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Monday, 15 April 2013 16:45

The thin edge of the wedge

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The earliest memories of childhood linger with us; the passing years both enrich and endear them. Somewhere back in the dawning of my conscious experience is a picture of a church in the evening with lights streaming out through the windows and people singing inside. My folk delighted in telling me that for days I went around saying “Snail our life and sweetness” Later on of course, I came to the realization that it was Benediction and the words were actually “ Hail Our life and  sweetness” from the great prayer “Hail Holy Queen”.

I suppose most young children’s very first contact with the spiritual is through a Mother, Mary, Jesus’ Mother and the family warmth of Christmas time. This is a very natural experience since at that time of life, children live so close to their mothers. They experience a reassuring, understanding presence and sweetness which will, with the passage of years, be the last to leave a drifting hardening heart. An old priest, wise with the wisdom of a lifetime of priestly care, once told me that as a Catholic leaves the church, the last thing he or she leaves is the memory of Mary, and the first thing they meet on their return, is rekindled thoughts and prayers in her honour. Little wonder, he added, for remembrance of motherhood is a strong force like a wedge which can drive through the hardest of hearts.

The words made a deep impression on me for there is hardly any power in the mechanical world greater than that of a wedge. Once you can get the thin edge in, it is only a question of time and force how far the remainder shall be driven. The hardest stone, the toughest wood is not able to resist its power. 

Down through the ages, generations of Christian communities have found in Mary, the Mother of God, the wedge to drive through many a difficult situation. The first group of apostles and disciples grappled with the mandate of the recently ascended Jesus to preach to the whole world. Mary was in their midst in the role of a Mother, an encouraging presence and life supporting sweetness.

In succeeding ages, when the church was racked by great theological controversies about the nature of Christ, about power and authority in the church, the ordinary people short-circuited it all by turning to the Mother of a Gifted Son. They beseeched and implored her help and never were they left wanting or abandoned. In the harshness of the mediaeval social system, the powerful ones, the kings, aristocrats of high birth and learning, and powerful bishops lorded it over the uneducated, impoverished peasantry. Again they turn to the Help of Christians for a life supporting presence and sweetness. It was often the downtrodden, the despised, the unimportant who preserved in the church, despite the occasional protest of the greater minds, what G. K. Chesterton proclaims to be “the most popular, the most poetical and the most practically inspiring of all the distinctively Catholic traditions of Christianity”.

In her role as Mother of the Church, she has indeed been the Help of Christians. In the dry deserts of theological disputations and rational justifications, she has indeed been the ever present, warm, human element, lending the sweetness of things to our daily life.

When the early European settlers arrived on these southern shores, those transported ones, the rejected ones, the priestless ones, clung, despite all their trials and tribulations, “weeping in this vale of tears”, to Her, the Mother, the Help of Christians in order to sweeten the drudgery of their lives. In 1884, the first Provincial Synod of the church in Australasia was held in Sydney and it decreed that Mary be the Patroness of Australasia under the title of “The Help of Christians”.

The Australian Church today is experiencing a wave of problems; steadily emptying pews, increasingly priestless altars. We grieve for the loss of so many young people; we reel from scandals within our communities as we are exposed to the often gloating spotlight of media attention. We need the encouraging life-giving presence and sweetness of a Mother. Surely we, who dwell in the land dedicated to her, have the right and perhaps the special privilege of turning to her, “The Help of Christians” to guide us, with the divine assistance of her son, out of the present confusion, the loss and the disappointments, which beset us, into more peaceful times. 

Let us, with all the childlikeness requested by Jesus, approach her during the coming Month of May, a month traditionally dedicated to her honour. Well may we do so with the words of those great time honoured prayers, the “Hail Mary” and “The Hail Holy Queen”. Yet perhaps, as a sign of our desperation, we might add a little blackmail by using St Bernard’s great prayer, the “Memorare”, reminding her of her impressive past record. “Remember O Most Loving Virgin Mary that never was it known, that in any age, anyone who fled to your protection was left unaided...”

The thin edge of the wedge of Motherhood, in all its life-giving sweetness, will certainly bear its fruits if we but turn to her.

Hail Mary, Mother of God, pray for us now.

This article was originally published in the March 2013 edition of the Salesian Bulletin.