From infancy onwards, our first refuge in time of trouble is "mother". The pre-school boy who tumbles off his tricycle and grazes his knee runs straight to his mother and tearfully appeals for her help. And it is mother who cleans the wound and "kisses it better", healing both the pain and the grief.
In wartime, there are countless reports of mortally-wounded young soldiers crying in anguish for their mothers as their lives ebbed away. Nothing shameful in that - their companions hear, understand, and try to console their dying friends.
The Queen of all mothers is Mary, chosen and made holy by God Himself to be the Mother of His Son. It was Mary who enfolded the infant Divine Son in her loving arms, cared for him, suckled him at her breast, and humbly presented him to God the Father as a six-week-old baby.
Any father knows the surge of love he feels when he first sees his new-born child - a deep love for both mother and infant. How much greater would have been the overwhelming love of God the Father, when Mary and Joseph presented his Son in the Temple! We can only try to imagine how the Almighty God would have rejoiced in the humble, wonderful young woman who bowed before him as she held the tiny Jesus out to his Father - and his overflowing love would have sanctified the bond which was to join Jesus to Mary, his beloved Mother, for all eternity.
According to tradition, the young Jesus lived at home with his Mother and foster-father until about the age of 30, when he was to begin his divine mission. He and Mary would have comforted the ailing Joseph as he died a holy death, and it was Mary who was instrumental in starting Jesus' ministry at the celebrated wedding feast in Cana, when she induced him to perform his first public miracle of turning water into wine.
Mary was to accompany Our Lord in the next three years as he travelled and preached through the length and breadth of the Holy Land. With a band of helpers (the "holy women" of the Gospel accounts) she cared for and fed her Son and his disciples as they journeyed on foot, and she was there on Good Friday to suffer anguish as her beloved Son was humiliated, tortured and put to death at the demand of a hate-inspired and bloodthirsty mob.
Perhaps another mother can best understand how Mary suffered, as she watched Jesus being tormented, abused and ultimately, murdered in front of her eyes. Together with the faithful Apostle John, Mary was there through the hours of Our Lord's agony. And as he was being nailed to the cross, it is said she tearfully went up to him and kissed one of his bloodstained hands in reverence and pure love.
According to a seventeenth century diarist, Venerable Maria de Jesus of Agreda, Mary revealed to her that the executioners allowed her to approach her Son because they thought it would add to his suffering - but in fact Our Lord was comforted by the gentle kiss of his loving Mother, which gave him courage in his agony.
In the final moments of his Passion, the concern of Jesus was for his Mother, as she stood weeping at the foot of the cross, in the care of the faithful John. Turning to them, he spoke those wonderful words: "Woman, behold your son". Then to John: "Here is your Mother". Soon after, he gave up his Spirit in the monumental sacrifice which was to save mankind.
When his disciples took down the cross and freed the body of Jesus, they placed it in the arms of his sorrowing Mother, to embrace him one final time.
From the time of the Passion onwards, Mary was a constant companion and mentor of the Apostles and disciples who revered her. They learned from her of the Annunciation, the birth of Jesus, and his early years. They would have respected her wisdom, sought her counsel, and asked for her blessing. She was, at the very outset, the Queen and Mother of the Apostles, the early Church, and the whole human race.
Traditional accounts suggest that she spent the final years of her life on earth as the foster-mother of John, living in his home, and journeying with him in his travels.
Without doubt Our Lord loved and continues to love his Mother - most perfect of God's creatures - with a love far beyond our human understanding.
Mary is acknowledged as the Mother of the Church, and there are numerous authenticated accounts of her appearing to holy persons. Among the most famous are her appearances to Juan Diego at Guadalupe, Mexico, in 1531, to Bernadette at Lourdes, France, in 1858, and to the three shepherd children at Fatima, Portugal, in 1917.
At Guadalupe, Our Lady filled Juan Diego's tilma (cloak) with flowers as a message to the archbishop, creating a colourful picture of herself which is still preserved in the basilica at Guadalupe, and which has baffled theologians and scientists through the centuries.
At Lourdes, in front of a host of witnesses, Mary created a healing spring which is reliably credited with miraculous cures, while at Fatima, before a huge gathering of about 70,000 people, she ordered the phenomenon known as "the Miracle of the Sun", in which the heavenly orb spun and seemed to dance in the sky and plunge towards the earth.
During these three major apparitions Mary appealed for frequent recitation of the Rosary, devotion to her Immaculate Heart, and to make reparation to Our Lord for the sins of the world. Mary is also said to have made private appearances to many of the saints, and this ongoing communion with Our Lady has become a powerful tradition in the Catholic Church, supplementing and clarifying the teachings of the Gospels, and playing a vital role in leading mankind to God.
Blessed John Paul II
Throughout the history of the Church, Popes have shown great devotion to Mary, acknowledging her as Queen of Heaven and Earth, and Mother of the Church. Blessed John Paul II had a great devotion to Our Lady, and always carried his Rosary beads on his person. On 13 May 1981, on the anniversary of the Fatima apparition, a would-be assassin fired shots at John Paul as he arrived at St Peter's Square to address a vast gathering. Several bullets struck him in the back, leaving him grievously wounded. He was rushed to hospital, and survived after surgery and a long convalescence.
The Pope himself had no doubt that it was Our Lady who had come to save him. At the time he was shot, Blessed John-Paul was holding his Rosary beads, and the first thing he asked for as he recovered from surgery was his Rosary.
In 1942, on the 25th anniversary of the apparitions at Fatima, Pope Pius XII consecrated the entire world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and this was repeated by Pope John Paul forty years later.
Devotion to the Rosary has been shared by all the Popes of recent memory. Benedict XVI always carries his beads with him, and has made pilgrimages to Lourdes, Fatima, and most recently, Guadalupe.
Perhaps this is what has inspired a modern surge of renewed devotion to Mary and the saints among the Church's laity, encouraged by Pope Benedict himself, which is working towards giving Our Heavenly Mother her proper place in a world.
This surge is best characterised, perhaps, by an altar cloth in the main chapel at Marian Valley - the official Pauline Fathers' shrine of Mary, Help of Christians, in the forested Queensland Gold Coast hinterland - which is inscribed: "To Jesus through Mary!"
The Marian Valley Shrine is a beautiful, spiritually uplifting location which offers all Catholics a simple daily devotion which Mary herself is said to have revealed to St Mechtilde, about the year 1270, to earn the favour of a happy death. Our Lady instructed the saint to say "three special Hail Marys" every day, in honour of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Which of course adds up to over a thousand a year.
The Pauline Fathers have incorporated this into their Confraternity of Mary, Help of Christians, with membership freely available to anyone who sends in a written request for enrolment. The only requirement is to recite the three Hail Marys daily during either morning or evening prayers, following each one with the invocation, "Mary, Help of Christians, pray for us!"
This devotion has ecclesiastical approval, and membership cards are obtainable by writing to: Confraternity of Mary, Help of Christians, Marian Valley, PO Box 104, Canungra, Queensland 4275. Donations towards maintenance of the beautiful Shrine are optional, but visitors are welcome at any time - and especially on Church feast days.
Elsewhere, the Friends of the Suffering Souls (FOSS) is a volunteer-run, non-profit organisation devoted to the Holy Souls in Purgatory, with the goal of remembering the multitude of souls enduring the cleansing rites of Purgatory, and badly in need our prayers. The address is: FOSS, PO Box 73, Helensburgh, NSW 2508, or foss@ 1earth.net. Again, membership is free, although members are requested to include two postage stamps with their letters to cover replying mail. FOSS organises Masses on a huge scale (more than 16,000 this year alone, at the time of writing) to benefit the Holy Souls - which almost certainly includes many of our own friends and loved ones .
Cedric Wright is a Queensland Catholic writer.