffering, when we seem to be getting nowhere and even having setbacks, and bring it to Mary.
Mary has many glories, some of which we celebrate explicitly this month. But we must never forget one of the greatest of her glories, that in was in the hiddenness of Nazareth she reared Jesus and prepared him for his great ministry. And the more we place ourselves under her care in that school, the better we will be in helping her to advance the Kingdom of her son. Amen.