By Robin Gomes
In what was the final public event of his 34th Apostolic Journey to Slovakia, Pope Francis Wednesday morning celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Sorrow with an open-air Mass in Šaštín. The town, some 71 kilometers north of the Slovak capital Bratislava, is home to the National Marian Shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows, the patroness of Slovakia. Some 90 bishops and more than 500 priests concelebrated at the Mass, attended by some 60,000 faithful.
Mary’s faith as a journey
In his homily, the Pope reflected on Mary’s faith as a journey, a prophecy and as compassion.
Firstly, the Pope said, Mary’s faith sets her on a journey. After hearing the message of the angel, she did not consider it a privilege to be chosen as the Mother of the Saviour; she did not lose the simple joy of her humility; she did not keep thinking about herself within the four walls of her house. Rather, after experiencing the gift she had received as a mission to be carried out, she went to visit and assist Elizabeth, her cousin. Completely caught up in God’s own “haste”, she felt urged to open the door and go out to reach all people with God’s saving love. "She chose the unknowns of the journey over the comfort of her daily routines, the weariness of travel over the peace and quiet of home; the risk of a faith that makes our lives a loving gift to others over a placid piety."
The day’s Gospel presents Mary on a journey to Jerusalem with her husband Joseph for the rite of the Presentation of Baby Jesus in the temple. The Pope said the rest of her life would be a journey in the footsteps of her Son, as the first of his disciples, even to Calvary, to the foot of the cross.
Pope Francis held out the Blessed Virgin to Slovaks as a model of faith that involves journeying, a faith inspired by simple and sincere devotion, a constant pilgrimage to seek the Lord. It’s a journey that overcomes the temptation to a passive and ritual faith, and makes life a pilgrimage of love towards God and their brothers and sisters.
He urged Slovakia’s Catholics to persevere on this journey without stopping, adding, when the Church stops moving, she falls sick. When bishops stop moving, the Church falls sick and when priests stop walking, the people of God fall sick, he said.
Mary’s faith as prophetic
The Pope then focused on Mary’s faith as prophetic. Her life is a prophetic sign that points to God’s presence in human history, His merciful intervention that confounds the logic of the world lifts up the lowly and casts down the mighty. As the Immaculate Virgin, she is the icon of our own vocation, called to be holy and blameless in love.
Reflecting on the prophecy of Simeon at the Presentation, that the Child was destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel and a sign of contradiction, the Pope said that faith cannot be "reduced to a sweetener to make life more palatable." The darkness always fights against Him and He came to bring not peace but a sword, demanding a decision from us. With Jesus, we cannot remain lukewarm, with a foot in both camps. “When I accept Him, He reveals my contradictions, my idols, my temptations. He becomes my resurrection, the one who always lifts me up when I fall, the one who takes me by the hand and lets me start anew.”
The Pope said Slovakia today needs such prophets, Christians who can demonstrate the beauty of the Gospel by the way they live. Turning to the bishops, he urged them to take up this path. Slovakia needs Christians, who are "weavers of dialogue where hostility is growing; models of fraternal life where society is experiencing tension and hostility; bringers of the sweet fragrance of hospitality and solidarity where personal and collective selfishness too often prevails, protectors and guardians of life where the culture of death reigns".
Mother of compassion
Finally, contemplating on the Mary, the Mother of compassion, the Holy Father said, she ensured there was sufficient wine at the wedding feast of Cana, she shared in her Son’s mission of salvation, even to the foot of the Cross. While Jesus suffered in the flesh, disfigured by evil, Mary suffered in spirit, as the compassionate Mother who dries our tears, comforts us, and points to Christ’s definitive victory.
The Mother of Sorrows remains at the foot of the cross, without running away, trying to save herself, or finding ways to alleviate her grief. She stands there weeping with the faith that knows that, in her Son, God transfigures pain and suffering and triumphs over death.
Pope Francis encouraged Christians to a faith that becomes compassion, identifying themselves with the needy, those who are hurt, suffering and are forced to bear heavy crosses. It is a faith that does not remain abstract but becomes incarnate in fellowship with those in need. It is a faith that imitates God’s way of doing things, quietly relieving the suffering of our world and watering the soil of history with salvation.