Immaculate Conception: Mary, Mother of the Poor

A Kenyan woman sits and holds her baby

For the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Linda Jones from our Theology team reflects on the different qualities of Our Lady, and how she can inspire us to have the strength and courage to act.

During the summer, when I was walking along the Pointe du Raz cliffs in Brittany, I came across a beautiful statue of Our Lady. Here she is known as Our Lady of the Shipwrecked. She looks compassionately on a man reaching towards her in seeming despair.

As I walked on, I thought about the different ways we see Mary. I wondered about the many different titles that have been bestowed on her – Star of the Sea, Queen of Creation, Blessed Mother, and more. What qualities are we focusing on in each of them? There are so many aspects of her that inspire us at different times in our lives.

Reflect on Mary as Queen of all Creation with these words from Pope Francis:

For example, there is huge excitement about the tour of the statue of Our Lady from the Slipper Chapel at the National Shrine in Walsingham. At each cathedral where she stops there will be three days of prayer, in preparation for the re-dedication of England as a Dowry of Mary in 2020. Many of us have been present at these moments of prayer and reflection and will be looking forward to next year.

But as we celebrate the Immaculate Conception, we are already beginning to reflect on what our devotion to Mary means in our daily lives.

A hymn to Our Lady

A long time ago, when I lived on a small island off the coast of Chile, I used to enjoy hearing different hymns from the ones I was used to. The one with the best tune – in my view – began ‘Mother of the Poor’. The hymn writer reflects on how Our Lady visits Latin America barefoot, holding a young child in her arms. He calls on us to keep in mind those who don’t have enough bread to last the day, and he looks forward to the bright light of a new morning.

A mother tries to warm her child after getting off a boat at Lesbos.

Through my work there, I came to know many people who were never sure whether they would have enough to eat the next day. They relied on their neighbours and friends during the difficult days and shared what they had with others when it was possible for them to be generous. They too were hoping and praying for a new day to come when they would no longer have to struggle to feed their children.

Keep all those who are struggling to get enough to eat in your prayers.

Mary our Mother

If Mary our Mother is to inspire us anew today, it might be helpful for us to meditate on her experiences and qualities. Her powerful ‘yes’ to God when the Angel Gabriel visits her, the excitement and joy of her visit to Elizabeth, the glorious words of the Magnificat. Then the profound horror and the depths of her sorrow at the death of her son.

Any time we stand before or see a picture of one of the magnificent Pietà statues – like the one by Michelangelo in St Peter’s, Rome – we cannot fail to be moved by the immensity of her love as her tears fall on the broken body of her son, Jesus.

But is there a danger in our devotion that she becomes just a symbol, or a statue where we light our candles and then just walk away?

An inspiration for today

Nomita in Bangladesh raised her two children alone after the death of her husband in a storm ten years ago.

When I think of Mary as Mother of the Poor – as the women I used to work with in the fishing villages of Chile did – it changes the way I see her. Instead of a marble statue, I see a vibrant woman with a deep and trusting faith who is willing to say yes to what God asks of her. She is not a passive recipient, but an active participant. She does not simply bow her head and do what she is told, she has the strength and courage to act.

May we too be active participants in bringing about the change that so many of the poorest people in our world are hoping for.

May we too have the courage to speak out about injustice and inequality.

May we nurture a deep and trusting faith in God and in his Son, so that we too might say yes when we are asked.

Hail Mary…

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