Pope Francis returned to the Basilica of St. Mary Major this evening for the second time since he became Pope — the first time was at 8 a.m. on March 14, the morning after his election, to pray before an icon of the Virgin known as the Salus Populi Romani (“Protectress of the Roman People”).
He came to pray a Rosary and to dedicate his papacy to the Virgin Mary.
He also gave a homily this morning in the chapel of the Domus Santa Marta, where he is living. Once again this morning he mentioned the devil, referring to him as a “hater” who wishes ill to men and women, and who must be resisted by faith and prayer.
The coincidence today of these two prayers — one in the evening to Mary in her greatest basilica on earth, the other in the morning against the “prince of this world,” the devil, in a small chapel — seemed to emphasize a key theme of this pontificate: that the battle against the devil, against evil, is won with and through Mary, the daughter of Israel who was, and is, called “full of grace.”
And this explains a great deal about where this “Franciscan” pontificate is, and may be heading…
Note also that, in about one week, in accordance with the clear requests of Pope Francis, this Pope’s papacy will be formally consecrated to Our Lady of Fatima in Fatima, Portugal, on May 13 — the day of the first apparition to the three shepherd children of Fatima in 1917, 96 years ago.
During those apparitions, which occurred always on the 13th of each month, until October 13 (with the exception of August, when the children were in prison, when it occurred on the 19th), “the Lady” spoke to the children of future events, including the coming of great wars, and then, in the end, of a time of peace for the entire world.
The Words of the Holy Father This Evening
Today, May 4th, on the first Saturday of the first May of his pontificate, at 6 in the evening, Pope Francis visited the Basilica of St. Mary Major and prayed five decades of the Rosary, the Joyous mysteries.
By coincidence, the archpriest of the Basilica — the largest church in the world dedicated to Mary — is the Spanish Cardinal Santos Abril y Castelló, 77, a key figure in gathering support for the election of Pope Francis to the papacy on March 13. Appointed a year and a half ago, on November 21, 2011, Abril y Castelló hosted a gathering of a number of key cardinals shortly before the beginning of the Conclave which elected Jorge Mario Bergoglio.
And he was present this evening to welcome Pope Francis to this pre-eminent sanctuary of the Virgin Mary.
The remarks of the Pope this evening were a powerful presentation of his Marian spirituality. They stressed Mary’s maternal concern for all Christians, and for all people, the concern of a mother that her children grow, live fully, and be free.
These were the three chief things the Pope stressed: that Mary wishes all to grow, to live a full life, and to be free.
“This evening we are here in front of Mary,” Pope Francis said, after thanking Abril y Castelló for receiving him. “We have prayed to her, to maternally take us more and more in union with her Son Jesus; we have brought her our joys and our sorrows, our hopes and our difficulties; we have invoked her with the lovely name Salus Populi Romani (“Protectress of the Roman People”) asking for all of us, for Rome, for the world, that she keep us in good health.
“Yes, because Mary gives us health, she is our saving grace… Mary is a mother, a mother who takes care above all of the health of her children and knows how to heal them with her great and tender love. The Madonna is the custodian of our health.
“What does this mean? My thoughts go, above all, to three aspects: she helps us in our growth, she helps us to face life, she teaches us to be free.”
In speaking about the concern of Mary that people “grow well,” the Pope noted that this is not just a matter of material well-being, but of deepening and strengthening character, deepening their spirits and souls so that they are not shallow but profound, not weak, but strong.
“A mother helps her children to grow and it is her wish that they grow well,” Pope Francis said. “This is why she teaches them to not yield to laziness, which is something that derives also from certain well-being. She teaches them not to adapt themselves to a life of ease that desires nothing beyond material possessions.
“A mother takes care that her children’s growth is not stunted, that they grow strong and capable of taking responsibilities upon themselves, that they take on commitments in life and lean towards great ideals.
“The Gospel of Luke says that in the family of Nazareth Jesus ‘grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him’ (Luke 2:40). This is exactly what the Madonna does with us, she helps us to grow humanely and in faith, to be strong and not to yield to the temptation of being men and Christians in a superficial way, but to live with responsibility, reaching upwards all the time.”
So, no spoiling of the children,
So, no degeneracy due to ease and selfishness.
Only the highest of ideals, always high ideals, no matter what… This is the Pope’s recipe for raising children.
“And then,” the Pope continued, “a mother thinks of the health of her children, teaching them to face the difficulties of life.”
And here the Pope stressed realism, courage, and prudence — the virtues.
Children need to be taught the virtues, the Pope said.
“One does not educate, one does not look after someone’s health, by avoiding problems, as if life was a highway without obstacles,” Francis said. “A mother helps her children to look to the problems in life with realism, not to lose oneself in them but to tackle them with courage, not to be weak, to know how to overcome them, in a healthy balance that a mother can ‘feel’ is to be found in between the areas of safety and of risk.
“A life without challenges does not exist, and a boy or a girl who does not know how to face challenges and put himself or herself on the line, has no backbone!
“Let us remember the parable of the Good Samaritan: Jesus does not commend the behavior of the priest or of the Levite, who avoid assisting the traveler who had been beaten, robbed and left half dead along the road, but that of the Samaritan who saw the situation of the man and tackled it in a concrete manner.
“Mary lived many difficult times in her life, from the birth of Jesus, when ‘there was no room for him in the inn’ (Luke 2:7), up until the Calvary (John 19:25).
“And like a good mother she is close to us so that we never lose courage before the adversities of life, before our own weaknesses, before our sins: she gives us strength, she points to the path of her Son.
“From the cross, indicating John, Jesus tells Mary: ‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to John: ‘Here is your mother!’ (John 19,26-27).
“We are all represented by that disciple: the Lord entrusts us to the loving hands and to the tenderness of the Mother, so that we can rely on her support when we face and overcome the difficulties of our human and Christian journey.”
And then the Pope took up the question of freedom — perhaps the central question of our time. What is true freedom? How can we have this freedom? How can we lose it? The Pope addressed these great questions.
“One last aspect,” Francis said. “A good mother not only accompanies her children during their growth, not avoiding the problems and the challenges of life; a good mother also helps to take important decisions with freedom.
“But what does freedom mean? Certainly not doing all that one wants, letting oneself be dominated by passions, passing from one experience to the next without discernment, following the trends of the moment; freedom does not mean, so to say, throwing all that one does not like from the window.
“Freedom is given to us so that we make good choices in life!
“As a good mother, Mary teaches us to be, like she is, capable of making important decisions with the same full freedom with which she answered ‘yes’ to God’s plan for her life (Luke 1,38).”
The Pope does not make it entirely easy for us.
He does not tell us what these “good choices” are.
But he is quite clear that it our freedom that is at stake when we make choices. We may choose to be dominated by passions, or to seek to dominate our passions. We may choose to fight the plan of God for our lives, to run from it, or, like Mary, we may choose to say “yes” to it, to embrace it…
“Dear brothers and sisters, how difficult it is in our time to take important decisions!” the Pope summed up. “The ephemeral seduces us. We are victims of a tendency that pushes us towards the ephemeral… as if we wished to remain adolescents throughout our lives!
“We must not be afraid of definitive commitments, of commitments that involve and have an effect on our whole lives,” Francis said. “In this way our lives will be fruitful!”
And then Pope Francis spoke beautiful words about Mary — words of an eloquence reminiscent of his predecessor, Benedict XVI — words praising the daughter of Israel as a great soul, whose entire life was a hymn… words worth meditating on.
“The whole existence of Mary is a hymn to life, a hymn to love and to life,” Pope Francis said. “She generated Jesus the man and she accompanied the birth of the Church on Mount Calvary and in the Cenacle.
“The Salus Populi Romani is the mother that looks after our growth, she helps us face and overcome problems, she gives us freedom when we make important decisions; she is the mother who teaches us to be fruitful of good, joy, hope, to give life to others, both physical and spiritual life.
“This is what we are asking of you this evening, Oh Mary, Salus Populi Romani, for the people of Rome, for all of us: give us the grace that only you can give, so that we may always be signs and tools of life.”
“Pray Three Hail Mary’s for Me”
As he left the basilica after the Rosary, Pope Francis spoke a few words to the faithful present there.
And he asked them to say “three Hail Marys” for him.
“Good evening,” he said. “Thanks so much for your presence in the house of the mother of Rome, of your mother. Long live the Protectress of the Roman People. Long Live the Madonna. She is our Mother. Let us entrust ourselves to her, so that she may protect us like a good mother.
“I pray for you, but I ask you to pray for me, because I am in need of your prayers. Three ‘Hail Marys’ for me. I wish you a happy Sunday, tomorrow. Goodbye. Now I give you my blessing, to you and to all your family. May almighty God bless you (gives the blessing)… Happy Sunday.”
(Here are the words in the original Italian: “Buona sera! Grazie tante per la vostra presenza nella casa della mamma di Roma, della nostra Madre. Viva la Salus Populi Romani. Viva la Madonna. E’ la nostra Madre. Affidiamoci a lei, perché lei ci custodisce come una buona mamma. Io prego per voi, ma vi chiedo di pregare per me, perché ne ho bisogno. Tre “Ave” per me. Vi auguro una buona domenica, domani. Arrivederci. Adesso vi do la benedizione – a voi e a tutta la vostra famiglia. Vi benedica il Padre Onnipotente.. Buona domenica.”)
In his Twitter message today, Pope Francis said “It would be beautiful, during the month of May, to recite together in your family the Holy Rosary. Prayer renders still stronger the life of the family.” (“Sarebbe bello, nel mese di maggio, recitare assieme in famiglia il Santo Rosario. La preghiera rende ancora più salda la vita familiare.”) He had said something similar during his last Wednesday General Audience.
At the end of the Rosary, after the chanting of the litany, Pope Francis placed flowers under the icon of the Virgin Mary, and offered incense before the ancient image.
“To Place His Pontificate at the Feet of the Madonna”
Cardinal Santos Abril y Castelló, archpriest of the basilica of St. Mary Major, gave an interview to Vatican Radio about the evening Rosary to journalist Sergio Centofanti.
In his remarks, the cardinal revealed that Pope Francis has entrusted his entire pontificate to the Virgin Mary, placing it “at the feet of the Madonna.”
On the first morning of his pontificate, “Pope Francis wished to come to the Basilica not only to thank the Madonna, but also — as he told me personally — to make an act of entrustment, to place his pontificate at the feet of the Madonna,” the cardinal said.
“He came to ask for the protection and help of the Madonna, being a very Marian Pope. I know that he went very often to visit the national Sanctuary of the Madonna of Luján (in Argentina), and it was not the first time that he has visited the Salus populi romani.”
“Fighting evil with meekness and humility”
This morning, during his homily at his daily 7 a.m. morning Mass in the Domus Santa Marta, Pope Francis asked his hearers to “always remain meek and humble, that we might defeat the empty promises and the hatred of the world.”
The homily centered on the struggle between the love of Christ and the hatred of the “prince” of this world — the devil.
The Lord, the Pope said, tells us to be not afraid when the world hates us as it hated Him.
“The way of the Christians is the way of Jesus,” Francis said. “If we want to be followers of Jesus, there is no other way: none other than that, which He indicated to us — and one of the consequences of this is hatred — it is the hatred of the world, and also the prince of this world.”
Jesus, he said, “with His death, His resurrection” redeemed us “from the power of the world, from the power of the devil, from the power of the prince of this world.”
He added: “The origin of the hate [we experience], then is this: that we are saved. It is that prince who does not want that we should have been saved, who hates.”
Here, he said, is the reason that the hatred and persecution continue from the early days of the Church even unto the present day.
There are “many persecuted Christian communities in the world,” Pope Francis said, with bitterness in his voice. “Indeed, there are more persecuted communities in this time than in the early days: today, right now, in this day and in this hour.”
Asking himself why this is the case, the Pope said, “Because the spirit of the world hates.”
The Pope then said something perhaps a bit shocking to a reletavistic world. He said one cannot “dialogue” with the devil, though dialogue is always necessary with other human beings.
“There can be no dialogue with the prince of this world,” Francis said. “Let this be clear!
“Today, dialogue is necessary among us humans, it is necessary for peace. Dialogue is a habit, it is an attitude that we must have among us to feel and understand each other… and that [dialogue] must be maintained forever. Dialogue comes from charity, from love.
“But with that prince, it is impossible to dialogue: one can only respond with the Word of God who defends us, for the world hates us – and just as he did with Jesus, so will he do with us.”
And then the Pope gave a description of how the devil tempts people, even putting words into the mouth of the tempter, the one who attempts to decive men and women.
“‘Only look,’ he will say, ‘just do this one small little scam… it is a small matter, nothing really’ – and so he begins to lead us on a road that is slightly off.
“This is a pious lie,” Francis continued. He again cited the devil.
“‘Do it, do it, do it: there is no problem,'” Francis said, putting words in the devil’s mouth. And he added: “It begins little by little, always, no?”
The Pope continued to describe the battle between the devil and the individual soul the devil is tempting.
“Then [he says]: ‘But … you’re good, you’re a good person: You [get away with] it.’ It is flattering – and he softens us by flattery: and then, we fall into the trap.”
Pope Francis went on to say that the Lord asks us to remain sheep, inside the Church, because if one decides to quit the fold, then he does not have “a shepherd to defend him and he falls into the clutches of these wolves.”
“You may ask the question,” continued Pope Francis, “‘Father, what is the weapon to defend against these seductions, from these blandishments, these enticements that the prince of this world offers?’”
The weapon, the Pope said, is the same weapon of Jesus, the Word of God — not dialogue — but always the Word of God, and then humility and meekness.
“We think of Jesus in His Passion. His Prophet says: ‘As a sheep going to the slaughter.’ He does not cry out, not at all: humility. Humility and meekness.
“These are the weapons that the prince and spirit of this world does not tolerate, for his proposals are proposals for worldly power, proposals of vanity, proposals for ill-gotten riches.”
“Today,” continued Pope Francis, “Jesus reminds us of this hatred that the world has against us, against the followers of Jesus.”
The world hates us, he repeated, “because He has saved us, redeemed us.”
The Pope concluded with an invocation to the Virgin Mary, asking her, “to help us become meek and humble in the way of Jesus.”
The Mass on Saturday morning was concelebrated by the Secretary of the Congregation for Bishops, Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, with a contingent of the Pontifical Swiss Guard in attendance.
Pope Francis offered the guards a greeting of affection and gratitude. “The Church,” he said, “loves you so much,” and, “so do I.”
I reiterate one thing the Pope said today: “I pray for you, but I ask you to pray for me, because I am in need of your prayers. Three ‘Hail Marys’ for me…”
New Book on Pope Francis
Entitled Pray for Me: The Life and Spiritual Vision of Pope Francis, First Pope from the Americas, my new book on Pope Francis was released yesterday by Random House.
Pray for Me is geared toward those who would like to accompany Pope Francis on his journey of faith in the months and years ahead.
“Think nothing else but that God ordains all, and where there is no love, put love, and you will draw love out.” —St. John of the Cross