Photo: Pope kisses statue of Our Lady of Aparecida given to him at Marian shrine in Aparecida at the basilica and national shrine dedicated to her in Brazil July 24.(CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Yesterday rain did not deter our Holy Father, Pope Francis, from traveling to the Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida, the Brazilian shrine to Mary. This mirrors what he did the day after he was elected Pope when, in the early morning, he was driven over to St. Mary Major in Rome to pray before the beautiful image of Our Lady, Salvation of the Roman People, the icon attributed to St. Luke himself.
What it tells us is what every Catholic knows deep within our hearts: without Mary we cannot be faithful disciples of her Son. Mary is at the heart of our Catholic faith and devotion to Mary remains one of the most significant identity marks of the Church of the East and of the West.
During the Mass he celebrated there, Pope Francis told the thousands of pilgrims present that his visit to Brazil is centered on World Youth Day. And while the young people were celebrating Mass with the Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro, the Holy Father was entrusting them and the whole wondrous experience of WYD to Mary, the Mother of the Lord and the Mother of the Church.
In his homily that reflected on the prophetical vision from the Book of Revelation of Mary being pursued by the dragon who ultimately is defeated by God’s plan for our salvation, our Holy Father offered three points for meditation. The first was hopefulness. In the great war with the devil which is fought out here on earth, God is the one to whom we turn because God alone can save us from the devil and the forces of evil that surround us. That confidence in God is what makes us a people of hope. And hope does not disappoint because its foundation is the promise of God to watch over us and snatch us from the power of Satan so long as we cling to Him and trust in his power to save.
What hope leads to is the experience we all have had of being surprised by God. Our God is the God of surprises. How often when we thought we were at the end of our rope, God surprised us with just what we needed at that moment. That is because he is so infinite and all loving that he is literally beyond anything we could dream or hope for. And he is always able to do far more than we can ever do on our own.
Hope never disappoints and God will show us the fruit of hope in our lives that we are constantly being called to serve with joy. There is no one more self-contradictory than the disciple of Christ who is sad and moody, who looks at the world through the glasses of sadness and concentrates on the dark and the disappointing. We have born through baptism as a new creation in Jesus Christ. Our lives are caught up in His life. We are his ambassadors, his witnesses that what he has promised he has given and given to us in superabundance.
In and through all of this, Mary is the one who shows us the way just as she is showing the young people at WYD that through her all roads bring us to Jesus and with Him, there is never death but only life and life eternal.