Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger
Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger
Last Monday we celebrated the memorial of the Queenship of Mary. Falling as it were within the octave beginning with the Assumption of Mary, Aug. 15, we might find this congruent with the last fourth and fifth mysteries of the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary, the Assumption and the Coronation. One can certainly make the case for Mary as the Mother of Jesus, the King of Kings, being entitled with the dignity of Queen in the royal courts of heaven. Many artists have certainly portrayed her in that way. They are worth exploring. Each offers a different perspective, revealing a unique theology, one might say, but all imagine her role in some way as central to the saving mission of Jesus, no doubt inspiring in some way the title Co-Redemptrix, promoted by some theologians.

The earliest artistic renditions present her in a heavenly court, attended by angels and saints in various positions and ranks, sometimes in the presence of the Most Holy Trinity or with Jesus himself imposing a crown. The artistic imagination, especially in Italy between the 13th and 15th century might at times be unusual, extravagant, even startling. In later centuries, Mary’s almost cosmic presence can be observed, extending far beyond the courts of some vaulted heavenly realm that only exists in elevated regions about the clouds. No doubt the experience of those closely devoted to Mary — among them the artists themselves who, like the masters and builders of the gothic Cathedrals wielded their craft as acts of deep faith and love — prompted them to portray Mary not as some distant or remote figure, but a tender mother, close to our hearts.

Saint Maximilian Kolbe may have said it best. He wrote that Mary, “has a right to be loved as Queen of all hearts so that through her, hearts would be cleansed and themselves become immaculate, similar and like unto her heart, and so worthy of union with God.” I have counseled those struggling with personal issues, various addictions, and seeking purification to spend time before an image of Christ or Mary, particularly the Most Blessed Sacrament, which offers a clear alternative to time wasted on viewing images on the screens of so many devices curiously branding themselves and revolving around an “I — .” Mary is the pure image of one totally focused outside herself, on the ones — the One — she loves. As we gaze up at the really present Christ, so does she. The same Lord we behold in sacramental reality, the saints and angels behold, with Mary, in heaven. 

Mary’s focus is always on her Son, or better, presenting Jesus to the world. Her entire life is dedicated to leading us to Jesus and off the errant paths in which this world might seem to satisfy human desires, but does not feed the soul or nourish the spiritual imagination. I have also counseled those who find it difficult to speak directly to God, or Jesus, even fully conscious of his humanity — who so patently experienced our trials and passions, and wept for sinners — to go to Mary. The gentle heart of a mother is often more approachable, but we can always be sure that in coming to Mary we will reach Jesus.

Asking Mary to help us know what the Lord wishes for us, even praying to be inspired on what to pray for, what specifically to ask for, puts us in direct contact with the Holy Spirit, living in Jesus and in Mary, as the Immaculate Conception. Many of the blocks that all of us at times run into when we pray are in some way linked to experiences we may have had in the past, even as far back as childhood, with various figures in our lives, authorities or those who abused authority.

I recall that when I was studying moral theology in Rome in the mid-seventies, a very popular book was circulating, entitled “The Art of Loving,” by Erich Fromm. He offered the very important message that to know true love, one must not only seek to be loved but to learn to love well. True love is a decision to be, or how to be, not something that we just find or fall into. Our Christian mysteries, however, add a third dimension, an understanding of love that is not only a relationship between two, but moves rather around three — a Trinity. Our very vision of God as Trinity, three divine Persons revolving about each other for all eternity — “pazzo d’amore” (crazy in love) as Catherine of Siena would say — inspires us to see in every love relationship a divine presence drawing us into the blissful intimacy of Love itself. 

Yes, Love is personal. In origin and essence, a three-personed God. Mary is all caught up in this. Intimidating as it may seem at times because of our inability to wrap our minds around the depths of its mystery, she magnifies the greatness and beauty of God, consoling us with the peace it brings to the human heart, the sin-sick soul as the song says. 

Unfortunately, Fromm did not quite have the advantage of that revelation in his faith experience. He could not envision God without conjuring up the image of his stern grandfather on God’s throne. So scarred was he emotionally by the severity of the harsh discipline in his youth that it affected his relationship with God. Would that he had encountered the Mother of God!

Mary wants to be close to us in every way, to our hopes, our sorrows and our prayers. A good way to understand this connection is to imagine ourselves as a part of the Holy Family when we pray. In heaven, this family continues to guide us and watch over us. They never cease to enjoy their family bond. Jesus himself gave us his mother from the Cross (Jn. 19:26-27). Where Mary is, there is Jesus and Joseph. When we pray with Mary, we pray with the Holy Family. This is especially important for us to remember in our suffering, or when we want to be close to those who are suffering. Remember Simeon’s words to her, in the presence of Joseph, of the sword that would pierce her soul “that the thoughts of many hearts may be laid bare” (Lk. 2:35).

I always take comfort in prayer in knowing that we are never praying alone. Mary is always there. She is the mother of the Church, our Holy Mother. When Jesus said, “where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in your midst” (Mt. 18:19-20), he was not just talking about us counting numbers. He was telling us that we are never alone in prayer. He and his family are with us. 

When I was in parochial school, the nuns used to say that if we started the Rosary and fell asleep during it, the angels would finish it up for us. I think they were on to something. When we enter into prayer, we always connect with something much larger than ourselves. As the Queen of Heaven, Mary will ensure that all who lift up their hearts and minds in prayer will be heard by the heavenly chorus. 
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