Blessed John Paul II’s devotion to Mary was no secret. His coat of arms carried a large “M” beneath a cross and bore his motto, Totus Tuus, short for “Totus tuus ego sum, et omnia mea tua sunt (I am all yours, and all that I have is yours),” reflecting his complete self-giving to Mary. Throughout his pontificate, he repeatedly lifted up for our attention and veneration the Mother of God, whom we celebrate today on the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord.
From the start, there has been profound veneration of the mother of Jesus everywhere Christianity has spread – prayers in which Mary is invoked, generations of children bearing some form of her name, and countless chapels, churches, shrines and sanctuaries dedicated to her. Among these is the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
The Church in America has always been devoted to Mary. In fact, it was on this very day of the Annunciation in 1634 that the first Catholic settlers aboard the Ark and the Dove landed on Saint Clement’s Island and celebrated Mass for the first time in this land with Father Andrew White. Later, in 1792, Bishop John Carroll consecrated our nation to the Immaculate Conception and her patronage was formalized by Pope Pius IX in 1847.
Why has there always been such deep devotion among the followers of the Lord for his mother, Mary?
As Blessed John Paul explains in describing his own personal attachment, “true devotion to the Mother of God is actually Christocentric, indeed, it is very profoundly rooted in the Mystery of the Blessed Trinity, and the mysteries of the Incarnation and Redemption,” (Crossing the Threshold of Hope, 213). Jesus, Mary’s son, came to reveal to us who God is, to become one of us, to teach us the meaning of life and help us live. This could not have happened without her and her “yes” to God’s proposal, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
Mary put a human face on God. By cooperating with God through her faith, the Blessed Virgin set in motion the divine plan of salvation in Christ, the establishment of the Church and sanctification in the Holy Spirit. This explains why Mary has such an important role in the life of faith.
But beyond corresponding to doctrinal truth about the Mother of God, Marian devotion also addresses a need of the heart. Just as Christian faith is not simply about a set of ideas, but is fundamentally a relationship with the person of Jesus Christ, so too is devotion to Mary about relationship. Blessed John Paul recounts that during the suffering of Poland under the Nazis, “I was already convinced that Mary leads us to Christ, but at that time I began to realize also that Christ leads us to his Mother” (Gift and Mystery, 28).
Thus, the Church rightly looks to the Mother of God in gratitude for her “yes” and as our model of faith, but we also love her personally. Mary is our mother too and with maternal affection, she plays a role in our lives and our liberation from evil and death.
“Mary’s participation in the victory of Christ became clear to me above all from the experience of my people,” revealed John Paul. “After my election as Pope, as I became more involved in the problems of the universal Church, I came to have a similar conviction: On this universal level, if victory comes it will be brought by Mary. Christ will conquer through her, because He wants the Church’s victories now and in the future to be linked to her” (Crossing the Threshold of Hope, 220-21).
As this testimony of Blessed John Paul shows, and that of witnesses like Juan Diego, Mary continues to play a role in salvation. She accompanies us on our pilgrimage of faith and, as she did at Cana, lovingly watches out for us, intercedes for us and brings us comfort.
“Behold your mother,” Jesus said from the Cross. What a precious gift the Lord has given us.