As seminarians in the Congregation of Holy Cross we have some distinct opportunities in studying at the University of Notre Dame, and among these is the opportunity to participate in the numerous academic conferences held year-round on campus. A recent event organized by the Institute for Church Life was themed “Mary on the Eve of the Second Vatican Council” and explored the role of the Blessed Mother in the life of Church through theological, liturgical and devotional lenses so to better understand her legacy in the documents of Vatican II, which we are celebrating in this Year of Faith.
Included in the conference was a special talk given by a friend and Holy Cross priest, Fr. Kevin Grove, C.S.C., who is studying Philosophical Theology at Cambridge University. His paper reflected on devotion to Our Sorrowful Mother in the theology and preaching of Blessed Basil Moreau. In founding Holy Cross, Fr. Moreau made Our Lady of Sorrows the principal patroness of the Congregation. As a newly professed religious of Holy Cross, who is still growing in the spirituality of our community, I greatly benefited from some new spiritual insights on this particular devotion.
For me, Our Lady of Sorrows has become the easiest image of Mary to grasp. I also find it easier to explain to non-Catholics who may struggle with the higher Mariology of doctrines and titles like the Immaculate Conception or Queen of Heaven. As Fr. Kevin explained, Moreau’s understanding of Mary tends toward a concrete consideration before any abstraction. Fr. Moreau presents Mary as the first and greatest disciple of Jesus Christ and as the person who suffered the most compassion from his Passion and death on the cross. It is precisely in this suffering with Christ that she appears most Christ-like, and therefore worthy of our imitation. Mary at the foot of the Cross is the model for Christians as we attempt to integrate suffering into our spiritual lives.
If Mary was a mother who struggled against poverty and great evil, then she stands in closest likeness to any person in sorrow. Above and beyond simple characterizations of Mary as a “pure and passive vessel,” she appears here as an active and suffering cooperator in the redemptive passion of her son for all humanity. We can therefore turn to her for spiritual help, since no one comprehends the anguish of the Sacred Heart better than the Immaculate Heart, where “Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.”
In a quip attributed to theologian Fr. Karl Rahner, S.J., Cardinal L. J. Suenens said that there exists a temptation to “abstraction” in matters of faith, and “abstractions have not need of mothers.” As we continue the work of the New Evangelization, let us remember this lesson of the Mother of God. Mary knows better than anyone that the suffering of Jesus is the furthest thing from intangible belief or abstraction. Let us often turn to her in prayerful contemplation of Christ’s Passion in and for the entire world.
Mr. Brian Kennedy, C.S.C., is in his first year of temporary vows and Master of Divinity studies as a seminarian at Moreau Seminary on the campus of Notre Dame. He and other seminarians at Moreau write a post each month for the Spes Unica Blog, sharing on their life and formation at Moreau. Meet our other men in formation, and learn more about seminary life in Holy Cross.