Master of Suspense or Master of Mystery?

VertigoAll Hallows Eve and All Saints often get me thinking about two things: Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo and a sermon preached by John Henry Newman at Oxford in 1832.

I can’t recount the elaborate plot of Vertigo here, and if you have deprived yourself of the pleasure of watching this masterpiece until now, I suggest you run—don’t walk—to your nearest library to borrow it. What’s that you say? You can stream it? All the better—sit down and watch it now, then come back and read my reflections on it.

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So, you’re back. I’ll bet you’re feeling as Scottie did when he was told of the possession of Gavin Elster’s wife by the ghost of her suicidal ancestor. You need a drink too, don’t you?

At the start, Vertigo seems to be a story about the living possessed by the spirit of the dead and an ex-policeman, a “hard-headed Scot,” who is hired as a private detective to solve the “mystery” of this possession. But unlike the usual formula of the detective story, in this film the mystery remains after the problem is solved. Scottie Ferguson, the protagonist in the film, follows a painful journey of self-discovery in which he must die to his old, pragmatic ego, the self that thinks that everything in life is explainable. “There’s an answer for everything,” he says. Scottie suffers from vertigo and wants to cure himself of this mundane fear of heights. He doesn’t believe Elster’s “mystery” when he first hears it, and of course on one level, that is correct—the story is a fraud. Elster sets up the interpretation that “the other dimension” possesses his wife. The rational Scottie doesn’t buy it. Yet, even though it’s a set-up, there is a deeper truth—a mystery—greater than what Elster or anyone else knows. It goes beyond Ferguson’s profane, purely pragmatic and rationalist mind.

Philosophers such as Gabriel Marcel have distinguished between problem and mystery. Problems have solutions that leave no mystery. What we sometimes call “mystery stories” are really whodunits that are merely problems to be solved. But mystery remains, not as a problem to be solved but as the holy mystery that is God, to be worshipped. Was Hitchcock a master of suspense or master of mystery? I think Vertigo show him to be dealing with mystery.

Scottie lives within a horizon that has been disenchanted. Like the fear of heights he didn’t know he had, the whole film is the challenge of his facing up to his own mystery. Elster’s fraud serves to bring out a side of the pragmatic Scottie that he’s been denying; as the hard-headed Scot, he wants to explain away his own mystery. He thinks he can conquer himself by sheer intellect and will: “if I could just find the key and put it all together.” In the end, we do not know whether he accepts the fact that reason does not evacuate life’s ultimate mystery. Whether he will die to his old self to become a new creation is left unanswered but what seems clear is that by the end of the film, Hitch has exposed Scottie’s pragmatic denial of mystery as self-destructive and vain. The film demythologizes an evil scheme but deepens the sense of mystery.

And that’s why I think of Newman when I see this movie. In the sermon “On Justice, as a Principle of Divine Governance” he argues that pagan superstition—the kind of thing that we associate with Halloween—should not be seen as demonic or evil but as the quite reasonable response to the human condition of those lacking the gospel. “They who are not superstitious without the Gospel,” Newman tells us, “will not be religious with it: and I would that even in us, who have the Gospel, there were more of superstition than there is; for much is it to be feared that our security about ourselves arises from defect in self-knowledge rather than in fulness of faith…” Scottie’s reductionist rationalism—just the opposite of superstition—is a “defect in self-knowledge.” He is a man who has lost control of himself—in love, then in depression, then in anger. For Newman, it is better to be superstitious than to imagine that we live in a disenchanted universe. Reason without faith in the holy mystery is a fearful self-deception.

David Hammond teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

Prayer: Experiences of Inner Room and Upper Room

 “The fire of the Holy Spirit was sent down upon the Apostles at Pentecost in answer to their fervent prayer; ardent prayer in the Spirit must always be the soul of new evangelization and the heart of our lives as Christians.”

– Pope Francis (General Audience, May 22, 2013)

elgreco descent of the hsPrayer. Sometimes we make it so difficult. I am not sure why. Maybe we think it needs to be very formal or formulaic? I know that I thought that for a very long time. There is certainly a place for formal prayer, be it communal, such as during the Mass or the Liturgy of the Hours or even private, such when use a formal written prayer. In fact, we Catholics have a love affair with our prayer cards, books, and other sacramentals, including candles, statutes, and icons. This is an excellent thing because “they prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1670). They are, though, simply means, not ends in themselves. Means to a conversation with God or maybe more precisely, a dialogue. We might not consider it a dialogue. Fervent prayer, ardent prayer, in the way that Pope Francis is calling for is an on-going dialogue with God throughout our day, an awareness of the action and activity of the Holy Spirit permeating our lives. It is a seeking for God and finding God in all things, in every moment and in every place. St. Teresa of Avila encourages us to be seekers of God and St. Ignatius of Loyola calls us to “find God in all things.” St. Vincent Pallotti puts the two aspects together, as was often his way, and challenges us to:

Seek God and you will find God.
Seek God in all things and you will find God in all things.
Seek God always and you will always find God.”

 We certainly need to take time to be in communal prayer like those in the Cenacle or Upper Room at Pentecost. We also need to be in private prayer, setting aside time to go to our “inner room, close the door, and pray to [our] Father in secret” (Matthew 6:6). The Holy Spirit, though, is active and alive everywhere, if we but open our eyes to see and our ears to hear.

Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C., is Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center and teaches for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

Deep Breaths

At the risk of posting something “controversial,” I have decided to make a few comments concerning the document which has emerged from the current Extraordinary Synod on the Family [Readers of Italian can view the unredacted document]. I do so out of a sense of moral obligation…to the blog! Only at the risk of isolationism can a website dedicated to missionary discipleship remain silent on an issue which captures the attention of a significant portion of the Church’s faithful.

BuColeman 1t rather than begin with its contents, what ought to be considered first is the actual value of this document. This document is not associated in any way with the magisterial teaching of the Church. It is a relatio post disceptationem; i.e., a ‘communication after discussion.’ In other words, the General Reporter for the synod, Cardinal Péter Erdő of Hungary, composed a summary of the items discussed in the first week of the synod. It carries no more weight in terms of Catholic teaching than, say, the minutes from a meeting of the USCCB subcommittee on Catholic Home Missions; which is to say, none.

The timing and release of this relatio is certainly odd. Normally such a document would be crafted after a synod had concluded and would be given to the Holy Father for further consideration. It’s only potential value would be if a magisterial document emerged from the events of the sColeman 2ynod. This would be the case, for example, if Pope Francis wrote an Apostolic Exhortation on the topics covered by the synod. And, even in that scenario, this relatio would be of value only to historians and theologians wishing to place the actual teaching document into a wider context. This is done most often today by scholars of the Second Vatican Council, who examine the drafts of texts which eventually became Vatican II documents. But, again, the previous drafts of Nostra Aetate have no teaching authority behind them; Nostra Aetate does.

Further, and as a relatio, the language of this document is far more colloquial and far less theologically precise than a magisterial document would be: e.g., an Apostolic Exhortation from the Pope, a Declaration from the CDF, et al. Concerns about specific language being used in the document ought to be tempered by an understanding of the nature of a relatio. It is a summary of themes discussed, not an expertly-crafted piece of theological and pastoral writing.

Coleman 3Now, having placed the document itself into its proper context, there are certainly issues related to content which cannot be ignored. While time and space prevent a detailed articulation of all of these concerns, I would refer the reader to a recent interview given by Cardinal Burke on the matter. Needless to say, I am very sympathetic to the good cardinal’s comments.

My overall response to this document, however, is quite simple; although not simplistic. Pray! If we are not in the habit of praying for the Spirit to enliven the wills and enlighten the intellects of the members of the magisterium, then now is the time to start. Those of us who pray the Liturgy of the Hours (and I do try, LORD) should be most familiar with the following verses: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your heart” (Ps 95:7-8). Let us pray these words for those entrusted, by Christ, with teaching authority in His Church, whose vocation it is to preach His Gospel, that they may be receptive to His Spirit and hear His Voice.

Anthony Coleman teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

Martyrdom by any other name is still martyrdom

Today is World Mission Sunday in the Church’s liturgical calendar.   In upstate New York and Quebec, though, October 19 marks another memorial: the feast of the North American Martyrs.     These are eight Jesuit priests and lay brothers who died in the seventeenth century while evangelizing among the Iroquois and Huron. Parts of their stories provide the basis for the 1991 film Black Robe. My home diocese of Albany thus features an interesting pilgrimage destination: the North American Shrine in Auriesville standing over the Mohawk village of Ossernenon. Here three saints met their death (Rene Goupil in 1642, and then Isaac Jogues and Jean Leland in 1646) and then ten years later, in 1656, St. Kateri Tekakwitha was born there. Canonized this month two years ago, St. Kateri received baptism in nearby Fonda, endured persecution from her own family and husband, and then made her way to Quebec where she died in 1680. The Jesuit martyrs didn’t make it that far. Goupil, Jogues, and Leland all suffered torture before being tomahawked. (The 2010 article by Father Martin SJ includes some graphic descriptions of St. Jean de Brebeuf’s 1639 martyrdom.) Their remains were often discarded in the nearby woods.

Auriesville pilgrimage Sept 2012 023

Just remember: whenever you see televangelists in round churches, American Catholics got there first.

The Martyrs’ Shrine in Auriesville celebrates all this history. Catholics older than forty from all over eastern New York have memories of parochial school day-trips there. Scout troops still camp out there every September, a pilgrimage now in its 64th year. Dominating the shrine grounds is the Martyrs’ Colosseum , one of the first “church-in-the-round” buildings in the United States.

More to the point, the Colosseum church celebrates the Jesuit martyrs and the native Americans they served. The high altar stands atop a log palisade reminiscent of the Mohawks’ own protective wall at Ossernenon, and the crucifix (which also provides essential support to the roof!)The crosses adorning the columns refer to those carved on nearby trees by both St. Isaac Jogues and St. Kateri Tekakwitha. Around the walls light streams through seventy-two windows which recall Christ’s commission of disciples in Luke 10:1-24. Of course, the name and architectural style recall the early Christian martyrs in the Roman Colosseum.

Rome 3rd and 4th days canonization 413So often our histories and experiences emphasize the distance, the chasm, between Rome and the United States. The Auriesville shrine recalls an earlier time when American Catholics looked at their own, comparatively short, history and built their own spaces to recall the Church’s simultaneously rooted yet universal origins. In this view the insignificant, the remote, the overlooked (three adjectives unfortunately attached frequently to the Martyrs Shrine) possess their own spiritual significance in Christ because their connotations—through architectural space as well as martyrdom—to Rome. Fittingly, the Jesuits still maintain a cemetery on the ridge above the Shrine. There lie the graves of Cardinal Avery Dulles, SJ, and Pete Corrigan SJ of On the Waterfront fame.

If that were not enough, October 19 will also see the beatification of Pope Paul VI. Born Giovanni Battista Montini, Paul VI reigned from 1963 to 1978. To make a long story (his fifteen year pontificate still ranks as the second longest since Pius XII’s!) short, Pope Paul embodied a different sort of martyrdom. His quiet, studious demeanor departed significantly from his predecessor, the popular (and now canonized) John XXIII, and his smiling, even cheery, successors: the short-lived John Paul I (who reigned for only 32 days) and the long-reigning St. John Paul II (whose pontificate lasted longer than all but Pius IX’s). Paul pledged to continue the Second Vatican Council that Pope John had inaugurated. In fact, the Council’s major achievements all occurred under Paul’s watch. Still, his pontificate seemed to bear a lingering sorrow throughout. Even a Presbyterian college student visiting Rome in 1989 (your humble author) understood the difference. Deep in the Vatican grottos I saw several eldery women bring flowers to Pope John XXIII’s tomb, but nearby Paul’s seemed forlorn.

Perhaps it is not surprising, as Peter Hebblethwaite’s biography (itself now over twenty years old) shows, that Paul’s pontificate seemed exhausted by 1970, if not earlier. The overwhelming negative reaction to Humanae Vitae , the 1968 encyclical that reaffirmed the Church’s opposition to artificial birth control and abortion, clearly played a role (and figures prominently in Hebblethwaite’s biography). Part of it was the culture, which lumped Paul’s papal authority into a widespread rejection of all authorities. Paul’s Ostpolitik of rapprochement with Soviet Communism and its satellites likewise did not bear the fruit Paul expected. It took a pope from the Warsaw Block, who knew its realities and brutalities, to bring that down.

That history still offers rich resources for the revitalization of Catholic life today. The question remains: what prompts Paul’s beatification? Because, it seems, his pontificate—and his quite successful clerical career before—offers a more ordinary, readily-at-hand, martyrdom. Despite widespread ridicule, Pope Paul stood by Humanae Vitae as well as other positions that many, religious or not, often accept unthinkingly. “If you want peace, work for justice” adorns bumper stickers and felt banners, and it comes from the same pope who gave us Humanae Vitae.   For all of the furor swirling around the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops, both sides might be seen as embodying Pope Paul’s quiet, committed spirituality: proclaim the Gospel, come what may. The North American martyrs certainly greater physical pain, but Paul’s spiritual and psychological pain surely approximated their own. Paul’s path and the struggles it brought him offer a more familiar road to American Catholics than the red-hot tomahawks the Jesuit martyrs faced. In other parts of the world, though, other Christians still confront them.

Guest blogger Jeffrey Marlett blogs at Spiritual Diabetes.

Teresa of Avila: 500 Years Young

Browsing the spirituality section at any local book store is always interesting. Recently, selections included Spiritual Java, Tattoos on the Heart, Chicken Soup for the Soul in an alarming number of volumes and yes, St. Augustine’s Confessions, along with St. Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle. I think a few subcategories are in order! If I were asked to choose those categories I would name one “500 years or older.” I have a hunch that the ever growing Chicken Soup series will not be sitting on the bookshelf 500 years from now. However, if the last 500 years are any indication, a 26th century reader may find the Confessions and The Interior Castle on the shelf. Spiritual classics have the power to speak across the ages because they explore the great mystery of God and God’s love for his people and touch on aspects of it that resonate in every age. The church designates some of the greatest spiritual authors as “doctors” because of the timeless value of their teaching, preaching and writing. Today, we celebrate the feast of one of the newest contributors to the “500 shelf” and that is St. Teresa of Avila.

teresaThis year the Church, and particularly the Carmelite family of which Teresa was a member, will celebrate the 500th anniversary of her birth on March 28, 1515 in Avila, Spain. There is so much to like about Teresa. She is described as attractive, with a good sense of humor, loved to sing, deeply mystical and totally practical. When a sister asked her if she could remain behind in chapel because she couldn’t bear to be separated from the Lord, Teresa asked what she would have to give up to remain in chapel. The sister replied preparing the potatoes for dinner. Teresa assured that she need not worry; The Lord could easily find her in the scullery! Teresa was a natural born leader. She entered the convent because she thought her life was going nowhere and that the distractions of the world did not bring out the best in her. She was quite disappointed to discover that life inside the convent looked an awful lot like life outside the convent. She found the sisters lackadaisical in the spiritual life and gossipy about their fellow sisters and life back in the world. She once remarked “Spare me from a faith that is lukewarm!” In this desire was the seed of her own conversion, the reform of the Carmelite way of life, and the birth of one of the Church’s greatest teachers of prayer.

Canonized in 1622 for the holiness of her life, it was Pope Paul VI who (himself to be beatified this week) named her the second woman doctor of the Church in 1970. Her greatest contribution is her ability to describe the practice of prayer; both the levels of prayer from simple to more mature forms of prayer and how a believer can move from a beginner in the life of prayer toward the prayer of the mystic. Her writing is the account of her own experience of realizing that faith becomes lukewarm when it is taken for granted or when one just moves through the motions.

She writes of the experience that made her realize she never really thought seriously about what it meant that Jesus died for her, carrying her sins to his death. In another meditation, she talks about the challenge of paying attention and thinking about what we are praying when we are praying those prayers that are most familiar to us. Her writing, particularly The Way of Perfection, is her teaching on how to make prayer the language of our relationship with Jesus and how to grow that relationship. Teresa is the perfect teacher if you want to learn how to take your prayer to the next level. Why not join the celebration by reading something by Teresa? Follow the celebration here.

Susan Timoney is the Assistant Secretary for Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns for the Archdiocese of Washington and teaches spirituality for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

Being Teachable

The baby (who is actually 15 months old, but will be “the baby” for approximately forever, since she is probably the caboose on a train of six) uses a pacifier. Exactly half of my children have used a pacifier. Exactly half of my children need braces. They happen to be the same half. Okay, I don’t know yet that the baby will need braces, but the odds aren’t looking good.

So I am trying to wean her from the pacifier. The other day, I put the pacifier on the table and the baby on the floor, and I went about my business. Shortly thereafter I hear the pathetic weeping begin. When I come into the dining room, there is the baby, gazing up through her tears at the pacifier out of reach and making her adorable language-like noises. I try to distract her. Nothing doing. Finally, I give in and give her the pacifier. The tears dry up, and—this is the icing on the cake—she toddles over to me and gives me one of her affectionate hugs.

footThen it hits me: she is positively reinforcing me. Is this how parenting is supposed to work?

In fact, it probably is. A huge part of the spiritual journey for me as a parent has been becoming teachable—allowing the experiences of motherhood to reveal to me where I need to grow and to mold me for the better.

My kids might argue that I don’t this particularly well, and they would probably be right. But motherhood has at least shown me, in glaring relief, how I need to grow (whether or not I accept the invitation). Being teachable is such a challenge, because I am a teacher by profession—and not a student. Both professionally and as a parent, I’m the authority figure. And that is necessary. The spiritual danger comes in whenever I decide I’m the authority figure in all aspects of life, including and especially my own.

But I’m not an authority on my own life, in fact. My plan for my life is pretty small and unadventurous. My plan doesn’t send me far out of my comfort zone. It’s a recipe for ease, not holiness.

Franks kidsGod the Father’s plan for me, on the other hand: now there’s an adventure. God the Father’s plan involved six children for me, something I neeeever considered back in, say, high school or even undergraduate college. And if that plan can’t make me holy, nothing can.


Angela Franks teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

The Beauty of Autumn

Fall in New England is so rich in color, beautiful color! Once a year I set out on a quest to find some of the finest foliage in the region as I traverse long stretches of rolling hills and country roads. Once found I sit in contemplation of its beauty, I meditate on the One who created such an array of colors, and I try to memorize the different hues and shades and rejoice in his creation. In this season of grandeur, we see the transformation of nature.

Autumn-Wallpaper-37Somehow the beauty of the autumn colors, the crisp air, the falling of the leaves, remind me of the liturgical celebrations set before us by the Church during this same period of time.   As I watch the emerging majesty of nature unfold, I sense the foreshadowing of the upcoming feasts’ relevance to the autumnal theme. The rhythm of the Solemnities, Feasts Days, the memorials of the saints and the readings for the Sundays of Ordinary time captures the mysteries of redemption. September begins by recalling the Nativity of Our Lady and the first “color” of transformation is made manifest, “she will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:22). With swift succession, memorials of saints are celebrated revealing magnificent virtues lived magnanimously. The virtues, if lived, require a transformative dying to self. The falling of the leaves, their return to dust, seeds deep within the ground preparing to give new life in due time reveal the transformation of nature. I am reminded that the realities recalled from our liturgical celebrations manifest spiritual transformation.

With each passing day and each passing Sunday, the emergence of important themes come forth resplendently; images of the Kingdom of God; the greatest commandment is given and parables about death and eternal life are revealed. The Exaltation of the Holy Cross is celebrated early in September. This Feast reminds us that we are saved by the One who “though he was in the form of God, did not deem equality with God, something to be grasped at, rather he humbled himself…even to death, death on a Cross.” (cf. Phil 2:6, 8). The glorious liturgical peak for this season, Christ the King, is celebrated on the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year. Here is the breath-taking moment when I desire stillness in order to contemplate Christ “upon his glorious throne” (Mt 25:32). I invite him to be enthroned in my heart.

Saint John Paul II wrote in his Apostolic Letter, Tertio Millennio Adveniente, “The religion founded upon Jesus Christ is a religion of glory; it is a newness of life for the praise of the glory of God (cf. Eph 1:12). All creation is in reality a manifestation of his glory. In particular, man (vivens homo) is the epiphany of God’s glory, man who is called to live by the fullness of life in God.” (6)  The autumn of the Liturgical Year reminds me to long for a transformation of my life by living the virtues.. Just as nature is going through its dying process so new life can spring forth, I am challenged to ask of myself how do I die to self so to allow Christ to live in me? With each passing year, I find myself trying to memorize or rather experience the richness of these celebrations, feasts and Solemnities so I can more readily be an “epiphany of God’s glory.”

Lisa Gulino is Director for the Office of Evangelization and Faith Formation in the DIocese of Providence and teaches ministry for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

Gimme Shelter

When we’re little, we are curious, adventurous, and probably a little mischievous. That wonder that pushes us to try things we don’t yet know are dangerous also makes us feel fearless. We ignore the cries of “No!” and “Don’t do that!” in favor of our own concept of what is good for us. Yet the moment the hot stove burns or the doggie we taunt shows his teeth, we are no longer “super-kids.” We seek protection from danger; and when we grow up we learn the hard way that we must be protected from our own foolishness and obstinacy. When we are frightened, often the nearest adult will do, but there is nothing like being scooped up into the safety of our mother’s arms. In her arms and close to her heart, we are safe and there is no danger that has a chance against us.

Icon 1On October 1, the Eastern Christian Churches (both Catholic and Orthodox) remember an historical event in which God’s children were threatened with danger, and their loving Mother was there to protect and shelter them. The feast is called The Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos (Theotokos means “God-bearer”) and it commemorates an appearance by our Holy Mother in a church in Constantinople in the year 911. As the seat of Christianity in the East, the city was often targeted for attacks by anti-Christian forces. Such was the case in October, 911, when a pagan force threatened to sack the city. As Constantinople was under siege, the people gathered in the Church of the Mother of God for an all-night vigil. Throughout the night the people prayed, begging God through the intercession of Mary to send help. Early in the morning on October 1 a beautiful young woman entered the church and knelt in the center to pray. She was radiant, and did not look like anyone they knew or had ever seen in their church. She wept as she prayed to God, and called on Him to save Her people. Slowly the people in the church recognized the woman and were amazed at the appearance of the Holy Mother in their midst. Before their eyes the woman was raised above them and spread out her mantle to cover the church. With this sign the people knew that they could now rest in the shelter of their Mother. The enemy was defeated and the city spared.

The miracle on that day so many centuries ago, in a place so far away should be present to each of us right now. In our world of violence and terrorism the threat of war is real, and it is necessary now more than ever to pray for protection and peace. But it’s also important to consider the miracle of this feast a little closer to home: as close as each of our hearts, minds and emotions. How often are we under threat of siege from illness, emotional distress, or any of the many stresses and strains of our lives? Each of us has our problems and our fears, and when we experience threats to our well-being (real or exaggerated), we seek protection; we cry out for it. So often we revert back to our “super-kid” days and strike out on our own, try to do everything for ourselves, or forget that there is “danger” around us. It is easy for us to forget that Mary is a real woman; a real mother. She’s intimately involved in our lives, and cares deeply for each one of as her precious child! Even if we can’t physically see her – as the people of Constantinople did – she is ever-present with us in our happiness and our sadness. When we weep she cries with us, and when we rejoice she cheers us on.

Mary is known by so many grand (and well-deserved) titles: Queen of Heaven, Spouse of the Holy Spirit, Tabernacle of the Lord, and many, many more. For us, though, the greatest title and the one that best describes Mary’s relationship with us is Mother. Regardless of our relationship with our own mothers (good, bad or indifferent; whether she is still with us or has passed on), Mary is the one to whom we can turn any time, in any place and for any reason. She is our refuge and protectress, and she offers us shelter from whatever storm or siege threatens our peace. Among the lessons that the feast of the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos teaches us is that Mary’s desire is not only to help us in our need and to protect us (and she surely wants to do that!), but to have a real relationship with us. The mother’s heart in Mary is for her children, and she wants us not to see her as one who is remote and removed from our lives, but to love her as our Mother.

Icon 2One of my favorite icons of Mary is Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Tradition says that St. Luke wrote the icon, which depicts a moment in which Mary’s Son sought her protection. The story the icon tells is of the small Child Jesus being shown a vision of the implements of His eventual self-sacrifice. As any child would – as many of us did when we saw something scary – He ran to the protection of His mother. Leaping into her arms, He nearly lost his sandal, so eager was He to be protected. Mary takes Him into her arms and holds His tiny hand as a sign of comfort and security. She’s got Him in her arms, and she won’t let go! In the image Mary does not look at her frightened Son, but at us; at you and at me. She looks at us as if to say, “Don’t worry. I have you, too. And so does my Son.” Like any good mother, Mary’s focus is never on herself. Instead, she asks us to always keep our eyes on Jesus, to trust in Him, to love Him. She offers herself as our shield and our shelter, but always in and through Him.

Whenever I get scared or I’m in trouble, or I just feel like I need to know someone is there for me, I ask Mary to hold my hand, just like she holds Jesus’ hand. Knowing that she has my hand in hers makes me feel safe and deeply loved. Today, speak to Mary as a Mother. Talk to her as you would to a confidante and friend. Ask Mary – the one who extends her mantle over us in protection and offers her hand in safety and comfort – to pray for you. Ask her to help you to let go of whatever fear or doubt or laziness prevents you from turning to her and believing that she is there for you. Today ask Mary to take your hand and be your Mother, and allow yourself to be her own precious child.

Most Holy Theotokos, pray to God for us!

Ann Koshute teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.