on the Help of Christians
From this week's E-Service, newsletter of the New Rochelle Province:
Mary Help of Christians
Last Saturday, at the Marian Shrine, our province sponsored a Salesian Family celebration in honor of Mary Help of Christians. It was good to see so many branches of the Salesian Family taking part in this celebration.
You will recall that last Saturday (May 21, 2011) was notable in our society for another reason. On that day, news reports, table banter, and even passing comments to complete strangers tended to center around the end-of-the-world prediction of the radio evangelist Harold Camping. In the midst of that mania, our Salesian Family gave honor to our patroness, Mary Help of Christians.
The readings for the feast merged quite well with prophecies on the day of final judgment. The passage of Revelation speaks of an apocalyptic battle between the dragon and the woman clothed in the sun. While the battle has already been decisively won in the shedding of the Lamb’s blood, the dragon has chosen to fight on. The woman continues this cosmic battle supported by the angels and those who keep God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus.
It is within this apocalyptic worldview that we cherish Don Bosco’s devotion to Mary under the title “Help of Christians.” In these days it is good for us to renew within ourselves the inner meaning of this devotion, especially as it relates to the current time.On the one hand, the devotion to Mary Help of Christians helps us to avoid the passivism that seems to characterize those who wait for the final judgment in the manner of Harold Camping. They wait for God’s day of judgment as victims being overcome by a natural calamity in the manner of the recent tsunami in Japan. The image from Revelation and the devotion to Mary Help of Christians places us Christians in the middle of a battle against the forces of evil. As we carry on this struggle on behalf of God’s kingdom, we cry out for the help of the woman, Mary Help of Christians.
There was a time when we Salesians might not have thought that devotion to Mary Help of Christians was a quaint remnant of a past that was characterized by the Cold War, the Depression, and religious warfare. During the mid-1980s the world went through a rather optimistic period in which peace and tranquility seemed assured. The Berlin Wall was torn down. The Iron Curtain fell piece by piece. Apartheid in South Africa was ended by peaceful means. The violence in Northern Ireland was coming to an end. We imagined that our times would be a modern version of the Pax Romana. Some of our members suggested that the title “Mary Help of Christians” was overly sectarian in light of our tolerant and tranquil times. Perhaps the title “Mary Help of All Peoples” would be more appropriate for our times.
How mistaken that assessment! The battle between the forces of good and evil took on new forms of violence and hatred. In our day we are faced with a frightening mix of nationalism, religious fanaticism, tribalism, and ethnic enmities that is spreading throughout the world.
For us in this troubled time, the devotion to Mary Help of Christians is just as crucial as in the time of Pope Pius VII or Don Bosco. We don’t need a radio evangelist to tell us that there is a cosmic struggle going on around us. Members of our own Salesian Congregation and Family have suffered even death for the sake of extending God’s kingdom in strife-ridden areas of the world.
Certainly we remember our martyrs from China and Spain among these Salesians. However, within the past few years we have had Salesians murdered in Tunisia, India, Nepal, and Colombia. Recently there were false reports of 1,000 refugees killed at the Salesian parish at Duekoué, Ivory Coast. We all watched in horror the images of the Salesians and students who were killed at the Salesian school in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.It is no wonder that in the past weeks, Archbishop Dolan (in the name of the NCCB) called on society to accept the right of Christian people, and Catholics in particular, to follow the dictates of their religious convictions in daily life.
In all of this it would be dishonest if we pretended that threats to the Church and our society came only from the outside. Some of the most powerful forces of evil have been unleashed upon God’s Kingdom from within our midst. For this we call ourselves to a more profound immersion into the spirit of repentance and renewal for the sake of fidelity to God’s commands.When faced with the present reality, our only response can be to turn to Mary, the Help of Christians. As Don Bosco said many times, “Mary is here.” Just as Mary was there at Cana, so she is present with us as Mother of God and the Church. Just as at Cana, we are called to “do what he tells you” in terms of living more faithfully God’s commands, following Jesus more fully as disciples, and being ever more committed to God’s Kingdom of justice, peace, and love until the end of time. We are even more aware of the evangelizing nature of our devotion to Mary Help of Christians.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!May this prayer be for us a reminder that Mary is always with us as help, protector, and companion in the continuing battle against evil in the world and within ourselves.