Friday, March 25, 2022
Today's Feast of the Annunciation is both somber and hopeful. Pope Francis will lead an Act of Consecration of Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. We should accept the invitation he has extended to all the faithful to join him in praying this prayer:
O Mary, Mother of God and our mother, in this time of trial we turn to you. As our mother, you love us and know us: No concern of our hearts is hidden from you. Mother of mercy, how often we have experienced your watchful care and your peaceful presence! You never cease to guide us to Jesus, the prince of peace.
Yet we have strayed from that path of peace. We have forgotten the lesson learned from the tragedies of the last century, the sacrifice of the millions who fell in two world wars. We have disregarded the commitments we made as a community of nations. We have betrayed peoples’ dreams of peace and the hopes of the young. We grew sick with greed, we thought only of our own nations and their interests, we grew indifferent and caught up in our selfish needs and concerns.
We chose to ignore God, to be satisfied with our illusions, to grow arrogant and aggressive, to suppress innocent lives and to stockpile weapons. We stopped being our neighbor’s keepers and stewards of our common home. We have ravaged the garden of the earth with war, and by our sins we have broken the heart of our heavenly Father, who desires us to be brothers and sisters. We grew indifferent to everyone and everything except ourselves. Now with shame we cry out: Forgive us, Lord!
Holy Mother, amid the misery of our sinfulness, amid our struggles and weaknesses, amid the mystery of iniquity that is evil and war, you remind us that God never abandons us, but continues to look upon us with love, ever ready to forgive us and raise us up to new life. He has given you to us and made your Immaculate Heart a refuge for the church and for all humanity. By God’s gracious will, you are ever with us; even in the most troubled moments of our history, you are there to guide us with tender love.
We now turn to you and knock at the door of your heart. We are your beloved children. In every age you make yourself known to us, calling us to conversion. At this dark hour, help us and grant us your comfort. Say to us once more: “Am I not here, I who am your Mother?” You are able to untie the knots of our hearts and of our times. In you we place our trust. We are confident that, especially in moments of trial, you will not be deaf to our supplication and will come to our aid.
That is what you did at Cana in Galilee, when you interceded with Jesus and he worked the first of his signs. To preserve the joy of the wedding feast, you said to him: “They have no wine” (Jn 2:3). Now, O Mother, repeat those words and that prayer, for in our own day we have run out of the wine of hope, joy has fled, fraternity has faded. We have forgotten our humanity and squandered the gift of peace. We opened our hearts to violence and destructiveness. How greatly we need your maternal help!
Therefore, O Mother, hear our prayer.
Star of the Sea, do not let us be shipwrecked in the tempest of war.
Ark of the New Covenant, inspire projects and paths of reconciliation.
Queen of Heaven, restore God’s peace to the world.
Eliminate hatred and the thirst for revenge, and teach us forgiveness.
Free us from war, protect our world from the menace of nuclear weapons.
Queen of the Rosary, make us realize our need to pray and to love.
Queen of the Human Family, show people the path of fraternity.
Queen of Peace, obtain peace for our world.
O Mother, may your sorrowful plea stir our hardened hearts. May the tears you shed for us make this valley parched by our hatred blossom anew. Amid the thunder of weapons, may your prayer turn our thoughts to peace. May your maternal touch soothe those who suffer and flee from the rain of bombs. May your motherly embrace comfort those forced to leave their homes and their native land. May your sorrowful heart move us to compassion and inspire us to open our doors and to care for our brothers and sisters who are injured and cast aside.
Holy Mother of God, as you stood beneath the cross, Jesus, seeing the disciple at your side, said: “Behold your son” (Jn 19:26). In this way, he entrusted each of us to you. To the disciple, and to each of us, he said: “Behold, your Mother” (Jn 19:27). Mother Mary, we now desire to welcome you into our lives and our history.
At this hour, a weary and distraught humanity stands with you beneath the cross, needing to entrust itself to you and, through you, to consecrate itself to Christ. The people of Ukraine and Russia, who venerate you with great love, now turn to you, even as your heart beats with compassion for them and for all those peoples decimated by war, hunger, injustice and poverty.
Therefore, Mother of God and our mother, to your Immaculate Heart we solemnly entrust and consecrate ourselves, the church and all humanity, especially Russia and Ukraine. Accept this act that we carry out with confidence and love. Grant that war may end and peace spread throughout the world. The “fiat” that arose from your heart opened the doors of history to the Prince of Peace. We trust that, through your heart, peace will dawn once more. To you we consecrate the future of the whole human family, the needs and expectations of every people, the anxieties and hopes of the world.
Through your intercession, may God’s mercy be poured out on the earth and the gentle rhythm of peace return to mark our days. Our Lady of the “fiat,” on whom the Holy Spirit descended, restore among us the harmony that comes from God. May you, our “living fountain of hope,” water the dryness of our hearts. In your womb Jesus took flesh; help us to foster the growth of communion. You once trod the streets of our world; lead us now on the paths of peace. Amen.
None of this makes any sense, of course, if the only reality in this world is material reality. But materialism is so ingrained, primarily as a practical rather than speculative stance, because our spiritual senses have been deadened and dulled. Perhaps this Feast of the Annunciation can be an occasion for a renewed commitment to prayer for the grace of enlivened and sharpened spiritual senses.
As a matter of "intellectual engagement," a good place to begin is with the reality of spiritual reality. This is where Frank Sheed begins in Theology for Beginners. He relates an exchange that a Catholic Evidence Guild member had with "a materialist, who asserted the the idea of justice was the result of a purely bodily activity, produced by man's material brain":
Speaker: How many inches long is it?
Questioner: Don't be silly, ideas have no length.
Speaker: O.K. How much does it weigh?
Questioner: What are you doing? Trying to make a fool of me?
Speaker: No. I'm taking you at your word. What color is it? What shape?
[Sheed continues:] The discussion at this point broke down, the materialist saying the Catholic was talking nonsense. It is nonsense, of course, to speak of a thought having length or weight or color or shape. But the materialist had said that thought is material, and the speaker was simply asking what material attributes it had. In fact, it has none, and the materialist knew this perfectly well. Only he had not drawn the obvious conclusion. If we are continuously producing things which have no attribute of matter, it seems reasonable to conclude that there is in us some element which is not matter to produce them. This element we call spirit.
Oddly enough, the materialist thinks of us as superstitious people who believe in a fantasy called spirit, of himself as the plain blunt man who asserts that ideas are produced by a bodily organ, the brain. What he is asserting is that matter produces offspring which have not one single attribute in common with it, and what could be more fantastic than that? We are the plain blunt men, and we should insist on it.
Occasionally a materialist will argue that there are changes in the brain when we think, grooves or electrical discharges or what not. But these only accompany the thought; they are not the thought. When we think of justice, for instance, we are not thinking of the grooves in the brain; most of us are not even aware of them. When I say that mercy is kinder than justice, I am not comparing mercy's grooves with the stricter grooves of justice.
Our ideas are not material. They have no resemblance to our body. Their resemblance is to our spirit. They have no shape, no size, no color, no weight, no space. Neither has spirit, whose offspring they are. But no one can call it nothing, for it produces thought, and thought is the most powerful thing in the world—unless love is, which spirit also produces.
Let us consider this passage in light of today's Act of Consecration. The category of spiritual reality is necessary to make sense of it. Without this category, we would have no adequate way to conceive of the reality of the Annunciation itself, of the angel Gabriel, or of the injustice of the Ukraine invasion. Each of these events, persons, or states of affairs is real. Each only makes sense as real in light of spiritual reality. As an event in the material world, the Annunciation was manifest through the appearance of the angel Gabriel to Mary. But what is an angel? What does it mean for a purely spiritual creature to "appear"? What was announced in the Annunciation? None of this makes any sense, and there is no possibility of salvation through the Incarnation, Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, unless spiritual reality is real reality.
And now we return to this day, March 25, 2022. Spiritual reality grounds the claim that the injustice of Russia's invasion of Ukraine is real injustice. The act of invasion was the act of a real vice, of objectively disordered human will. Again, something important is missing if we think of justice and injustice as simply subjective opinions lacking any basis in reality. Yet if the only reality is material reality, then that's where we are.
Mary, Queen of Angels, pray for us.