Mother of All People

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In this exclusive podcast, Msgr. Eduardo Chavez Sanchez, who headed the cause for canonization of St. Juan Diego, talks about the meaning of Marian apparitions for today.



The Apparitions of Mary

By Brian Caulfield

The Blessed Virgin fascinates us. She holds the attention not only of Catholics and other Christians, but of all people everywhere, believers and non-believers, those who are wholly devoted to her as well as skeptics and scoffers.

Just think: wherever there is a reported appearance of Mary, people flock in large numbers. Let out a whisper that tears are coming from a statue of Mary in someone’s suburban backyard, and camera crews are filming over the picket fence and traffic is backed up for miles.

Catholics come, of course. But the curious and the unconvinced come as well, thinking (perhaps hoping) that it may be true, that maybe this world is not all there is and that a human person named Mary has gone before us into heaven and returning with a message.

A messenger from heaven, we hear! And people flock to see, to touch, to listen – hoping.

Deep down, each one of us needs her maternal care, her feminine touch, her beauty and her purity. We sense through deep faith or vague intuition that there is a primordial wound in our human nature – the world is off-kilter and we with it – and that a mother must set it right. Nothing less than the virginal maternity – that seeming contradiction of the natural course of human procreation – could set mankind back on the right course.

Mary fascinates us because we need her so much.

Mary and Jesus

Of course, as we sing the praises of Mary we must always – in keeping with the Catholic Church – say that all her merits, beauty and power come through Jesus Christ, who is her Son and her Savior. We must remember that when we say “Mary,” she says “Jesus.” When we pray to her, she prays to him.  When we ask her, she asks him.

Yet Mary is special, even as the Protestant poet Wordsworth famously wrote: “Our tainted nature’s solitary boast.” Holy Scripture and the dogmas of our faith attest to her unique status among all humanity.

In the Gospel of Luke, she is “full of grace,” as the Angel Gabriel called her, “the Lord is with” her, she is “blessed among women,” and the “mother of my Savior.”

The teachings (dogmas) of our Church add that she was conceived without Original Sin – the Immaculate Conception (which we celebrate on December 8), and that she was taken body and soul into heaven at the end of her earthly life – the Assumption (August 15 feast day).

Need We Believe?

Yet if she is in heaven, how does she come to earth? How does she appear?

All we can say is that her appearances are the mystery of God’s power and grace. We also need to say that to be a faithful Catholic, we do not need to believe that she has appeared or given a message to anyone.

Let me explain.

The Catholic Church has approved a number of apparitions of Mary, and promulgated her messages, but these appearances and messages are not considered essential to the faith. We do not need to believe that Mary appeared to three shepherd children at Fatima, or even that the “sun danced” during her last appearance. The Church tells us that these things are worthy of belief, and in no way opposed to the faith, and may even be aids to living out the faith. But, to be a true and faithful Catholics, we do not need to believe in Fatima or Lourdes or even Guadalupe in the way we must believe in the defined dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption.

Having said this, it is important to add that there is very good historical and physical evidence for anyone to believe that Mary has appeared.

We don’t need the Catholic Church to tell us that something supernatural was at work in the making of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on St. Juan Diego’s tilma in 1534. You can go to Mexico City to see the saint’s garment displayed – and know that modern science cannot explain how the image was made or how it remains so clear and bright.

The healings from the waters at Lourdes are living testimonies to Mary’s appearance and message to St. Bernadette. This writer has a personal testimony to the power of Lourdes because my son was healed of a heart ailment there in 2001.

And Pope John Paul II himself has attested to the authenticity of the appearance of the Virgin at Fatima. A year after the attempt on his life, he visited Fatima to thank Mary for saving his life. He was shot on May 13, 1981, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima.

The message of Our Lady of Fatima in 1917 is the most famous and analyzed, with her prediction of the Second World War, request for prayers for the conversion of Russia and for the whole world to be consecrated to her Immaculate Heart, which will “conquer” in the end. The message gained worldwide attention again around the time of the new millennium, when the Vatican released the text of the “Third Secret” and an analysis of its meaning by Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.

The Final Message

The mystery of Mary is enveloped within the mystery of God. Yet her flesh and nature are a bridge between the human and the divine. She brings God closer to us.

The very fact that God chose a human woman to come into the world, taking her flesh and her human nature, tells us of the central role of Mary in salvation. She is not merely a vessel or an instrument – as some Protestants protest. She is a human person who responded to God’s call with a human will, amid human fear and uncertainty. True, she was divinely prepared to say “Yes” to God in a special way. But each of us is also divinely prepared, with grace through Baptism and the other sacraments, to “Yes” to God in our own way.

Mary is one of us. She understands us as only a mother can. She leads us with her example of faith. She nurtures us with the grace of her Son. Most of all, she loves us, and teaches us to love God.

“O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!”

Brian Caulfield is editor of Fathers for Good.