For the past 35 years, popes have done a great deal of traveling. In the 26 years of his pontificate, Pope St. John Paul II visited 129 countries, on every continent but Antarctica.
Pope Benedict XVI traveled extensively, also visiting every settled continent.
Pope Francis has served as Roman Pontiff for less than two years, but he has already traveled to eight countries, with plans for many more in the years to come, including the United States.
Before every journey Pope Francis makes, he stops at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore to pray. He prays in a side chapel, the Lady Chapel or Borghese Chapel, before the image of Our Lady, Salus Populi Romani (Help of the People of Rome.) The image is at least 700 hundred years old; it depicts the Blessed Mother holding the child Jesus, and gazing forward at the viewer. For centuries, it was the most popular Marian image of Rome. It serves as a reminder that Mary’s vocation—on earth, and in heaven—is to carry her son Jesus to the world, and to look, deeply, at each one us, knowing our needs, bringing them to Jesus, and praying for us as we follow after Christ.
On December 8th, the Church will celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, a Holy Day of Obligation. This Solemnity is a celebration of Mary’s redemption in Jesus Christ, given to her at the moment she was conceived. Mary was prepared from the moment of her creation to bring Christ to the world—and to help lead us to him. The Immaculate Conception is the Patroness of our diocese and of our nation.
Mary was given the grace of Immaculate Conception so that she could help to bring Christ’s redeeming sacrifice to the world. And as the Mother of God, she is also our mother, who desires to help meet every need we have. She is a guide, a protector, and a patron.
In 1854, when Mary’s Immaculate Conception was solemnly declared, Pope Pius IX said that “under her guidance, under her patronage, under her kindness and protection, nothing is to be feared; nothing is hopeless.”
Nothing is hopeless under the guidance of Mary because she guides us to Christ, who is the source of everlasting hope. We can rely on the guidance of Mary. And we should imitate it. We, too, can intercede for others in prayer. And we can witness to the redeeming sacrifice of Christ. Our vocation is not unlike Mary’s vocation: in our baptism, we have been given the grace to bring Christ to the world, and to bring souls to Christ.
The witness of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a witness of this: that Christ frees us from all sin, prepares us to become his disciples, and calls us to become his missionaries to the world.
On the First Sunday of Advent, the Church began the “Year for Consecrated Life.” This year is a time for us to consider the witness of consecrated men and women—religious sisters, brothers, and priests. Mary is the template for men and women in consecrated life. Pope Francis says that she is a “woman in contemplation of the mystery of God in the world and in history, [and a] diligent woman in helping others with haste.”
Like Mary, consecrated men and women are called to deeply encounter the needs of others, and to bring them to Jesus. They are called to witness to Christ in the world. They are called to invite souls into the mystery of conversion. And like Mary, they have been given the grace by God to become extraordinary missionary-disciples.
The consecrated women and men of the Diocese of Lincoln witness, like Mary, to power of God’s redemption, and to the vocation of the Christian life. In charity, in education, in solidarity, and in prayer, they offer themselves to be a help to the children of God.
As we consider the vocation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of the consecrated religious who have brought us to Christ, may we remember our own vocations. God calls each one of us to bring Christ to the world, to bring the needs of the poor and the suffering to him, and to be missionary-disciples for the salvation of every soul.