According to this Vatican source, Father Cantalamessa began by reminding that in this Lent’s meditation, he is continuing with the series begun in Advent, following in the footsteps of the Mother of God. “It will be a way to put ourselves under the Virgin’s protection, in such a critical moment for the whole of humanity, due to the Coronavirus pandemic,” he said.
The Virgin’s Presence
After pointing out that not much is said about Mary in the New Testament, or at least not as much as we would like, and keeping in mind the development in the Church of devotion to the Mother of God, the preacher said that, if we pay attention, we realize that “Mary isn’t absent in any of the three constitutive moments of the Mystery of Salvation. In fact, there are three very precise moments that, together, form the great Mystery of Redemption. They are: the Incarnation of the Word, the Paschal Mystery, and Pentecost.”
The Franciscan explained that these “three presences of Mary in the key moments of our salvation,” cannot be accidental. Therefore, during this Lent we want to follow Mary in the Paschal Mystery, allowing ourselves to be guided by Her in the profound understanding of Easter and in our participation in Christ’s sufferings.
Take Mary’s Hand
“Mary takes us by the hand and encourages us to follow Her on this way, telling us as a mother to her gathered children: ‘let’s go also to die with Him.’ In the Gospel, it’s the Apostle Thomas that pronounces these words, but it’s Mary who puts them into practice,” he stressed.
Father Cantalamessa also said that the “Paschal Mystery doesn’t begin, in Jesus’ life, with the arrest in the Garden and it doesn’t last only during Holy Week,” but His whole life. From the greeting of John the Baptist who indicates Him as the Lamb of God, it’s a preparation for His Pasch. And, according to Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’ public life was a “slow and inexorable going up to Jerusalem, where He would consummate His exodus.”
According to the preacher, the way of the new Eve is developed in parallel with this way of the new obedient Adam. Therefore, for Mary too the Paschal Mystery had begun for a long time. “Already Simon’s words about His being a sign of contradiction and about the sword that would pierce Her soul, contained a presage that Mary kept in Her heart together with all the other words.”
On the other hand, he asked: “What happens normally in a path of holiness after a soul has been filled with grace after it has responded generously with its ‘yes’ of faith and begun willingly to carry out good works and cultivate virtue?”
And he answered: the time of purification and stripping comes. The night of faith comes. And we’ll see, in fact, that in this period of Her life, Mary serves us as guide and model precisely in this: how to behave when the “time of pruning” comes in life.’’
Then, referring to Saint John Paul II’ encyclical Redemptoris Mater, who applied to the Virgin’s life the great category of kenosis, when through faith, Mary takes part at the foot of the cross in the disconcerting mystery of this stripping. The priest referred to some teachings of Vatican Council II, of Saint John of the Cross and, of course, of the New Testament where, for instance, “we find strong words of Jesus.” And he affirmed: “Mary, being Mother, learned obedience through the things She suffered.”
Mary also learned faith and obedience, as the graces grew in Her through the events She suffered, so that we can say to Her, with all confidence, “ we don’t have a Mother who is unable to feel compassion for our sicknesses, our exhaustion, our temptations, She herself having been tested in everything like us, except sin.
Father Cantalamessa also presented other images of Mary during Jesus’ public life, and with the accounts of the Gospels, he added a last detail of which Saint Luke spoke referring to the women followers of Jesus, that is, a certain number of pious women who had been benefitted by Jesus and who “attended to Him with their goods,” namely, they took care of His material needs and those of the Apostles, such as preparing meals, and washing and mending clothes.
“Jesus’ kenosis consisted in the fact that, instead of asserting His rights and divine prerogatives, despoiled Himself of them, assuming the state of servant and suffering in the exterior a man as all others. Mary’s kenosis consisted in the fact that, instead of asserting Her rights as Mother of the Messiah, allowed herself to be despoiled of them, appearing before all a woman just like all others,” said the preacher.
Father Cantalamessa went on to explain that the quality of Jesus as “Son of God was not useful to spare Him humiliations and, likewise, the quality of being Mother of God, did not spare Mary humiliations.”
“Jesus behaved with <His> Mother as a lucid and exacting Spiritual Director that, having perceived an exceptional soul, doesn’t make her waste time, doesn’t let her stay in what is low, between natural feelings and consolations, but pushed Her in a relentless race to total stripping, in face of union with God. He taught Mary to deny Herself. Jesus directs all His followers of all centuries with His Gospel, but He directed His Mother loudly and in person,” he stressed.
The Virgin’s Silence
In regard to the question of the way Mary reacted to the conduct of the Son of God in relation to Her, the preacher suggested rereading the texts recalled in which there isn’t “the least mention of a conflict of will, of reply or self-justification on Mary’s part. She never had the intention to make Jesus change His decision!”
And it’s here where the personal and unique holiness of the Mother of God appears, the highest wonder of grace. Mary was silent. Her answer to everything was silence. Not a silence of withdrawal or sadness, but a good and holy silence. And the fact She is silent doesn’t mean that everything was easy for Mary, that She didn’t have to overcome struggles, exhaustion, and darkness. “She was exempt from sin, not from struggle and from what Saint John Paul II called ‘the tiredness of believing.’”
Finally, the same source points out that the homily ended, in this time of great tribulation for the whole world, addressing to the Virgin the ancient prayer: “We shelter under your protection, Holy Mother of God; do not disdain the entreaties we address to you in our necessities, rather free us always from all danger, O glorious and blessed Virgin!”