By Bishop James Conley
Less than 200 years after the Ascension of Jesus, a Christian disciple wrote a biography of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The biography is not a part of Scripture; its historical accuracy is not certain, and it contains some theological ambiguities difficult to reconcile with the teachings of the Gospel. But the biography was well known among the Fathers of the Church, and it reminds us that since the earliest days of the Church’s life, Christians have revered the Blessed Mother, have prayed for her intercession, and have loved her as a mother.
The biography recounts the tradition that the Jewish parents of Mary, Saints Joachim and Anne, were faithful disciples of the Lord, poor shepherds, who gave almost all they had to the poor, and to the temple. It is a long-standing tradition that Joachim and Anne lived as husband and wife for more than 20 years without bearing children, and then, as with many of Israel’s matriarchs, Anne unexpectedly found that the Lord had blessed her with a child.
Many of the Church’s early traditions hold that an angel revealed to St. Anne that her child, Mary, would be set aside by the Lord for a special and important role in the life of Israel, and in the plan of God.
We cannot be certain what is true about those early traditions and biographies of the Blessed Mother. But we do know that from the early days of the Church, the Blessed Mother’s birthday has been celebrated on September 8th, and her parents, Saints Joachim and Anne, have been remembered for preparing her for an extraordinary life as the Mother of God.
It is remarkable to note that in the early traditions about the Blessed Mother, Saints Joachim and Anne are remembered for their prayerfulness, and also for their active life of charity: for receiving the poor into their home, for quietly helping families in crisis, and for generously giving their money to those in need. The Blessed Mother was prepared for her call as the Mother of God, by learning to love the Lord in the intimacy of prayer, and by already undertaking a life of ministry with her parents. This is precisely the way in which families form children for holiness: by teaching them to pray, and by drawing them into the apostolic life of ministry to which every disciple of Jesus is called.
As we celebrate the birthday of the Blessed Mother, we should ask ourselves how our families can imitate hers, and how the Lord might be calling us to serve him more generously, more actively, and more faithfully.
One hundred years ago next week, on September 13, 1917, more than 30,000 people gathered on a field outside of Fatima, Portugal, where the Blessed Mother had been appearing for months. They heard the Blessed Mother exhort them to pray the rosary daily for peace, and to promise to pray for those who were sick, or in need of intercession. One month later, with more than 100,000 people gathered, the Blessed Mother would appear again, and the sun would dance across the sky. And again, the Blessed Mother would exhort all gathered to pray the rosary for peace.
To pray, and to work, in charity, hope, and fidelity. This was the message of the earliest traditions of the Blessed Mother’s life, and it is the message she gave just 100 years ago at Fatima. To pray and work in trust of the Lord’s plan is the message of the Blessed Mother’s entire life, and her witness as Queen of Heaven. She is our mother. She is our intercessor. And she exhorts us to pray for one another, and to give our lives generously, as she did.
On the Blessed Mother’s birthday, September 8th, and next week on the 100th anniversary of one of her apparitions at Fatima, I hope your family will gather together to pray the Rosary.
I invite you to join me for the annual Marian Mass and candlelight rosary procession at Marycrest in Waverly. I hope you will ask the Lord how your family is called to serve his will. And I hope that our Blessed Mother will give you peace, and bestow upon you the charity she learned in the home of her own holy parents.