The above cartoon did cause a little chuckle, I must admit… (Note the nuns in brown habits frolicking outside the window).
Saints really are “good news stories”, and Saint Mary has been one for the Church in Australia. But I must admit that if I hear one more person say that she is “a saint for all Australias” or that she “belongs to Australia”, I will… well, I don’t don’t know what I will do. Probably just groan and put up with it. The fact is that Saint Mary is who she is, and belongs to Who she belongs to. When she chose her new name in religious life, she didn’t choose “Sister Mary of All Australia” or “Sister Mary of the Battler” or anything like that. She chose “Sister Mary of the Cross”.
The Cross. That “emblem of suff’ring and shame” as the old song has it. Why has there been so little focus on this in recent days? Have we been ashamed of the Cross? The very least that could have been said is about how she bore her own “crosses” in her life – but for Saint Mary “the Cross” was the Cross on which the Sacred Heart was pierced (remember the full name of her order, and the fact that Fr Woods was a Passionist and you will get a good clue to all this). The Cross which proclaims the salvation which is in Jesus Christ and in no other. So very little commentary surrounding the canonisation has mentioned Jesus Christ. That isn’t the fault of Catholic doctrine, nor is it the fault of Mary, but it might just be the fault of those who are hungry for a good news story and an “Australian hero”, rather than for an opportunity for evangelisation.
All sorts of people are wanting to co-opt her at the moment. There is the suggestion in today’s Age (from a Jesuit at America Magazine no less) that she become the patron saint of those who have been abused. Well, maybe. But I’m not particularly sure what makes Saint Mary of the Cross any more suitable for that job than any other saint. I would have thought that Saint Maria Goretti would have been the most likely candidate for that portfolio.
Then there is all this business of miracles and prayers. Someone asked me at my class tonight: how do the saints know we are asking them to pray for us? Do they watch over us? Are they omnipresent and omniscient like God? As far as I know, the answer to the last question is “no”. The saints “hear” our “prayers” (technically our “requests for their intercession” – Catholics may “pray” to the saints, but they never offer “intercessions” to anyone but God) spiritually, as an outcome of their complete communion with God in Jesus Christ. They, like us, are in the one communion in Jesus Christ – a communion which not even death can sever (Romans 8). Christ is not simply the mediator between the saints and God, it is his Spirit that joins all the saints, living and departed, into a single communion of love, such that he is the connecting point between the saints themselves. It is in this communion of charity in Christ that the saints “hear” our requests for their intercession. This is an area of theological reflection that deserves a great deal more reflection.
Which brings us back to Mother Mary. Mary was once an Australian. Whatever else we may retain of our personality in heaven, the one thing I am pretty sure we will not retain is “ethnicity” in the sense of nationalistic or racial distinction from one another. The Virgin Mary and the Apostles were once all Jews, Newman was an Englishman, Padre Pio was an Italian. Now they are all fully and simply “human”. Mary too is a saint for the universal Church. She belongs to the Cross of Christ, not to Australia. Surely that is what St Paul was on about in Galatians 3 when he said that there is now “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female”? It is what Mary is now, more than what she was then, which is important.