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  • Writer's pictureDr. Anthony Lilles

Praying for our Shepherds with the Mother of God

Mary stands in the midst of the Church and the brokenness of her members as a sign that reminds us to fast and pray for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit. If, in these trying times, Church leaders fail us now as once did Peter, Judas and the nine who abandoned Christ, we should, as did John, stand with Mary under the shadow of the Cross. Mary did not disdain those who failed their charge. She waited for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. With John, she prayed for their conversion—for the just mercy of God was to be unleashed on them as well. So too for any who would draw close to Mary under the cruciform shadow of God. It is not the failures and shortcomings of her members, even those with authority and power, that defines the Church. It is this Mother's love that has been raised into heaven and draws close to us now. As she did at the Cross and in the Upper Room, so she also teaches us how to pray for the apostles of the the Church.

The assumption of Mary reminds us that the shepherds of the Church are servants, not masters, of the sacred. They do not apportion the Spirit, but the Holy Spirit comes through them with unpredictable force and freedom. Just as at the words of the angel, the Holy Spirit always does the astonishing. It is because he served the Church that Pius XII formally defined Mary's assumption - not as a new teaching, but one that Christians held from earliest times. This has great ramification for prayer.

Mary has taken our hearts with her to where she is so that when we pray, our prayers are heard by her Son and through her Son, offered to the Father. Where is she? If Jesus prayed that we might be where He is so that we might know the glory given Him, then Mary must be there. Hence, we believe that she was assumed body and soul in Heaven that she might be the Father's first answer to His Son's prayer, the Son whom He loved from "before the Foundation of the World." She is also where Jesus sent her when He told us, "Behold, your Mother." Shepherds in the Church are charged with keeping this mystery—as did John. So should we.

To bring her into our homes and hearts means that we let her teach us to pray—to pray for the earthly fathers her Son has appointed. Earthly, they are meant to offer spiritual sacrifice, to be spiritual fathers. But they cannot do this until we learn to pray for their wisdom, fortitude, faithfulness, perseverance, patience, gentleness, courage, resolve, bravery and humility. Only the Holy Spirit can communicate such gifts and, somehow, He has chosen to work through a Marian dimension. This Marian dimension is more primary than the Petrine, just as the heart more vital than the head. Thus, even the threefold munera, priest, prophet, and king flow from a contemplative act: the maternal "yes" to the mystery of God. Mary has pondered these mysteries in the heart of her Son and she knows how to unlock them for spiritual fathers today - but she needs us to pray for them.

Spiritual fathers need the strength to serve. We must pray that the enormity of their task does not discourage them. Faced with vexing ambiguities and complexities, exercising prudent and just judgment requires a wisdom from above. The struggle for the truth is fierce, we must pray for their fortitude and faithfulness. Before the overwhelming needs of those who they serve, it is easy to be made weary and so they need us to pray for their perseverance. All kinds of betrayals and disappointments thwart their best made plans until it is easy to be overcome with sorrow, so we must pray for their patience. They face disrespect of every kind until it is easy to be overcome indignant, so we must pray for their gentleness. So many threats to the Church and its safety evoke fear and anxiety, so we must pray for their courage. They are aware of plots and traps, and we must pray for their bravery. It is easy to be tempted by what is convenient and comfortable, so we must pray for their resolve. It is easy to be enchanted with what others think, so we must pray for their humility.

In short, the Church suffers from a crisis of spiritual fatherhood, and the Bridegroom is not indifferent to her plight. We who serve the Heart of the Church, that is, those who are called to pray, must learn to intercede for our spiritual fathers, that they might become the men they were meant from before the foundation of the world to be. To this end, Jesus sends His Mother to us - he wills to share with us the one who was most dear to Him that we might learn to pray. She is a powerful teacher because she sees what we cannot. Assumed into heaven, she sees the Church and all its challenges through eyes no longer subject to death. Joined above to the prayer of her Son, the prayer she teaches turns chastisement, purification and doom into redemptive realities, mysteries filled with conversion, healing, and hope.

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