MOTHER OF MERCY
Fr Gerard McCabe, CSsR
I was lucky to have the privilege of being with both of my parents at the moment of their death. I know that they took great consolation in being surrounded by their children and grand-children. But in their last moments of consciousness, both of them called out to their mothers. As if it were with a certain trust and joy.
This of course is a very common experience. We know that most soldiers who die on the battlefield call out to their mothers, as will have many of your own loved ones who have died.
I find this a significant aspect of our human nature. That in our most troubled and insecure moments, we instinctively turn to the one who has carried us in her womb, and who is a figure of care and protection in all our anxious times.
We get a glimpse of this need for the love and mercy of a Mother too in the prayer that is so familiar to all of us: The Hail Mary.
Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.
It is a glimpse of the truth that lies deep in our Catholic faith, that we know Our Blessed Mother not just as the Mother of Jesus, but as our Mother too. We are praying that she will help us to cross that last river between life and death, into the loving presence of Her Son.
MOTHER OF MERCY
Our Catholic faith has always, instinctively and from the heart, known that the Mother of Jesus Our Redeemer, is also Mother to each one of us too.
The Gospels themselves reveal that Mary is firstly the recipient of mercy and therefore a witness of mercy for all time. She is an image of the mercy of God and at the same time a model for us of how to live a merciful life.
I would like to take just two images from the Gospel stories to highlight what I mean by this. The first will be from the beginning of the Gospels, the Annunciation, and the second as Mary stood at the foot of the Cross of Her Beloved Son.
At the Annunciation, when the Angel appeared to Mary and asked her to become the Mother of God, he spoke to her as full of grace. And, despite her surprise and bewilderment, her response was itself full of grace. In the great prayer she uttered, which we know as the Magnificat, she said:
God’s mercy is from generation to generation (Luke 1:50)
In other words, it is eternal, it is for everyone at all times, until the very end of time. She understands the nature of God.
And by accepting God’s amazing call, Mary herself becomes an instrument of mercy. She becomes the bearer of Mercy before Her Son, the Mercy of God is born.
A second great and moving moment of mercy comes when Mary is at her most vulnerable; as she stands at the foot of the Cross and watches Her beloved Son, the source of all mercy, going through His last agonies, in order to save the world.
She stood there (John 19:25)
She stood there. Those three words say more than we can possibly imagine. She stood there heart-broken, destroyed in spirit and in loss. She stood there wondering why all this could possibly happen to her son, the Son of God. She stood there in utter love and willing that His sufferings should just come to an end. She was at the Cross, to Her own Son a Mother of Mercy.
As she did so, she also represented all of us who have stood and watched as our loved ones suffer and are led into the valley of death. She stood there as we sometimes have to stand and watch our own loved suffer, and make a mess of their lives and lose their way. She is the Mother of Mercy, not only to her Son, but to all of humanity.
We cannot help but be touched by Jesus’ last act before His death, of placing His Mother into the care of John.
He placed John, and all of us, into the care of His Mother.
This is your Mother (John 19:26)
Jesus’ final gift to us, in His last dying moments, was to entrust each of us, and all those we love, into the care of His Mother. This is what we are asked to give thanks for this evening. That we have not just a share in Mary the Mother of God, but that she is for each of us a Mother of Mercy. There is no concern or fear, there is nothing of our past or our future, which is not already blessed by the care of a Mother, who will do all that she can to save us from final harm or danger.
THE CHURCH AND OUR MOTHER OF MERCY
The idea that Mary is our Mother, and always a Mother of Mercy, is not something that we have to be taught. We just know the truth of this deep in our hearts. It comes as naturally to us as does the fact that we love our natural mothers.
And the Church has always, in its long history, understood this too. In the great writings of the saints, in the great works of art of the Church, in the wonderful prayers of our Catholic faith, we have always known that Mary is one we turn to in our times of greatest trouble and distress, in the midst of all of fears and anxieties.
We fly to your mercy O Holy Mother of God (300AD)
Turn your eyes of Mercy towards us (Salve Regina)
Mother of Divine Mercy. Health of the sick. Refuge of sinners. Comfort of the afflicted. (12th century)
In terms of art we have the famous sculpture of the Pieta, where Mary holds the dead body of her Son in her arms. We also have our own icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, which is not simply an image of the mercy of a mother for its child, but an image of the Mother of Mercy for each and every one of us.
MARY A MODEL OF MERCY
The grace that we find in Our Blessed Mother is not simply that she offers us always the Mercy of her Son. She also serves as a model of mercy that we are called to share with one another. We are all called to be mothers of mercy, and fathers of mercy, and children of mercy. This, of course, is not always an easy path for us to walk, because it will bring suffering to us. But in this Year of Mercy, we can do nothing better than to place ourselves under the protective cloak of our Blessed Mother, and ask her to help us too to become true witnesses of the Mercy of God to our broken world.