This statue in Venice is very like that of Mary at Lourdes, and as we see, it is surrounded by passport photos and little notes, petitions and thank-yous. We saw a similar crop of photographs around the statue of Our Lady of Valencia. The Basilica of Our Lady of Africa in Algiers also receives photos and notes from Muslims as well as Christians.
Prayer, we were taught at school, is the raising of the heart and mind to God, but it is also a physical activity. Sitting, kneeling, bowing, walking or riding on pilgrimage, even the physical act of going to the parish church of a Sunday; any of these can enable us to raise our hearts and minds to God.
So prayer can be going to church and leaving a prayer request on a board or in a basket. Or leaving a prayer request before the tomb of a saint, or in this case a statue. We can ask for the prayers of the Church, not just the Church on earth today but also the saints triumphant who have all the time in eternity to pray for us: Mary included.
Tomorrow is the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. What are people seeking there? Can it be put into words? Perhaps peace and healing of the heart and mind, if not of the body, is what I hear most often as the gift of the pilgrimage. An on-going process, not always to be rushed.
Those who leave photos or candles in front of Mary’s statue commend their loved ones to our prayers as well as Mary’s: let us pray then for all who will make the Lourdes pilgrimage this year, as sick pilgrims or helpers, and for all who ask our prayers, directly or through such gestures as we see in this photograph.
Banner of St Lawrence with his barbecue, St Lawrence, Ludlow, Shropshire.
Two years ago in June we recounted how Pope Benedict XV praised today’s saint, Lawrence the Deacon of Pope Sixtus II, as a champion of the poor people of Rome. The story was that when the government called him to bring the Church’s treasure before the authorities he turned up with crowds of poor people instead of the gold, silver and jewels they had hoped to confiscate. (In Valencia they tell that he managed to smuggle the Holy Grail, the cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper, to fellow deacon Saint Vincent who brought it to Spain; but that is much less important, even if it is true.)
Part of Lawrence’s mission was to feed the poor, and Pope Benedict was speaking at a dinner he held for poor people of Rome, restoring a link with his diocese as well as blowing away a protocol that said the pope should not be seen eating.
When David, our parish deacon in Canterbury, marked his 25 years of ministry, the children of the parish gave him a card with pictures from the life and death of Saint Lawrence.
Thankfully, Deacon David is still with us and has not been barbecued to death like his illustrious predecessor. We thank God for his ministry!
Bishop John Jukes OFM, when he preached to the children at St Thomas’s Church Canterbury, asked them did baby Jesus have fingernails? He wanted to impress on them that Jesus was truly human, dependent on his mother at a young age.
‘Instructing the ignorant’ is one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy. If Jesus was truly human, Mary and Joseph must have instructed him. He was called the carpenter’s son (Matthew 13:55) and the carpenter (Mark 6:3). It would be wrong to imagine that he just knew what to do without being taught!
He also had to learn how to love, though like any baby he came into this world with every faculty needed to be able to. Look how the artist has made Mary watch her son while he brims with confidence as he blesses the pilgrims to Valencia Cathedral. A Son of God who did not love us would be terrible indeed. Instead he loves:
But love, first learnèd in a lady’s eyes,
Lives not alone immurèd in the brain,
But, with the motion of all elements,
Courses as swift as thought in every power,
And gives to every power a double power,
Above their functions and their offices.
Love’s Labours Lost 4.3
Look again at the statue: see the little photos within the folds? Women present themselves here, before the eyes, as it were, of Mary and Jesus, to ask for help in conceiving, or for the health of their children. Perhaps a mother’s eyes, looking upon Jesus and his mother, absorb blessings to give their power a double power: absorb the love of the Madonna and child, and she can run with doubled power to her own child.
Pray for all mothers, may they always find the strength and power their children need.