January 2019 Allocutio
By Fr. Colm Mannion O.P.
“Behold Your Mother”
Having found the path to the priesthood through the Morning Star Hostel, it was a great joy to be invited back to the hostel praesidium to take on the role of spiritual director. Not only is it inspiring to hear the reports each week on the care given to the residents, but the Legionaries should also be commended for their hard work in renovating the building itself. In particular, I want to highlight the recent efforts made to enhance the beauty of the oratory, which, to my mind, is the real heart of the Morning Star, and a place where many souls have encountered the Lord since the hostel first opened.
Those who have visited the Morning Star lately will surely have noticed the changes in the oratory, from the newly installed sound system (though still not in full operation) to the stained glass windows. And I hate to spoil the surprise, but the best is yet to come. A beautiful new window depicting the Virgin and Child will soon be fitted into the front entrance of the chapel. With this work of art almost complete, the Legionaries asked if I might suggest a verse from the scriptures to be inscribed under the image. But where to look? From the Book of Genesis to the Book of Revelation, the Bible is packed with references to the Mother of God. Is it possible to condense Mary’s role in salvation history into a single sentence? To add to the difficulty, I was told the scriptural quotation must be short. In fact, to fit the stained glass window, the text could be no more than three words!
So which three words from the Scriptures would best be placed on the doorway into the Morning Star oratory? Looking over the passages where Our Lady speaks in the New Testament, I struggled to select ‘just three’ words. And so, I asked instead, what would Jesus say? Then it came to me: “Behold Your Mother ”. As we enter the place where the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is celebrated, it seems right that we be reminded of our Saviour’s words on the Cross. Now, as at the hour of His death, Jesus prays for us sinners, giving one final command to each beloved disciple: “Behold your Mother”. His Mother becomes our Mother, Mother of the Church, the doorway to Heaven itself. The Legionaries agreed that we had found the right text for the new stained glass window. If there were any doubt, all we had to do is take a closer look at where exactly these words appear in St. John’s Gospel: chapter 19, verse 27. A remarkably coincidence that Frank Duff first opened the doors of the Hostel in the year 1927!
Ninety-two years later, January 2019, and we recently celebrated the solemnity of Mary’s Divine Motherhood. As each new year begins, the Church calls the faithful across the world to behold our Mother. January is a time for new beginnings, and we turn to Mary with hope for the future. In his second Papal Encyclical Letter, Spe Salvi, Benedict XVI explained how the theological virtues of faith and hope always go hand in hand. We can’t have one without the other. The ‘faith-filled’ Christian lives in hope, and, according to the Pope Emeritus, one cannot truly hope without having faith in Christ. But is that unfair to those who have not received the gift of faith? Can we really say that ‘non-believers’ are living without hope?
Advances in technology, along with new discoveries in medicine, seem to promise a brighter future for all, irrespective of religious beliefs. But those who trust in the natural sciences alone put their faith in the progress of man rather than the providence of God. We hear much talk today about the need to ‘stay ahead of the times’ and the urgent drive to keep ‘moving forward’. Yet few ever stop to question where exactly we are going. The underlying assumption in secular thinking is that, freed from the confines of organised religion, humanity will instinctively order itself towards a better world. History, however, has proved with tragic irony that this assumption is not only false, but critically dangerous. Every civilisation that has ever attempted to build a godless utopia has inevitably created a form of hell on earth. The harder people try to supress religious faith, the more disastrous the outcome.
Without God, humanity forgets what it means to be human. Therefore the Church draws attention back to the Virgin who became the Mother of God, and who mothers the human race to its proper end. On the 1st of January the Holy Father, Pope Francis, had this to say in his homily on Mary’s Divine Motherhood: “A world that looks to the future without a mother’s gaze is short-sighted. It may well increase its profits, but it will no longer see others as children… We will all dwell in the same house, but not as brothers and sisters. The human family is built upon mothers. A world in which maternal tenderness is dismissed as mere sentiment may be rich materially, but poor where the future is concerned.”
The Catholic Church is frequently attacked for standing in the way of ‘progress’. As people of faith, we are ridiculed for ‘living in the past’. Yet, these accusations do carry a certain element of truth: our lives find purpose, not in what may or may not happen in the future, but in the conviction of what has already happened. The life, death and resurrection of Christ is where we find truth, meaning, and hope. Without faith, one can certainly dream about a better future. But the theological virtue of hope is something far more profound than mere ‘wishful thinking’. Because of Mary’s ‘Yes’, time has been touched by eternity. Because of what happened 2,000 years ago, faith and hope are bound forever with love (1 Cor 13:13). As Legionaries, we embrace the challenges each new year presents, always being ready to give an account for the hope within us with gentleness and love (1 Pet. 3:15). We shape the future by looking back to the Cross. We go forward with confidence and humility, remembering those three words spoken by the Son of God, “Behold your Mother”.