My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
Throughout His entire life, Jesus gave us extraordinary gifts to enable us to live the Christian life, reaching their culmination at the time of His own passion and death.
At that Last Supper, He demonstrated how very important is the gift of presence. He deemed it essential that after His resurrection from the dead He should continue to live among His disciples, His people. Let us recall that He promised He would be with us always and not leave us orphans. So it is that He gave us the gift of the most holy Eucharist: Jesus present to us, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. Not a symbol of His presence, but truly Jesus Christ, alive and united to us!
During the course of that same paschal supper, He put on an apron. He said to His disciples, "You call me Lord, Teacher and Master, and you are quite correct. I am your Lord, Master and Teacher. But if I have washed your feet, so must you wash the feet of one another!" (John 13:13-14). Such a profound gift of humble service was found in Him Who knelt and washed the feet of the fishermen.
Following the Last Supper, He would begin an arduous journey of torment and intense suffering, both spiritual and physical. On the road to Golgotha, He would fall three times, but He would get up three times until at last He reached that hill called Calvary. The Father willed that His Son should give His life for the salvation of humanity and this suffering servant was not to be deterred from doing the will of His heavenly Father, the supernatural gift of our redemption in Christ upon the cross.
When He reached Calvary, Jesus was crucified, but before He cried out, "It is consummated," (John 19:30) and breathed His last, He gave still other examples of Christian virtue. On that cross, the darkness of Calvary was overshadowed by the radiant gift and embrace of forgiveness. Jesus looked upon those Who brought Him to this moment, and with eyes raised to the Father, He prayed: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing!" (Luke 23:34). To the repentant sinner who hangs aside of Him and pleads, "Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom," Jesus not only remembered Him, He took him home, lifted his broken and saddened heart, and told him: "This day you will be with me in paradise!" (Luke 23:42-43).
But the treasured virtues of the Christian life taught to us by Jesus were still not to be exhausted. He, Who loved us without end, was still to give us another gift, His own mother Mary. To the beloved disciple and to all of us, Jesus would utter words that pierce the most hardened of hearts and turn hearts of stone into hearts of love: "Son, behold your Mother." (John 19:27). Etched into Mary’s heart were the virtues lived and taught by Her Son, Jesus. The gift of presence — she was constantly present to Christ during His earthly life from the very moment of His conception to that moment when her outstretched arms waited to receive her dead Son as He was taken down from His cross. Those same arms would embrace all God’s children. At Calvary, Mary became our mother and she has been and continues to be ever present among us. How many beads have been worn thin by parents at prayer seeking Mary’s intercession, a mother’s intercession, for their sons and daughters? How many in so many circumstances, trials and desperate moments have begged Mary’s help, sought her maternal and loving support? In turning to Mary, her children are asking her to bring them to her Son.
In speaking of Mary’s constant presence among us, Pope Francis wrote so beautifully: "The Immaculate Virgin, as a privileged witness of the great events of salvation history, ‘kept all these things, pondering them in her heart’ (Luke 2:19): A woman of listening, a woman of contemplation, a woman of closeness to the problems of the Church and of the people. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and with all the resources of her feminine genius, she unceasingly entered ever more deeply into ‘all the truth’ (cf. John 16:13)" (Pope Francis, Address to the International Theological Commission, December 5, 2014).
Every life has its joys and sorrows, its challenges and its accomplishments, its hopes and disappointments, the rays of light and the shadows of darkness, life and death. Mary had these very same moments in her life, but she never faltered in her commitment to the Lord; her fiat remained firm as before her very eyes the wood of the crib was being fashioned into the wood of the cross. She who wrapped her newborn son in swaddling clothes later would wrap her adult son in His burial linen.
On Calvary God gave His children a real mother, a true mother, who knows our sufferings. For this reason, Gerard Manley Hopkins, the priest and poet, would dare to compare Mary to "the Air We Breathe." She is, indeed, an intimate part of our lives, bearing a title so real, so personal, so very human — Mother! Because she is Mother, like the Curé in Georges Bernanos’s Diary of a Country Priest, we, too, long to see her of whom he writes:
"Our Lady knew neither triumph nor miracle. Her Son preserved her from the last tip-touch of the savage wing of human glory. No one has ever lived, suffered, died in such simplicity, in such deep ignorance of her own dignity, a dignity crowning her above the Angels"(Behold Your Mother, Priests Speak about Mary, edited by Father Stephen J. Rossetti, with Essay contained therein, "Mother of Every Priestly Grace" by Rev. Msgr. Fernando Ferrarese, p. 39 and p. 45; 2007, Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame, Indiana).
These United States, blessed to be under the patronage of Mary Immaculate, must be mindful of the Lord repeating to us His words from the cross: "Behold your mother!" The only possibility to heal the pain felt in today’s world on so many levels and in so many circumstances is that faith, so pronounced in our Blessed Mother. Belief in God in imitation of Mary’s faith is the real force that will bring about peace in our homes, our neighborhoods, our community, our state, our nation and our world.
During this month dedicated to the mother of God let us especially thank those who for so many years have served our diocese and church with the heart of Mary as our priests celebrate special anniversaries of priestly ordination and our consecrated vowed religious celebrate their anniversaries of religious profession. Mary stands before them, as she stands before us all, as the model of commitment to Jesus. Her fiat never wavered and she placed her Immaculate Heart in the Sacred Heart of her son. We who have dedicated our lives to Christ as priests and religious ask for your prayers that always and everywhere we will reveal the faith and humility of Mary in our service to you, our brothers and sisters in the family of God. We also ask that you pray for vocations to the priesthood and the religious life so that, in imitation of Mary, the Word becomes flesh through our ministries and the presence of Jesus is alive in all our hearts.
In this Year of Consecrated Life, we especially recognize the extraordinary accomplishments of vowed religious in the life of the church. In these United States, from the very time our ancestors arrived at these shores, those in consecrated life established in many instances the first hospitals, universities and colleges, schools, orphanages and so many other institutions serving the poor, the neglected, the disenfranchised, the neglected, those on the fringes of society. In monasteries devoted to prayer and contemplation the needs of the faithful have been and continue to be brought to the Lord and these houses of prayer still stand as beacons of hope to the arch/dioceses in which they are located, assuring the faithful that throughout the day and night they are being prayed for and their petitions brought to the Father. This Year of Consecrated Life allows us to renew our gratitude to our sisters and brothers in religious life, not only this year but always!
As a diocesan family then, clergy religious and laity, we seek our Mother’s intercession, recalling the Prayer for the Marian Year given to us in 1987 by Pope Saint John Paul II:
To you, Mother of the human family and of the nations, we confidently entrust the whole of humanity, with its hopes and fears. Do not let it lack the light of true wisdom. Guide it to seek freedom and justice for all. Direct its steps in the way of peace. Enable us all to meet Christ, the way and the truth and the life.
As a true mother, Mary has gone on ahead to prepare the way for her family, to tell God about us, to ask God never to leave us in our suffering but that He grant us His gift of peace. And because we know Mary loves us with a mother’s love, the beads will continue to be worn thin. Behold your mother! Behold her to whom Benedict XVI, our Holy Father Emeritus, offered this prayer:
"Holy Mary, Mother of God,
you have given the world its true light, Jesus, your Son — the Son of God.
You abandoned yourself completely to God’s call
and thus became a wellspring of the goodness which flows forth from him.
Show us Jesus. Lead us to him, teach us to know and love him so that we too can become capable of true love and be the fountains of living water in the midst of a thirsting world" (Deus Caritas Est, No. 42, December 25, 2005).
Invoking the intercession of Mary, our mother, asking that she bring to her son the needs of our diocese, I remain
Devotedly yours in Christ,
+ The Most Reverend Salvatore R. Matano
Bishop of Rochester