The closing of the 100th anniversary of the Apparitions of Mary to the children at Fatima was observed on October 13, 2017 at Fatima and in many places around the world. Our Lady of Fatima has touched the lives of many. The National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima was built in Lewiston, NY in 1954. Many people go there to pray, seeking solace, strength, hope through the intercession of Mary.
In countries on every continent, people have created shrines to Mary – at last count, some 350 of them. A Marian shrine is a place of apparition, or a miracle ascribed to Mary or a site which is centered in a historically strong Marian devotion. Remarkably, these shrines have helped communities and individuals stay strong in challenging times.
There isn’t a time in the history of the Church when Mary has not been honored. In a fresco in the Catacombs of St. Agnes, Mary stands between Peter and Paul as a symbol of the Church. She was proclaimed the Mother of God at the Council of Ephesus in 431. And over the centuries, for women, Mary has been the model of motherhood, midwife in labor, intercessor.
But the story of Mary and her place in Catholic life has many dimensions. Men throughout history have found their call to serve God through Mary. Ignatius of Loyola, for example, prayed through the night at Monserrat, a Spanish shrine from 888 AD. Women In our day and age, have begun to probe the New Testament to see the humanity of Mary, and to see her as friend and sister as well as mother and model. Women have searched for the Mary of the Gospel, and found her to be, not mighty and miraculous, but humble, faithful to God, to Jesus, and to Joseph. She was brave enough to question the angel before giving her assent to God. Once, she and Joseph were refugees from Herod, and had to deal with a lost child. We find her alert to the needs of people around her, as she brought to Jesus’ attention that the wedding table at Cana was running out of wine. Before she bore Jesus, Mary has faith that he was indeed the Son of God. She was a public witness, standing beneath His cross. She gathered with the fearful disciples before Pentecost. Then, she and the Holy Spirit met for a second life-giving experience in wind and fire.
The late Sally Cunneen, American writer and publisher, once wrote: “Whatever our problems and differences are today, we are able to see Mary as a human being who reminds us that our ordinary life, with its joys, challenges, suffering and death, is precisely the life her son took on. Hence, we can live with new hope in the belief that all these ordinary things are meaningful and open to the holy.”
As I age, I think particularly of Mary after the Resurrection. She was old, by the standards of her day. She has no family, but only these disciples of her Son. Even with them, her work isn’t done. She accompanied them in those first turbulent decades in the community of believers.
In ways the Holy Spirit reveals, we are called upon to imitate Mary by using our gifts on behalf of the many who belong to Mary’s Son.
~Sister Joan Sobala