A girl places a crown of flowers on a statue of Mary.

A sixth-grade student from Avon’s St. Agnes School places a crown of flowers on a statue of Mary May 12, 2023, following a blessing of the church’s new Marian shrine and garden. (EMC file photo)

What did Jesus see when He looked down from the cross?

My dear sisters and brothers in Christ:

Let me present a question: What did Jesus — or better yet, whom — did Jesus see from the cross at Golgotha? To be sure, He saw with a broken heart those whom He had come to save crying out: “Crucify Him, crucify Him, crucify Him!” He may have looked for His disciples, who followed Him and sat at table with Him at the Last Supper; those whom He cured, the multitudes He fed. Were they there? Maybe He saw them, even if from afar.

But He did see His mother, Mary, with the beloved disciple John. There was our dear Mother Mary, ever faithful, disregarding the insults and blasphemies hurled at her Son and even unafraid of the possible threats to her own life. With the true character of a mother, she was present to her child in the most desperate of circumstances. The bond between mother and child reaches this climatic moment on Cavalry. With her “Fiat,” “Thy will be done,” Mary embraced the Christ Child in her womb, and that embrace was never shattered even by the passion of her Son. And upon the cross, Christ gave us Mary as our Mother, when He said to her “There is your son,” and to the beloved disciple John, “There is your mother” (John 19: 26-27).

This month of May is dedicated to Our Mother Mary as she continues to intercede on our behalf with her Son. On the eve of Pentecost, June 6, 1987, at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome — the oldest church in the world dedicated to the Mother of God — St. John Paul II led the world in praying the rosary. Linked by satellite television, the Holy Father was joined by the faithful participating in Mary’s rosary at Marian shrines in 17 countries on five continents. St. John Paul II wanted to be united with the faithful throughout the world on the eve of the start of the Marian Year, which began on the Solemnity of Pentecost and concluded the following year on the Solemnity of the Assumption, August 15, 1988. This was the second Marian Year declared in recent church history; the first was declared by Pope Pius XII from Dec. 8, 1953 to Dec. 8, 1954, to celebrate and commemorate the 100th anniversary of the formal proclamation of the dogma of Mary’s Immaculate Conception.

At the end of his general audience on March 22, 2023, His Holiness, Pope Francis, recalled: “Saturday will mark the solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, and our thoughts turn to March 25 last year when, in union with all the bishops of the world, we consecrated the Church and humanity, especially Russia and Ukraine, to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.” At that same general audience, Pope Francis invited parish communities and all ecclesial institutions, schools and charitable apostolates to renew annually the Marian consecration.

During his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI, of beloved memory, spoke so movingly in a March 25, 2006, homily of the beautiful significance of the Church’s commemoration of the Annunciation of the Lord: “The icon of the Annunciation, more than any other, helps us to see clearly how everything in the Church goes back to the mystery of Mary’s acceptance of the divine Word, by which, through the action of the Holy Spirit, the Covenant between God and humanity was perfectly sealed. Everything in the Church, every institution and ministry, including that of Peter and his Successors, is ‘included’ under the Virgin’s mantle, within the grace-filled horizon of her ‘yes’ to God’s will.”

On May 20, the Church celebrates the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church. In the preface of the Mass that day, the celebrant prays to God, the Father:

Receiving your Word in her Immaculate Heart, she was found worthy to conceive him in her virgin’s womb and, giving birth to the Creator, she nurtured the beginnings of the Church.

Standing beside the Cross, she received the testament of divine love and took to herself as sons and daughters all those who by the Death of Christ are born to heavenly life.

As the Apostles awaited the Spirit you had promised, she joined her supplication to the prayers of the disciples and so became the pattern of the Church at prayer.

Raised to the glory of heaven, she accompanies your pilgrim Church with a mother’s love and watches in kindness over the Church’s homeward steps, until the Lord’s Day shall come in glorious splendor.

Thus, it is most fitting that during this month dedicated to our Mother Mary, we honor and invoke her Son’s blessings upon our priests, deacons and religious now serving in our diocese, especially those celebrating special jubilees. We pray that they will have the support and encouragement of those entrusted to their pastoral care, especially when their ministry requires that they make difficult decisions and preach the Gospel in its fullness. We also ask Mary’s intercession that she beseech her Son that our diocese will be blessed with vocations to the ordained ministry and religious life, so that the zeal and enthusiasm of those who have gone before us in imitation of Mary’s “Fiat” will be continued now and in all the ages to follow.

My brothers and sisters, the message that continues to resound in this holy season of Easter is this: Christ is with us, and it is Christ who calls us all to arise and to follow Him. Those who accept the call of Christ to ordained ministry and those women and men living the vowed, consecrated religious life willingly give themselves in service to Christ and to the Church. It is a life that counters narcissism, which Pope Francis warns against in his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia: “Narcissism makes people incapable of looking beyond themselves, beyond their own desires and needs” (par. 39). Those consecrated to the service of Jesus Christ, in imitation of the Good Shepherd, are expected to place the needs of those entrusted to their pastoral care above their own needs. The love of Christ’s ministers for His bride, the Church, and her people is the same love to which Pope Francis calls married couples to aspire: “It is a love that never gives up, even in the darkest hour” (Ibid., par. 118). It is a love that is compassionate and empathetic, while at the same time avoiding “a lukewarm attitude, any kind of relativism, or an undue reticence in proposing the ideal,” for to do so “would be a lack of fidelity to the Gospel and also of love on the part of the Church …” (Ibid., par. 307). Ordained ministers and consecrated vowed religious “get soiled with the mud of the street” (Ibid., par. 308), as did those missionaries who first came to this country and inserted themselves into every aspect of life.

We know that Christ is not lacking in will to give our age priests, deacons and religious. We may be lacking in our faith and constancy to pray to the Lord of the harvest, to speak to one another positively about the priesthood, the religious life and the diaconate, and to encourage our young people zealously and generously to make this great act of sacrificial love. Many young people are doubtful about themselves, their own worth, their own abilities to cultivate strong and virtuous lives; they need encouragement, guidance, leadership and an eternal vision that opens them to the Transcendent. While I can truly understand and appreciate their worries, I repeat the words of Jesus: “Do not let your hearts be worried; trust in God and in me” (John 14:1).

We are not going to strengthen our Church, parishes, Catholic schools and apostolates or our world just by standing on the sidelines or reliving the past in our memories, memories that indeed are treasured but need to be activated in our own time by living a visible, manifested faith. We need to inspire our young people to do good, to be generous of heart, to build up, to foster the theological and indispensable virtues of faith, hope and charity. The loving hearts of a mother and a father, rooted in the love of Christ and His Church, are surely among the most fertile soil for a son or daughter to perceive and to respond to the call of Christ. “‘Christian couples are, for each other, for their children and for their relatives, cooperators of grace and witnesses of the faith.’ God calls them to bestow life and to care for life” (Amoris Laetitia, par. 321).

Future priests, deacons and religious, whoever you are, wherever you are and whatever you are doing: Holy Mother Church needs you; the Savior calls you; the suffering and lost sheep long for you. Be of good courage! Come forward gladly with a shepherd’s love so that people may know and love Jesus Christ and, through your future ministries, rejoice in the certainty of Jesus’ presence among us and exult in the glorious life of the sons and daughters of God!

In closing, I express my sincere gratitude to our pastoral administrators and to the countless numbers of laypeople throughout our parishes, institutions and charitable missions who so devotedly assist our priests, deacons and religious in the fulfillment of our pastoral and apostolic ministries and do so with an admirable spirit of humility, joy and deep faith. To all of you, I say thank you again and yet again! In this month dedicated to our Blessed Mother Mary, who “watches in kindness over the Church’s homeward steps,” we ask that she guide our young people in discerning their vocations so that the Word may again become flesh in our midst. May God bless all our efforts to create a world where faith is real, love is lived, charity abounds and peace rests upon us all!

When Jesus looked down from the cross, we pray He saw us in time standing by Him like Our Mother Mary!

Assuring you of my prayers, especially during these final days of Easter, I remain

Devotedly yours in Christ,

The Most Reverend

Salvatore R. Matano

Bishop of Rochester

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