I would like to invite you to join us this Lent in making a spiritual journey with Mary, and in praying for young people. You might wonder, why focus on Mary and young people? I’ll try to explain the reasons for both.
First, why pray for young people? Last fall, the Church held the Synod of Bishops on young people, and in January the celebration of World Youth Day took place in Panama. There has been a lot of attention paid to young people, a lot of discussion about their needs and concerns, and a lot of hope placed in them. So, let’s offer our Lenten prayers and sacrifices that the graces of these events will take root in the hearts of young people, so that they will become faithful disciples of Christ.
Second, Our Lady: The Synod Fathers encouraged young people to draw near to Mary as the first and best disciple of Jesus. “Mary followed her Son to the foot of the Cross and after the Resurrection she accompanied the nascent Church to Pentecost,” they wrote. “As mother and merciful teacher, she continues to accompany the Church and to implore the Spirit who gives life to every vocation.”
Catholics of all ages have great devotion to the rosary. Saint John Paul II taught us that in the rosary, Mary sets before us the “mysteries” of her Son, “with the desire that the contemplation of those mysteries will release all their saving power.” Meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary draws the Holy Spirit into our souls and helps to conform us to Christ and his virtues. But when we contemplate the mysteries of Christ’s life through the Rosary, our prayer is also apostolic because in meditating on them we help to release their saving power into the world.
The sorrowful mysteries of the rosary help us “to stand at the foot of the Cross beside Mary, to enter with her into the depths of God’s love for [us] and to experience all its life-giving power.” During our Lenten series, we are going to take up a special form of the rosary, called the seven sorrows rosary. This devotion dates back to the Middle Ages and it has made a comeback in recent years through a series of apparitions of Our Lady in the African nation of Rwanda, where she asked young people to spread devotion to this form of the rosary.
Each week during Lent, we’ll focus on one of the seven sorrows of Mary, from the presentation in the Temple and the prophecy that a sword would pierce her heart, to the flight into Egypt and the losing and finding of Jesus in the Temple when he was 12 years old, to the events surrounding Jesus’ way of the Cross, and his crucifixion, death and burial.
Today we’ll begin our meditations with the Presentation in the Temple. In St. Luke’s Gospel (2: 27-35) we read, “Simeon came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying: “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
Mary’s experience in the Temple began joyfully enough, with the elderly Simeon welcoming the child Jesus and proclaiming him as the long-awaited Messiah. But then there was a sudden change of mood when Simeon prophesied that Jesus would be a source of controversy and that a sword would pierce Mary’s heart. A sword thrust in one’s heart wouldn’t cause just a superficial wound; but a fatal one. Mary now realized that her Son would be a suffering servant and that she would suffer along with him. After the fiat of the Annunciation, God asked her for a new fiat. He asked her to accept a crucifying motherhood so that she could be intimately united to her Son’s saving mission.
How could she have felt at this jarring news? Was she tempted to run away from her vocation? We would have been! But we know she didn’t run away! During the Saturday night prayer vigil at World Youth Day Pope Francis spoke of Mary’s extraordinary yes to God’s call. It was not a tentative yes. She didn’t say, “Well, let’s give it a try, and see what happens.” Mary was determined, “she knew what was at stake and said ‘yes,’ getting straight to the point. It was something more, something different. It was the ‘yes’ of someone prepared to be committed, someone willing to take a risk, ready to stake everything she had, with no more security than the certainty of knowing that she was the bearer of a promise…. Mary did not take out an insurance policy! … The ‘yes’ and the desire to serve were stronger than any doubts and difficulties…. Mary’s mission would undoubtedly be difficult, but the challenges that lay ahead were no reason to say ‘no.’”
During World Youth Day Pope Francis asked young people if they see themselves as bearers of a promise, if they are ready to commit themselves, to stake everything they have on Christ, like Mary did. This week as we reflect on Simeon’s prophecy to Mary in the Temple, let’s ask her for the grace to always say yes to God, no matter what. And let’s ask this grace for young people in the Church.
Sr. Constance Veit is director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor.