Well, dear readers, I hope you’ve had a very good summer with some personal time for relaxing, recreating and renewing. Hard to believe that it’s passed so quickly and that we’ve now re-entered the atmosphere of our normal routine. (And, of course, a new football season is upon us and, yes, the Steelers banner has reclaimed its rightful place on the Wampanoag Trail!)
The most memorable event of the summer for me was participating in our eight-day diocesan pilgrimage to Fatima, Portugal. We took the journey to that holy place to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of our Blessed Mother’s apparitions there, and in observance of our diocesan “Year with Mary our Mother.” I won’t review all the details of our pilgrimage since a previous edition of the Rhode Island Catholic had complete coverage of our journey.
But, let me just say that our pilgrimage was successful and inspiring — our tour guide was excellent, the group traveled well together, we visited some memorable places, and together we shared some beautiful moments of prayer and devotion.
Not surprisingly, the spiritual climax of the pilgrimage was our visit to Fatima itself and the opportunity to pray the Holy Rosary and then participate in the candlelight procession around the enormous square. Besides myself there were two other bishops, scores of priests, and tens of thousands of devout pilgrims from all over the world in the procession — young and old, healthy and infirm, somber and joy-filled, parents with curious kids on their shoulders, and other folks prayerfully processing in wheelchairs.
The procession lasted about an hour, I’d say, and as we sang the familiar refrain of the Fatima Hymn, there was plenty of time for me to observe and reflect. I should explain that my participation in the pilgrimage came in the context of two approaching milestones in my life – my 25th anniversary as a bishop this December, and my 70th birthday next spring. And not to be overly dramatic about it, but in these days I’ve been reflecting seriously about my ministry as a priest and bishop, its successes and failures, and also about what it means to begin writing the final chapter of my life.
So, at one point during the procession I looked intently at the statue of our Blessed Mother and realized how good it was to be walking with Mary. I decided then and there that I never wanted to walk without Mary again, that I needed her, and that I would invite her to be my companion for the rest of my days, whether they be many or few.
It is so good and helpful to walk with Mary because she has already successfully completed the journey we’re now making. As St. John Paul II wrote in his encyclical Redemptoris Mater, we are “proceeding along the path already trodden by the Virgin Mary, who advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and loyally preserved in her union with her Son unto the Cross.” (#2)
In whatever situation or set of circumstances you find yourself, then, you can look to Mary for understanding, inspiration, consolation and support. Are you dealing with a painful, debilitating illness? Look to Mary. Grieving the death of a loved one and weighed down by loneliness? Look to Mary. Worried about a serious family crisis? Look to Mary. Anxious about financial security and providing for loved ones? Look to Mary. Paralyzed by addiction to alcohol, drugs or pornography? Look to Mary. Struggling to remain faithful to the commitments of your vocation? Look to Mary.
As the beautiful prayer says, “Never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession was left unaided.”
Perhaps the most accessible way of having Mary accompany you on your life’s journey is by praying the Holy Rosary. In the Rosary we meditate upon the central events in the life of Jesus and Mary — the Mysteries — Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, and Glorious. The Rosary leads us to Christ, St. John Paul reminds us. It is a “Compendium of the Gospel.”
But the mysteries of the Rosary are also found in our daily lives, aren’t they? Hasn’t your life had moments that are joyful, luminous, sorrowful, and glorious? By reflecting upon the mysteries of Mary and Christ, and applying them to your own experience, you come to realize that God’s plan is gradually unfolding in your life and that your life is more than a haphazard collection of random events; that your life has direction, meaning and purpose.
St. John Paul put it this way: “It could be said that each mystery of the Rosary, carefully meditated, sheds light on the mystery of man. It becomes natural to bring to this encounter with the sacred humanity of the Redeemer all the problems, anxieties, labors and endeavors which go to make up our lives. To pray the Rosary is to hand over our burdens to the merciful hearts of Christ and his Mother.” (On the Most Holy Rosary, #25)
Did our pilgrimage to Fatima change my life in some dramatic or noticeable way? Probably not. Did it teach me anything new? I don’t think so. But during that candlelight procession on a chilly evening in Fatima I rediscovered a great blessing of our Catholic Faith: it is really good to walk with Mary. She gives us direction, inspiration and consolation on our pilgrim way. And she gives us Jesus. What more could we ask, what more do we need?