Mary Teaches Us

This month I would like to focus our attention on Lourdes on the occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady there. Lourdes is a sacred place, one of the great shrines in the Christian world, a place of pilgrimage. It is a place that has many memories for the Legion. But it is much more. It is a school and the principal teacher is Mary. It is true that we do not have to go to Lourdes to meet and converse with Our Lady. We can meet her anywhere and at any time simply by stopping where we are and quietly turning to her. Our relationship to Mary is not limited to any place or time. She is our Mother and is never absent from us. Her maternal heart is always and everywhere focused on each one of us. But Mary herself has made Lourdes extra special. She has made it a place of intense education in the faith, of profound healing and conversion but above all a meeting place with Jesus and involvement with the work of redemption.

Mary teaches us with signs and words and by her very presence. Today, following the example of Pope Benedict at Lourdes, I wish to concentrate on one of those signs. You remember the scene. At the first sight of the apparition, Bernadette instinctively tries to make the sign of the Cross but she couldn’t raise her arm no matter how she tried. Then Mary blessed herself with the sign of the Cross and Bernadette was then able to make it too. At the beginning of all eighteen appearances of Our Lady they begin the Rosary together with this simple, yet profound, sign of our Faith. Bernadette was never to forget the way Mary made the sign of the Cross and this sign became very precious to her. We too as legionaries begin everything with the sign of the Cross. Five times we bless ourselves in the course of every Legion meeting. It would be good to reflect on its meaning and formative value.

Let me quote Pope Benedict from one of his homilies at Lourdes: ‘This is the great mystery that Mary also entrusts to us this morning, inviting us to turn towards her Son. In fact, it is significant that, during the first apparition to Bernadette, Mary begins the encounter with the sign of the Cross. More than a simple sign, it is an initiation into the mysteries of the faith that Bernadette receives from Mary. The sign of the Cross is a kind of synthesis of our faith, for it tells how much God loves us; it tells us that there is a love in this world that is stronger than death, stronger than our weaknesses and sins. The power of love is stronger than the evil which threatens us. It is this mystery of the universality of God’s love for men that Mary came to reveal here, in Lourdes. She invites all people of good will, all those who suffer in heart or body, to raise their eyes towards the Cross of Jesus, so as to discover there the source of life, the source of salvation.’ One of the great truths that Mary teaches us at Lourdes is the centrality of the Cross of Christ in our lives. Everything is given to us on the Cross. There is nothing more to give. The sign of the Cross is the sign of our redemption. This simple sign tells us that the infinite treasures of the Heart of Christ are offered to us.

Like the Church as a whole so the Legion, in particular, must be riveted on the Cross of Christ. “In order to be healed from sin, gaze upon Christ crucified!” said Saint Augustine (Treatise on Saint John XII, II). By raising our eyes towards the Crucified one, we adore him who came to take upon himself the sin of the world and to give us eternal life. And the Church invites us proudly to lift up this glorious Cross so that the world can see the full extent of the love of the Crucified one for mankind, for every man and woman. She invites us to give thanks to God because from a tree, which brought death, life has burst out anew. On this wood Jesus reveals to us his sovereign majesty, he reveals to us that he is exalted in glory. Yes, “Come, let us adore him!” In our midst is he who loved us even to giving his life for us, he who invites every human being to draw near to him with trust.

The Cross of Christ is central to our prayer life through the Mass and the Sacrament of Penance, the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary and the Stations of the Cross and the frequent blessing of ourselves. But it is also an instrument in our work of evangelisation. We remember the little story that our Founder tells in several articles and letters: ‘A Protestant had been attending some of our functions for a long time. One day Bro Hanratty said to him: “Is it not a peculiarity that a good man like you should refuse to make the Sign of the Cross which has always been the acknowledged symbol of our Redemption”. The next time they met, the other solemnly blessed himself and said: “You made a point there, John. It is time I step into the Church”. Sequel: a daily Communicant who valued his new faith supremely. God makes use of every little circumstance to lead people into the Church, but we must provide those circumstances. Operation must enter in somewhere.’ Mary stood by the Cross and she wanted the whole world to look to the sign of the Cross at Lourdes and surely this is a major part of the apostolate of the Legion. We need to be able to explain the meaning of the Cross to those we meet especially the non-Christian person and we must enable them one day to bless themselves with the sign of the Cross.