By Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR
Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who had fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought they intercession, was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, we fly unto thee O Virgin of virgins our Mother; to thee do we come, before thee we stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not our petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer us. Amen. (The Memorare, traditional Marian prayer.)
How beautiful and consoling is the familiar prayer, the Memorare, reminding us that it has “never been known” that Mary would refuse help to her children in need. And this really is the basic reality: we are all sinners of Adam’s stock, so Mary is the “Refuge of Sinners” who comes to our aid in the messes we get ourselves into. It would seem that Mary’s sinlessness would entitle her to sit in judgment on sin wherever it was revealed, but the Church’s experience of Mary is exactly the opposite! She is not the judge of sin but the place of safety for sinners. She is not the accuser (that is the devil’s role), but the protector of the accused. How grateful I am that she comes to us in this entirely merciful guise because otherwise the weight of our sins might cause us to despair of salvation. How many times in my own life have I turned to her and found her patience, her holy indulgence, her loving, merciful embrace gave me hope for reconciliation with God. Hope indeed is what sinners find in her sanctuary.
I discovered the logic of this Marian title in several books of the Bible (Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua) that have passages describing the “cities of refuge” in Israel. It was an amazing discovery for me. God had designated certain cities in Israel where people guilty of unintentional manslaughter could find protection from others who were seeking retaliation under the old law of “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” However, God in His mercy provided protection for those unfortunate ones who, even though they had to endure exile in a foreign city, were protected from their sin in a city of refuge.
In the New Testament, Jesus is the ultimate expression of God’s Divine Mercy for sinners, but He is also revealed as the Judge of the living and the dead and will be the one to execute divine judgment at the end of time for all sins. In Mary, however, Christians sense no trace of harshness. They have always recognized her generous love toward sinners, an influence that we desperately need if we are to have some hope of getting to heaven. Mary is that “city of refuge” where we can run and always be assured of being accepted, no matter what we have done.
In my years of counseling people in the most desperate of circumstances, many of whom suffered tremendously from the consequences of their own actions, I have found that Mary’s love gives people an almost absolute sense of hope that they will find a way out of their problems, even if they are of their own making. In fact, that is essentially the reality of sin isn’t it: we all have an amazing capacity to sink our own boats! And on top of that, we live with the devil’s accusatory voice ringing in our ears constantly telling us that we are beyond redemption, that we have no hope, that we are just too bad to deserve a break, and that we might just as well give in to a life of sin because we’ll never be able to live the right way, etc., etc.
That place of desperation is where Mary does her best work. She enters in to provide safe refuge from the devil’s warfare on our souls. He is the “avenger” who admits of no mercy, but Mary undoes his malice. She opens the door to that “narrow pathway” to heaven with the key of our repentance and gives us hope of finding the way back to God. It is certainly true that God will forgive anyone who turns to Him, but it is also consoling for the sinner to know that he has an advocate who will bring him to God under a protective mantle and get him off the hook. Mary never endorses sin, does not enable sin, and does not excuse it or justify it as we often do. She just overshadows all human sinfulness with her indulgent love and mercy, and she will receive anyone who is truly repentant, under any circumstances, at any time. She will help them find their way back to that straight and narrow road to heaven.
Let us run to the marvelous “Refuge” that God has prepared from the foundation of the world for His sinful children. There is no shameful act or secret in our past or present that we cannot bring to her. Her role is not to condemn but to be the Refuge where we may fly, time and time again for help, and where we will always be assured of finding a loving smile and the open arms of a mother’s mercy.
Turn then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary!
Merciful Mother, full of gentle love for sinners, allow us to take refuge in the fold of your mantle where we will find protection from evil and from the judgment that our own sins bring upon us. Help us always to imitate your mercy so that we may bring other sinners to enjoy the peace of heaven. We ask this through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
[Excerpted from: Fr. Benedict Groeschel, Jesus and Mary: In Praise of their Glorious Names, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc.: Huntington, Indiana, 2012.]