Of Kidnapping The Pope

Of Kidnapping The Pope

Mary Help of Christians 

God has willed that we should receive all things through Mary.

So speaks St Bernard of Clairvaux in a homily we read this morning at Matins. This phrase is among the most important patristic texts that point to the universal mediation of Mary. In support of this affirmation, St Bernard refers to Gideon’s fleece (cf. Judges 6:37). Gideon put the fleece out overnight twice in a row to ask God for a sign. The first night he asked that the fleece alone would collect the dew and that the surrounding area would be dry. The second night he asked for the opposite, that the fleece be dry and the surrounding ground wet with dew. And so it happened. For St Bernard, the fleece is Mary, and the first night it alone has all the dew – so much so that, as the sacred text says, he was able to fill a vessel with the dew that he squeezed out – it alone has dew because Mary alone received all the grace that was destined for humanity through her Son. Indeed, by having His Son take flesh in her womb, and allowing the Incarnation and all subsequent graces to be dependent upon Mary’s acquiescence, God in effect gave us all through her. That is why the Church holds her to be the Mediatrix of grace. All graces given by God to humanity flow through the hands of Mary.  To use another image dear to St Bernard, she is the aqueduct or canal which God uses to let grace flow to us, her children.

So on this feast of Mary Help of Christians, as we are reminded of her pivotal role in the obtention of grace, we can ask ourselves: what exactly do we need her help for? If she is Help of Christians, she is our helper. But for what?

Tied in with the institution of this feast is a certain concern for the temporal freedom and prosperity of Holy Church, for even though the title of Auxilium Christianorum goes back to the Middle Ages, in modern times its influence owes much to the Benedictine Pope Pius VII. This great Pontiff, whose cause for canonisation was opened by Pope Benedict XVI, after having shown Napoleon Bonaparte great benevolence found his kindness rewarded with a treacherous imprisonment that lasted over five years. When he was finally delivered after the fall of Napoleon, having entered Rome on this day, he instituted the special feast that we now celebrate.

In our day, a political leader kidnapping the Pope and holding him hostage for several years would surely provoke public outcry. It did in those days too, only Napoleon was sole master of Europe and until he was out of the way the protests that rose from around the world remained but that, protests. When Pope Pius XI signed the Lateran Treaty in 1929, the goal was to secure political freedom for the Successors of St Peter and guarantee them the respect due the head of a sovereign state. But we know of course the respect heads of state sometimes fail to have for one another. If kidnapping the Pope would not be politically correct today, we know sadly that there are other ways of influencing the decisions of the head of the Church. There are in every age grave dangers hidden in the waters through which Holy Church must navigate, and many are those who would rejoice to see her disappearance. And that is why we need Our Blessed Lady, the Star of the Sea and Help of Christians, to keep watch over the Bark of Peter and lead it safely to the eternal shores.

And so on this day, let us turn to Mary and ask her, first of all, to guide, protect, enlighten and  bless the Holy Father, that in all his decisions, he may be solely inspired by the desire to promote the true interests of God and the salvation of souls. Let us ask for the universal Church the grace to be free from all persecution and prejudice, that all Catholics may see access to the sacraments restored to them without delay.

But let us also ask to be delivered from the spiritual kidnapping of souls which has taken place over the past few decades. So many have been fooled into thinking they are good Catholics when in reality they profess heresy or live immorally or worship God unworthily, mainly because they have not been properly instructed in the duties of the faith. Let us plead with the Mediatrix of All Grace that she deign to cast once again her loving maternal gaze on our poor Church, that our bishops and priests may preach the faith with all clarity and with courage. Let them not be afraid to be sent into exile. Today’s feast is there to remind us that after the exile there is the triumph. Pius VII’s return to Rome was one of those extraordinary victorious entries that has left its glorious memory to future generations, as is witnessed to in the hymn we sang at Vespers.

But exile does not always end in this life. Sometimes, it must await the eternal shores. Tomorrow we will honour another great Benedictine Pope who also was the seventh in his line, Gregory VII, Hildebrand, the initiator of the Gregorian reform. St Gregory too had to battle for the reform and the freedom of the Church. He fought against priests who resisted his efforts to reform their lives and restore them to the pristine apostolic model of celibacy; he fought against rulers of the day who tried to usurp the pontifical privileges. He would pay for it. His dying words say it all: “I have loved justice and hated iniquity; therefore, I die in exile”. To love justice and to hate iniquity is indeed a good way to make enemies in a fallen world, and whereas so many leaders tend to compromise one or the other, Gregory stood firm. His fortitude would be decisive in bringing the Church into a new age of prosperity and freedom.

If it is true, as St Anselm – another great Benedictine monk become bishop – reminds us, that “God loves nothing more on earth than the  freedom of His Church”, we can rest assured that by praying to Mary Immaculate to set the Church free from all civil interference – we are asking for something that is pleasing to God.

Mary Immaculate, Help of Christians, look down favourably upon us. Protect us from all harm, from all injustice, from all iniquity, whether it come from within or from without the Church. May each of us march resolutely along the path to true sanctity, and may we see a day of true prosperity of the Mystical Body of thy Son.