When I was in junior high school, or middle school as we called it, my best friend lived up the hill. His family had 3 boys of which my friend was the youngest. I used to go there and participate in their family life, and he would come down and participate in ours. I can remember the good times of birthday celebrations and holidays, the bad times such as watching the draft lottery and his older brother’s lottery number was 105 – knowing that he would be drafted (during the Vietnam War), the normal life times of school and summer and just being together. We treated each other’s mother as an extended mother, and we would tease them, help them, honor them, bring them things on their birthday, and play jokes with them. Mother’s especially like that, when they are in the middle of family activity, it gives them fulfillment.
This memory came to me the other day as I was reading about the Holy Father’s trip to Brazil – it was a much documented trip in the press. However, what was less known was that on the way to the Airport in Rome to attend World Youth Day Pope Francis stopped by the Basilica of St. Mary Major and prayed in front of the icon Salus Populi Romani, which is at around 1,600 years old. He teased with the people who were there saying that the Rector was smiling because he is winning the bet – Pope Francis has spent more time at this Basilica than any other (except of course St. Peter). In truth – he came to be with His Mother, Blessed Mary. He prayed for the success of his ministry and in particular WYD. And then on his way back from Brazil, before he got back to the Vatican he stopped again at St. Mary Major, to be with His mother and give thanks for the successful trip; he placed in front of the icon a WYD beach ball and a Brazilian flag given to him by the youth. It is an amazing photograph, this wonderful altar, a masterpiece of artwork in itself and of course the icon and on it a green and yellow beach ball and flag.
The first thing Pope Francis did coming back to Rome was to stop by and leave a gift for his mother. Pope Francis’ relationship with the Blessed Virgin Mary, and with God Himself is one of an extended family, and I believe he views this relationship as we do with our experiences from our extended families. Constant dialog, living with them through the good times, the bad times, birthdays, celebrations, and yes maybe even teasing. His relationship with Our Mother, St Joseph and Jesus is a very real and human relationship, not one of abstract and transcendent dynamics; but one very human. It is, of course, the only way to build a stronger love for them, the relationship needs to be intimate and familial it needs to be tangible and immediate – it needs to be the real love that is created and nurtured within a family.
In a few short minutes we are going out to our Grotto Shrine of the Immaculate Conception to celebrate with our Mother. Some of us have taken the initiative to make Mary’s garden even better, and our sincere thanks go out to them. They have given our Mother a gift of their time and adorned her view with natural beauty. We want our Mother to feel appreciated and loved, we want to show her how we feel about her, how important she is to us. The Pope has his beach ball, we have our garden. As we are participating in the blessing of this new garden let each of us dig deep into our past and remember those familial times with our other mothers, our birth mom and those extended moms in our lives and bring that warm family feeling forward to now; let’s renew our relationship with our Blessed Mother in the most intimate and familial way we can.