Two months ago, I stood at the foot of the Cross – literally, at the spot where Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem. Golgotha lies within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and it is crowned by an altar and chapels dedicated to the final Stations of the Cross. You can reach below the altar and touch the rock on which our Savior died.
I was there for the filming of a new Bible study on Mary, so I stood there and tried to see the scene through her eyes. I have three sons of my own, and I cannot imagine the pain of seeing them hanging there. How did she do it? I opened my Bible to read and my perspective changed.
In John’s gospel, we don’t so much look at Jesus through the eyes of Mary as we see Mary (and the beloved disciple) through the eyes of Jesus. Imagine him seeing them there, knowing their love and the pain they were in. And notice what he did not say: Don’t worry! I’ll be back and everything will be OK! Instead, as his final act he gave them to each other. “Woman, behold, your son!” and to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” He is launching his New Covenant family.
Pope Francis draws attention to this in his conclusion to Evangelii Gaudium:
“These words of the dying Jesus are not chiefly the expression of his devotion and concern for his mother,” he says; “rather, they are a revelatory formula which manifests the mystery of a special saving mission. Jesus left us his mother to be our mother. Only after doing so did Jesus know that ‘all was now finished’ (Jn 19:28). At the foot of the cross, at the supreme hour of the new creation, Christ led us to Mary. He brought us to her because he did not want us to journey without a mother…” (No. 285).
Mary, who said “yes” to God and brought Christ into the world more than 2000 years ago, is our mother in the same mission today. She does not bring up the end of this letter from the Holy Father as an afterthought, she is his final thought because the rest of his message cannot be understood or carried out without her. Mary is her son’s gift to his people, Pope Francis says; then he picks up the title used by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI before him: she is the “Star of the New Evangelization.”
When I first read that, the ex-Protestant in me cringed. Don’t make her the star, I wanted to say – Jesus is the star! But her “star power” is not that of, say, Jenifer Aniston or Angelina Jolie. Mary is like the North Star, Polaris, the Guiding Star. Brightest among the stars in Ursa Minor and easy to find, it is the still point in the wheeling Northern sky. But you don’t find Polaris for its own sake, you find it so you know where North is.
Mary is the star that sets us straight, that points the way to Jesus. “Her exceptional pilgrimage of faith represents a constant point of reference for the Church,” wrote John Paul II.
Picking up on that, Pope Francis says:
“Mary let herself be guided by the Holy Spirit on a journey of faith towards a destiny of service and fruitfulness. Today we look to her and ask her to help us proclaim the message of salvation to all and to enable new disciples to become evangelizers in turn” (No. 287).
You will want to read for yourself the many beautiful ways Mary helps us on our way, that Pope Francis brings out at the end of his letter. I know it’s Christmas Eve today, but it can’t be an accident that our reflections end on a feast that draws us to a manger in Bethlehem, to wait with Mary for the coming of the Christ Child. That brings us back to the Pope’s opening words:
“With Christ joy is constantly born anew. In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come.” (No. 1)
Mary, Mother of Jesus and of us all,
Star of the New Evangelization,
pray that we might be filled with the Joy of the Gospel
and bear Christ to the world through our lives.