May Feelings

Reflection for the May edition of the Catholic People Cardiff Diocesan Newspaper.

For the first thousand years of Christianity, not a single Catholic prayed the Hail Mary, let alone a rosary. The prayer simply hadn’t been composed, at least as we know it today. But we do know that from the earliest times, Christians asked the Mother of God to pray for them. The most ancient surviving text comes from the 3rd Century, and says: “Beneath your compassion, we take refuge, O Mother of God: do not despise our petitions in time of trouble: but rescue us from dangers, only pure, only blessed one.”

As the Christian Faith became well established across Europe, monasteries were established everywhere – the Cistercians were a particularly strong presence in medieval Wales. Lay brothers, who had never learned to read, could not join in with reading the 150 Psalms. Instead they offered the Lord’s Prayer 150 times, using a string of beads to keep count. By the 12th Century, it had become common to pray the Hail Mary on the beads, and we know that English hermits had a rule breaking the prayers into five groups of 10. Lay men and women adopted the practice too.

At that time, the Hail Mary simply consisted of the words of the Angel Gabriel – “Hail Mary, full of grace…” and the words of St Elizabeth – “Blessed are you among women…”. By the end of the 15th Century, it had become customary to add: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”

Legend has it that Our Lady appeared to St Dominic and taught him the rosary, but the first written claim of this appeared 250 years after St Dominic lived. What we are more sure of is that, in Lourdes in 1858, Our Lady was carrying a rosary when she appeared to St Bernadette, and at Fatima in 1917, she asked that many people pray the rosary daily for the intention of peace in the world.

In 2008 a young Spanish film producer, Belomásan (Santiago Requejo) decided to promote the rosary. He asked 50 of his friends – all young adults – to state a reason why they prayed the rosary and filmed them saying so. This video went viral, so the following year he produced another with the fifty young people in T-shirts proclaiming “I Pray the Rosary!” coming together. Each year since he has released an annual May video, each with a different focus – praying for the world, remembering the Pope, praying for priests, asking forgiveness – and by the time this newspaper goes to press, “May Feelings 9” will likely be revealed to the world. You can see these on YouTube by searching for “May Feelings”. More recently he established a social network to share prayer requests:

Anyone can be a Catholic in good standing and never pray a Hail Mary. It’s not part of the official Missal, though in the UK we do have a custom of including it in the bidding prayers at Mass. There are things we do because God commanded us to do so – praying the Our Father and celebrating Mass. But the best acts of love flow from the human heart as a freely given offering. Praying a Hail Mary or a rosary is such a gift of love. We don’t have to – but we can. So call your mother – she’d love to hear from you!

Our Lady of the Most Blessed Trinity

ol1Homily at St Philip Evans on Trinity Sunday, Year B.

The Seven Word Sermon: Mary is Mother, Daughter, Spouse of God.

Miryam, the daughter of Anna and Joachim, loved to listen to the great stories of what God had done for her people. The God of her ancestors has spoken to Moses and revealed his Law for the whole people of Israel. With mighty deeds, he enabled them to escape from Egypt and enter the land long-ago promised to Abraham and to his descendents for ever.

Miryam knew that many times, God had allowed his power to work through great heroines – it was written that “God’s spirit” had come upon them. Sarah, in her old age, had conceived a son for Abraham. Deborah had been a great prophet in charge of all Israel. Hannah, barren for many years, had been granted a child in answer to prayers in the Temple. Judith tricked and defeated the military commander of Israel’s enemies.

On the day appointed by God, Miryam’s life was transformed forever. An angel appeared and declared she had been chosen from all women for a task unique in human history: the God of the Universe was to have a Son on Earth. But for a son to be born, a mother’s womb was needed, and this could not happen without a woman’s consent. The same divine spirit which came upon Israel’s heroines of old, now fell upon Miryam; the words of scripture struggle to express it adequately, that she was filled with the utter fullness of what God could offer.

We know that although all human beings are made in God’s image, it is not correct to say that simply being human makes you a child of God. No, it is when the Holy Spirit comes into the heart of a person, that we are adopted as a Son or Daughter of God-the-Heavenly-Father. Miryam, filled with the fullness of God’s Spirit, was most truly of all people a Daughter of God-the-Father. And because of this utter fullness of the presence of God’s spirit, it has become traditional to speak of Mary as “Spouse of the Holy Spirit”.

“The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary – and she conceived by the Holy Spirit.” In these familiar words of the Angelus prayer we affirm that Mary bore a child by the Spirit’s power.

“Behold the handmaid of the Lord” – Mary made an act of utter obedience to God.

“The Word Became Flesh” – in her womb, the Word of God, a co-equal spirit begotten by the Divine Father before the beginning of time,* irrevocably took on human flesh. A spark of life, an embryo, a child, grew in the womb of Mary. From the moment of the Spirit’s overshadowing, it was true to say that that human life was God-the-Word-made-flesh. Mary’s child was God from God, light from light, true God from true God. Mary did not give her son divinity; and yet his divine nature is so inseparable from his humanity, that we must recognise that Mary was, from that moment, Mother of the child-who-is-God, and so, inescapably, Mother of God.

On the day when the Christ-child was presented in the Temple at Jersualem, a prophet, Simeon, was moved by the Holy Spirit to speak these words: ‘this child will be a sign for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and a sword shall pierce your own soul, too’. So from the earliest days of her child’s life, Mary knew that she would suffer because of Him. The words of St Paul remind us that if we share the suffering of Christ, we shall share his glory. The poet who composed the Stabat Mater well understood what Mary suffered on Calvary: “At the Cross her station keeping, stood the mournful Mother weeping, close to Jesus to the last.”  Mary did indeed share the pain of Christ’s crucifixion; and we believe that, assumed body and soul into heaven, she now shares Christ’s glory in a unique way.

In this month of May, we have honoured Mary by sending her statue around many homes in this parish. Each evening, as the statue was handed on, two families had the opportunity to pray together. We pray to Mary because she dwells in heaven, Daughter of the Father, Mother of the Son, Spouse of the Holy Spirit. She is not God; she must never be worshipped as God. But in ancient Israel, it was the mother of the reigning King who was honoured as Queen of the Kingdom, and in the same way, we regard Mary, Mother of Jesus, as Queen of Heaven. Just as Queen Bathsheba of old could appear in the throne room of King Solomon to ask for some favour, so we trust that Mary can, if we choose to invoke her aid, pray for us before the throne of God.

On the Day of Pentecost, Mary was gathered with the Apostles when they were filled with the Holy Spirit. Could she, already filled to the uttermost, receive any more of God’s grace? She could, and did, receive with the Apostles the commission to make the teachings of Jesus known unto the ends of the earth. And from Heaven she has continued to do this, appearing as a pregnant princess in Guadalupe, as the Immaculate Conception in Lourdes, and as the bearer of the Immaculate Heart in Fatima. She appears not to bring glory to herself, but always to point us towards Jesus. When she bore her son, at the angel’s command, she gave him the name ‘Jesus’, meaning the one who saves us from our sins. At Fatima, she requested us to add to the rosary, that great prayer invoking the intercession of the Mother of God, a petition to her Son, our Divine Saviour: “O My Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of Hell, and lead all souls to heaven, especially those who have most need of thy mercy.”

So on this great feast of the Most Holy Trinity, I invite you to look at the God we worship through the eyes of Mary. For surely Mary wants us to know God as Father. With us, she prays “Our Father”. She invites us to know Jesus as brother, Saviour and Lord. As at Cana, so in our church family, she says, “Do whatever he tells you”. She invites us to know the Holy Spirit. She was filled with Spirit from the Annunciation, and longs for us to know the Spirit’s touch, too. Mother of God, Daughter of the Father, Spouse of the Spirit, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death. Amen.

* As a physics graduate, of course, I acknowledge that this statement is physically impossible. But here we are dealing with a truth so profound only poetry can even begin to express it adequately!

Champions of Team Heaven

Homily at St Philip Evans for the Solemnity of the Assumption, 2014

To win the Tour de FranceYellow Jersey with Blue Bar you need three things: the right kind of body, arduous training and a good team behind you.

Only one person can win the race and take the coveted yellow jersey.

If you had the misfortune to be born with the wrong kind of body, you might yet become a reasonable cyclist, but you won’t become the champion.

If you do have the right kind of body, but you don’t train hard, you still won’t become the champion.

Even talent and training together are not enough; winning also requires teamwork. Sir Bradley Wiggins in 2012 and Chris Froome last year each became Tour de France champions because they were part of Team Sky – they were backed by other riders whose actions gave them the opportunity to break away for the lead at crucial stages of the race. These other team members, like Welsh rider Geraint Thomas, know that they’ll never have the glory of the yellow jersey – yet victory for their team-mate is victory for the whole team.

Today’s celebration is like the final stage of the Tour de France. Most of the competition is already settled; the winner, clad in a golden robe, cycles up to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris to the adulation of the cheering crowd. The Bible also speaks of the task of getting to heaven as a race, and today we celebrate the greatest champion ever to have been born of a human father, the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Just as a champion racer is born with innate talent and body-structure, so Blessed Mary from her mother’s womb was preserved free from sin and its effects by the miracle we call the Immaculate Conception.

Just as a champion racer trains hard each day, so Blessed Mary had to decide each day to do God’s will. At certain seasons of her life, this wasn’t so easy: consider the months when people thought she was an adulterous woman; the years she spent in exile in Egypt; the weeks when she fretted over the strange reports of the things her Son was saying and doing; and the final hours spent at the foot of the Cross. Through all of this, Mary proclaimed, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done according to God’s will.”

Just as a champion racer relies on the support of their team, so Mary didn’t succeed alone. When Jesus was an infant, she was supported by Joseph; during the Lord’s adult ministry she was accompanied by other women who accepted his message; before He died on the cross, he entrusted her to the care of St John.

Today, we celebrate the triumphal entry of our Blessed Mother into the halls of heaven. It is a lap of honour; the woman clothed with the sun takes her place amid the cheering of throngs of saints. It’s a moment of pure glory, and worth our turning out today for a celebration. But in celebrating Mary, we’re celebrating all the members of Team Heaven – it is not for nothing that the final mystery of the rosary is the Coronation of Mary, Queen of Heaven AND the glory of all the saints.

We will not finish the race in first place. Not one of us will displace Blessed Mary from her unique achievement. But this is about glory for the team. With Mary, we can triumph! She is on our team, praying for us, inspiring us to endure difficulties and aspire to greater things.

A champion is made from the gifts they have been given. Not one of us is conceived without sin, but all of us who have been baptised and confirmed have been filled by the Holy Spirit; each one of us have gifts which God has given us to use in the service of the parish and the wider community. Inspired by Mary, let us ask: how are we using our gifts?

A champion is made by a daily routine of training. In the Christian life, we call these, virtues, the good habits and attitudes which we get better at, the more we practice them. Inspired by Mary, let us ask: what kind of person do I want to be in God’s sight?

A champion is made in a disciplined team. As members of a parish, we are called to give moral support and practical help to encourage one another in the race to heaven. Everyone who crosses the line is a winner, but the greatest prizes are reserved for those who help others along the way. Inspired by Mary, let us ask: how am I blessing the other members of this parish?

This is our feast! This is our victory celebration for all members of Team Heaven. Let us rejoice in Mary’s glory, for where she leads, we shall also follow. All we have to do is choose, each day, to keep riding with the team!

O Mary, Champion of Team Heaven – pray for us!

Looking back on the Year of Faith

Official logo for the Year of Faith - a stylized ship with the letters IHS (Jesus) as the sail surrounded by a Eucharistic circleAs the Year of Faith closes on the Feast of Christ the King 2013, I am making available here links to some talks I have given to mark the Year of Faith. They were first given at St John Lloyd Parish intended for an audience of practicing Catholics, then some of the talks were slightly adapted to be more accessible to an audience including non-Catholics and given again at the Cornerstone at St David’s.

The links here are for narrated Powerpoints of the St John Lloyd versions of the talks.

We Believe in a God who Speaks, covering the Bible, Tradition and private revelation.

We believe in Faith and in Sciencefrom my perspective as a Catholic Priest with a PhD in astrophysics.

We believe in the Virgin Mothercovering the Immaculate Conception, the Virgin Birth and Assumption of Our Lady.

We Believe in One Church of Christ, covering the relationship between the Catholic Church and other Christian communities.

We Believe in One Catholic and Apostolic Church, on the role of St Peter and the Apostles and how this led to the modern leadership of the Catholic Church.

We Believe in a Suffering Saviour, on whether God can suffer and if so, how this should affect our way of praying.

We Believe in the Holy Spirit, on how we know there is a Holy Spirit, why we celebrate Confirmation, and how we can develop a prayerful relationship with the Spirit of God.

We Believe in the Blessed Sacrament, on why we claim that bread and wine truly become the Body and Blood of Christ, and how worship of Jesus in the form of the Blessed Sacrament has developed in the Catholic Church over the centuries.

We Believe in a God Who Heals, looking at the phenomenon of healing in the Christian Church historically and today.

Call Your Mother

Homily at St John Lloyd, for The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 2013.

Do you remember those BT telephone adverts where Maureen Lipman played a Jewish mother? In the most famous one, she was delighted her grandson had got an “ology” – that made him a scientist! In another advert, she was griping to the world in general that her son never got round to picking up the phone and calling her… until he did; and then she griped that he never visited!

When we hear reports of the Blessed Virgin Mary appearing in various places around the world, we might be tempted to think that she is also the kind of Jewish mother who will never be satisfied. At Lourdes, it’s “Please come here on pilgrimage.” At Fatima, it’s “Please pray the rosary every day!” If there’s truth in some of the reports of places where the Church has not yet authenticated her coming, her message is “Please pray a great deal each day, and fast twice a week.” Why does our Blessed Mother need all this attention?

Today’s celebration is given so that we may understand who Mary really is. At the end of her earthly life, Mary’s body was taken up into heaven. Her body was the Ark of the New Covenant, the vessel in which God’s presence, in the Person of Jesus, had entered our world. It was right and fitting that this holy Ark be taken up into God’s heavenly Temple.

This means that Mary is now, what each one of us shall be in the future – if only we stay faithful to God and become part of the new heaven and new earth which God has prepared for the end of time. (The Bible speaks of this as “perishable nature… putting on imperishability”.) Blessed Mary has no insecurities, no “need to be needed”. She already enjoys the nearness of God, who is love, and she can no longer be tempted to sin or self-doubt. Nothing that we do on earth can harm or injure her… except for those times when we injure ourselves through sin.

Because our Blessed Mother’s Heart is pure and immaculate, she loves the human race with a perfect love; so whenever human beings reject Blessed Mary, or Her Divine Son, we wound her heart with our hatred or indifference.

It was for this reason that Our Lady came in 1917 in Fatima, Portugal, to invite us to pray the Rosary every day. When we pray the rosary, we offer dozens of Hail Marys, in which we invite Mary to pray for “us sinners” – that is, for ourselves, and all the sinners in the human race – and declare her “blessed among women”, fulfilling her great prophecy in the Magnificat that “all generations will call me blessed”!

But at Fatima, Mary asked for something more – that we dedicate each decade of our rosaries as a prayer for the conversion and salvation of the human race. She invited us to pray, after each deacade, the words: “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those who are most in need of your mercy.”

If Mary invites us to pray the rosary daily, it is not because she needs the affirmation, nor because the gates of heaven would be closed to us, who love Jesus, if we did not do so; rather, it is because she is inviting us to become part of her network of prayer, holding before God all the children which Our Lord placed under her care with his dying breath upon the Cross. This is our privilege; and when we do reach the gates of heaven, we will experience great joy for each and every rosary and invocation of Our Lady which we uttered during this earthly life.

I doubt that they make adverts in heaven, but I can just imagine Our Blessed Mother standing in the courtroom of heaven, speaking with Our Lord and the angels about her children on Earth. Of this I am sure; that she will not be complaining about the children who aren’t calling her, but will be pointing out all those who have faithfully prayed their rosaries and invoked her prayers. “For their sake, My Son, send your angels to protect the Earth, so that hearts may be converted and peace may be restored.”

To be a client of Mary, to be someone who invokes her prayers, is a great privilege which God offers to members of His family. That Mary keeps inviting us to join in this task means that its fruits, when done well, will be tremendous. So not for guilt, not for obligation, but as an act of pure love: Call your mother! She’s waiting to hear from you!

In pink lettering, on black, the words CALL YOUR MOTHER, a telephone and a rosary.

The Better Part

Homily at St John Lloyd, for The Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C.

Episode 2 of 4 in our new series, The Teachings of Jesus.

Mary has chosen the better part. But Martha has her defenders!

A few weeks ago, we pondered today’s gospel passage at the Churches Together Bible Study here at St John Lloyd. Many of those who came rushed to Martha’s aid. Surely she was doing something good, and right, and proper, by tending to the needs of Our Lord and the other guests who came with him?

No-one is saying Martha was doing something bad. She was doing what was expected of her in that culture, where taking care of guests was extremely important. Apart from her uncharitable comment about her sister, we can commend her for doing her duty. Jesus didn’t say she was doing anything wrong. But he did say: “Mary has chosen the better part.”

Perhaps that doesn’t sit so well with us. We might question whether Jesus really said it. But the Gospels are our best link to the words and action of Jesus, and our Church is confident that they teach the honest truth about what he said and did. So yes, I think we have to accept that Jesus did say: “Mary has chosen the better part.”

If he said it, do we have to agree with it? That depends whether Jesus is a member of your panel of religious advisors, or your Lord. If you are developing your own religion based on those sayings of Jesus which you agree with, then it’s up to you. But as Catholics, we profess every Sunday that we believe “in one Lord Jesus Christ… true God from true God”. This is why St Paul could say to the Christians in Colossae: “God made me responsible for delivering God’s message to you, the message…now… revealed to his saints. It was God’s purpose to reveal… the Christ we proclaim.”

If Jesus is God, he isn’t going to make a mistake. If we call him Lord, we are implying that we will follow his teachings. And what Jesus wants to teach us on this occasion is that what Mary chose to do is better than what Martha chose to do.

As for why it’s better… ah! Now we can begin to have an open-ended conversation!

Let’s look again, and what do we see? Mary, sitting, listening, at the feet of Jesus.

Martha, “distracted” by the serving, asking Jesus to intervene in her relationship with her sister, and being politely but firmly told, no, because Martha was fretting about “many things” when Mary had chosen “the better part”.

Perhaps Martha’s fault was that she jumped to her own conclusion about what was needed, while her sister was willing to listen. Love is patient!

Perhaps Martha’s fault was too much attention to detail – were the “many things” the preparation of an elaborate meal when a simple snack would have been enough? Love is not expressed in the detail so much as in the simple act of caring.

Perhaps Martha’s fault was wanting her sister to hold exactly the same values as herself. Her exasperated request for Jesus to put Mary to work reveals something about very ordinary family tensions, revealed here because Jesus was already a friend of the family. Love allows other people to be different from yourself while still respecting and cherishing them.

Painting by Otto van Veen - Martha protests with Jesus while Mary sits at his feet.

Perhaps Martha’s fault was in wanting to bring her sister down from her boldness in daring to sit at the feet of Jesus, the rabbi – a place where only men would normally sit in that culture. But Jesus seems unconcerned. He often questions the Jewish traditions of his day, so perhaps he’s saying that it’s better for the ladies to learn from their rabbi, on this one-day-only opportunity, than to take on the normal duties of hospitality. Love does not seek to embarrass others for their boldness.

Perhaps Martha’s fault was in not recognising that the Lord of the work is more important that the work of the Lord. The Church needs Marthas – it needs activists who get things done. But even the most active Catholic needs to take time to stop and listen to God, and here Martha is hosting God in person, yet missing out on his words of life.

But don’t despair. The Martha we are speaking of is Saint Martha – a friend of God recognised for her true holiness. It was Martha, not Mary, who recognised that Jesus was the true Christ before he raised Lazarus from the dead. Martha is part of the company of heaven, and if we follow her example we will do much good.

Yet… “Mary has chosen the better part.” For this reason our Church prizes women and men who respond to the call to be hermits, monks and nuns. In the eyes of the world, their existence seems futile. But to our eyes of faith, those called to a lifestyle of daily prayer and contemplation are the ones who have responded to the deepest invitation to “choose the better part”.

Is today’s Gospel about the excellence of spending time with Jesus, in holy listening? Is it about the importance of living simply even when a guest is at hand? Is it about avoiding jealousy in sibling relationships? It could be any or all of these things. You are free to pick your own interpretation, so long as you agree up with one basic conclusion:Mary has chosen the better part. So go, and do likewise.

The Holy Spirit and Mary

A homily at St Illtyd’s, Llantwit Major, as part of the parish Pentecost Novena 2013.

In this evening’s portion from the Acts of the Apostles, we see a distinct before and after. At the start of the story, a group of disciples had not heard that there was such a thing as a “Holy Spirit”. But they experience an immediate transformation, and there is no doubt that these disciples have been filled by God’s Spirit because they are suddenly manifesting the gifts which the Holy Spirit brings. Based on this story alone, we might be tempted to say that receiving the Holy Spirit is a once-in-a-lifetime event that brings dramatic consequences. But in fact the work of the Spirit is much more subtle, and we have a perfect case study in Our Heavenly Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Our study begins on the first page of the Bible. We are told that God’s Spirit is hovering over the face of the waters on the day of Creation. Now in Latin, the word for sea is mare and its plural is maria – although Genesis was not originally written in Latin, we might wonder whether God wanted this to become a prophecy, in the Church’s official language, of the Holy Spirit hovering over Maria, mother of Jesu?

The teaching of our Church is that at the very first moment of her life, Mary was conceived immaculate. This was a great work of the Holy Spirit.

When the Archangel Gabriel appears to Mary in Nazareth, he addresses her as “Full of Grace” – already filled with all the graces God can give! The Greek word used, kecharitomene, is a deep word worthy of our meditation. And yet when Mary asks how it could be that she would conceive a child, the angel tells her that the Holy Spirit will come upon her – a new work of grace is yet to come! See the work of the Spirit pictured in light in the work of Elizabeth Wang!

The pregnant virgin sets off to meet her cousin Elizabeth; and we are told that Elizabeth too was filled with the Holy Spirit, and her child leaped in her womb. This sets the scene for Mary to offer a great hymn of praise, her Magnificat. Mary declares that her soul praises God – this means her whole being – but also that her spirit rejoices. This means the spiritual part of her, her own human spirit in union with Holy Spirit, offers praise to God!

A firstborn Son has entered the world, and so thanks must be given in the Jerusalem Temple. There, Mary finds the Holy Spirit at work in the prophet Simeon, who speaks a disturbing word: Mary and her Son will be hated. Mary will suffer in the depths of her being, poetically prophesied as a “sword piercing her soul”. And the mystery deepens: BECAUSE of her suffering, “secret thoughts will be exposed”.

Mary, how can it be that you will suffer so that secrets should come to light?

I believe that the secret thoughts intended here are the thoughts of sinners who are converted, who in coming to Christ, name and shame their sins.

Over the last 200 years, this prophecy has unfolded through God’s continuing work of revelation, for those who have ears to hear.

Our first image comes from the Rue du Bac in Paris, in 1830. Mary shows herself to St Catherine Labouré as one who PRAYS for the world. She appears with rays of grace streaming from her hands. The light in which she is bathed is the Holy Spirit working within and through her. Mary’s message is that God has given her the role of obtaining grace from heaven for all her children, but that in order to receive these heavenly gifts, we must ask. One means of asking is to wear the medal revealed here by Mary, and praying daily the prayer inscribed on it: O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you!

The Medal of the Immaculate Conception, popularly known as the Miraculous Medal

Mary’s suffering is not prominent – yet on the reverse of this medal is her signature. The 12 stars point to the woman clothed with the sun, pursued by a dragon, in the Book of Revelation. The entwined M and cross recall the presence of Mary at the foot of cross in John’s Gospel. And the Heart of Mary appears alongside the Heart of Jesus – his bearing a crown of thorns, hers pierced by a sword. In this way, without undue attention, the prophecy of Simeon, and Mary’s role in the Gospel of Luke, is duly recalled.

For the first time, a private revelation has offered us the image of the suffering Heart of Mary. In Bible language, heart is the place of thinking, of pondering, of mental angst.

In St Catherine’s vision, the presence of the Heart of Mary was a minor feature; the focus of her message was on believers entrusting themselves to Mary’s prayers so they could obtain all the graces needed for spiritual maturity. But ten years later, in the same religious order, another sister was granted a revelation in which Mary’s suffering heart would take centre stage.

Front and reverse sides of the Green Scapular

In 1840, Sr Justine Bisqueyburu, in the very same chapel, experienced a vision of the Mother of God, clearly holding her own Immaculate Heart with her right hand; at its top were bright flames. Later that same year, Sr Justine saw Mary again, in the same way – but this time Mary’s left hand held out a patch of green cloth bearing an image of the same vision, and on the reverse, Mary’s heart pierced by a sword, surmounted by a gold cross and with words in the shape of an oval around the heart: Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us now and at the hour of our death. Sr Justine understood, as part of this revelation, that Our Lady wished the scapular to be promoted widely as an instrument in the conversion of souls. In this way, heaven itself explicitly linked prayer to the suffering heart of Mary, with the work of conversion.

Statue of Our Lady of Fatima, with prominent Immaculate HeartAnd so to Fatima, the title of Our Lady which we celebrate today, recalling the place where the Mother of God first appeared on this day in 1917. At Fatima also she showed her heart – not with a sword, but with a crown of thorns representing the sins of those who mock or insult the Blessed Mother.

On July 13, Our Lady appeared with a call for the conversion of sinners – this time requesting that we add this prayer intention to our rosary by a special prayer at the end of each decade: O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those who are most in need of your mercy.

In today’s Gospel, Our Lord warns us that the Christian life will not be free of suffering – “In the world you will find trouble.” In the same vision of 13 July 1917 , Mary taught us how to transform the sufferings which come our way into pious offerings: O Jesus, it is for love of You, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

The three visionary children of Fatima took Our Lady’s message to heart, and found simple, childlike ways to make these sacrifices, giving up their packed lunches or enduring the nettles and brambles of the Portuguese countryside. Soon, two of them would be taken to heaven when a great influenza epidemic swept across Europe. Sr Lucia was spared, entering a convent where in 1925 she received a further vision: an invitation, on the First Saturday of each month, to spend extra time in meditating on the mysteries of the rosary: an act of love for Mary in compensation for those who do not love her, or even deliberately insult her.

Beauraing Apparition - the Virgin with the Golden HeartHeaven’s gradual revealing of the Heart of Mary concluded in Belgium in 1933. At Beauraing, we were shown Our Lady’s heart of gold, pierced neither by sword nor thorns. Here Our Lady’s message was simple, and might be expressed in this way: Your heart can be like mine, burning with pure love, if you pray much and sacrifice yourself for sinners.

What, though, of the work of the Holy Spirit?

In 1929, Sr Lucia of Fatima received a final vision. Here she was explicitly shown the Dove representing the work and presence of the Holy Spirit, on the breast of God the Father. Together, Father, Son and Spirit offer the gift of salvation to the world. Because of the death of Jesus we receive MERCY – our sins are not to be punished – and Mary, through her Immaculate Conception, received the fullest gift of mercy imaginable.

The Last Vision of Fatima

This vision reminds us that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit wish to send us graces – the spiritual gifts which we need. The greatest grace is the gift of the Spirit himself! In this image, we see the Eucharist, flowing from the wounded side of Christ – but the light itself represents the work and presence of the Holy Spirit. Notice how Mary’s breast is filled with light, and the rays continue towards the visionary Sr Lucia kneeling before the altar. In all of the preceding visions, although we have not explicitly seen the Holy Spirit, we have seen the light which represents God’s gift of grace. Each ray of light is a grace, a gift borne on the wings of the Heavenly Dove.

Let us return, for a moment, to the Scriptures. We are given one final glimpse of Mary, in her earthly life, at the start of the Book of Acts, where she is gathered with the apostles in prayer, awaiting the day of Pentecost. Therefore we assume she was with the Apostles on the day of Pentecost, and with the Apostles, received the gift of the Holy Spirit anew.

Even Mary, full of grace, receives the Spirit in new ways at different times. Her Immaculate Conception. Her Annunciation. The inspiration which prompted her Magnificat. The Day of Pentecost. Mary is a sign to us that we do not receive the Holy Spirit once only. It is true that there may be moments in our life when the Spirit comes in a dramatic way to release something for the first time, as the disciples at Ephesus experienced. But the Spirit has many gifts, and some are bestowed in more subtle ways.

If you would approach God’s throne humbly, then do what the Blessed Mother asked of us through St Catherine Labouré: pray for the graces which God wishes to give you through the hands of Mary.

If you are feeling a little bolder, then come confidently before God and pray to have your capacity for grace increased!

Our Lady of the Taper, holding the child Jesus and a lit candleThe signs of the Holy Spirit are wind and flame. I wish to leave you with one final image – Our Lady of the Taper. You can see clearly that Mary is holding her Son – but the taper in the other hand represents the light of the Holy Spirit. More than that, a taper is the kind of candle meant for passing on a flame. See, Our Lady is offering us not only her Divine Son, but also the Holy Spirit!

Holy Mother of God, pray that we may receive, through your hands, the gifts of the Spirit which we do not even realise we need to ask for!