In less than two months, thanks be to God through the Holy Father, Pope Francis, the Church will be passing through the threshold of an extraordinary year of grace—The Year of Mercy.
The year of mercy will start on one of the most important Marian Solemnities in the Church Liturgical Year—the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. This most sublime Marian Feast teaches us one of the most important Marian privileges: the reality of Mary’s Immaculate Conception.
In a few words the Immaculate Conception means that Our Lady was conceived without the stain of Original Sin. In the very moment of her conception in the womb of Saint Anne she was preserved from the poison of Original Sin. For that reason the English “Protestant poet” Wordsworth acclaimed Mary as: “Our tainted nature’s solitary boast.” In Mary’s sublime canticle of praise, the Magnficat, she proclaims God’s mercy: “His mercy is from age to age upon those who fear him.”(Lk. 1:50)
Another important highlight for those who live in the United States is the fact that the Immaculate Conception is the proclaimed Patroness of our country—as well as the Philippines! Recently the Holy Father, in visiting the United States, when he was in Washington D.C. he visited the largest Church in the United States, the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. If you have a chance, make a visit to honor Our Lady and be inspired by its majestic beauty!
Therefore, if we want to really enter into this year of mercy with the best of dispositions of heart, mind and soul, let us enter in under the patronage of Our Lady, the Immaculate Conception. “O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”
Our Lady is model for us in so many ways, but especially in the path to holiness. Indeed we pray “Holy Mary Mother of God pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen” (The Hail Mary).
This being said, why not look to Our Lady as we approach the Year of Mercy imploring her the grace to understand the meaning of mercy, pray to be merciful and to live out the Gospel of Mercy under her guidance and inspiration.
Many are tempted, even strong practicing Catholics, that too much love and devotion to Mary will pale and diminish the love, trust and adoration that we owe to her Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. However, this is a very common temptation. Even Saint Pope John Paul II, when he was young, had this insidious temptation knocking at the door of his heart. However, he conquered it and would become one of the most Marian Popes in the history of the Church, inscribed on his Papal coat of arms: “Totus tuus…” Mary I am all yours, taken from the writings of Saint Louis de Montfort in his classic True Devotion to Mary.
The truth is this: Mary glorifies the Lord. Mary brings us closer to the Lord. Mary points us to the Lord Jesus. The last words we have recorded of Our Lady in the Bible, in the Gospel of Saint John in the context of the Wedding Fast of Cana were: “Do whatever he tells you.”(Jn. 2: 5) To be clear and to the point this is the best advice in the whole world. If everybody would obey this advice, hatreds would stop, wars would cease to exist and the universal brotherhood would start to exist. Indeed the world would start to live out the last and greatest of Jesus’ Commandments: “Love one another as I have loved you.” (Jn. 13:34/Jn. 15:2)
Saint Louis de Montfort summarizes all as such: “Mary is the quickest, easiest, and most secure path to Jesus.” If you like, Our Lady is the shortcut to the very Heart of God.
In preparation for the year of Mercy, I would like to offer a strong recommendation, following our theme of Our Lady of Mercy! This exhortation refers to one of the greatest books every written, by one of the greatest scholars as well as saints and Doctor’s in the Catholic Church—Saint Alphonsus Maria Liguori. One of the most profound, spiritual, anointed and prolific writers in the history of humanity, this great man of God wrote, what many would consider his greatest, his masterpiece and it was on Our Lady. Many consider Saint Alphonsus as the Marian Doctor of Church, especially as a result of this literary masterpiece.
Hail, Holy Queen
What Saint Alphonsus does is rather simple in intent. He takes the prayer “The Hail Holy Queen” (The prayer we pray at the end of the Holy Rosary) and he explains it in minute detail. His sources? For every word of this Marian prayer of mercy Saint Alphonsus takes Biblical passages from both Old and New Testament; he takes from the Fathers of the Church, Doctors of the Church, the sayings of the saints in Church Tradition, up to the 18thcentury (the historical time frame of the life of St. Alphonsus). Then with this infinite reservoir of spiritual wealth, indeed a true spiritual gold-mind, Saint Alphonsus explains the sublime greatness of Our Lady.
OUR LADY OF MERCY. However, most especially, as we approach the Year of Mercy, the focus is on Our Lady and Mercy.
A few ideas of the great saint. In God there exist two opposing virtues: Justice and Mercy. Of course, mercy is the greatest attribute in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. However, in Our Lady there is totally and unreservedly mercy, mercy, mercy… For that reason we cry out to Our Lady in these words: “Hail Holy Queen, Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope… For that profound reason St. Alphonsus insists that we should never, ever fear to approach the throne of our merciful God through the intercession of Our Lady of mercy. “Never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection was left unaided…” (Marian prayer—The Memorare).
The saint will point out time and time again how even the worst of sinners were brought back to God through the intercession of Our Lady, under the invocation, “Mother of mercy.”
The literary unfolding of the Marian masterpiece can be divided into three parts: 1.) Explanation of one of the words in the Hail Holy Queen, using Biblical verses, Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and countless saints. This is the largest content of the literary text.
2.) STORY. Being a master of masters in teaching, preaching and writing, Saint Alphonsus knew the literary value of the story to captivate the attention, and to grip and captivate the mind. Therefore, Alphonsus offers a short story after every explanation so as to give a cohesive unity. By the way, the best of all story-tellers was Jesus Christ who used stories that we call Parables to teach the whole world 2000 years ago, today and until the end of time!
3.) PRAYER. Finally, so that the readers can take the doctrine, then the story into one’s mind, heart, and soul, Saint Alphonsus ends by offering the readers to offer a fervent Marian prayer to the Queen of Heaven and earth, to the Mother of Mercy.
We would like to conclude with a most profound and inspiring Marian thought: “Place all the love of all the mothers of all times and places together, the love that Our Lady as mother for you individually is much greater than all of these put together.” How great is the love and mercy in the Heart of Mary that she wants to share with you as you enter into the Year of God’s mercy! In sum, purchase, read, meditate, and relish the Glories of Mary of Saint Alphonsus Maria Liguori, and indeed God will shower down into your soul a deluge of merciful graces!