In 1995 I visited Paris. In the Faubourg Saint-Antoine area, I came upon the église Notre-Dame d’Espérance, the Church of Our Lady of Hope. Within the Church stands the beautiful carved wood statue of the Blessed Virgin which is pictured above. It shows the Mother of God cradling Her baby Son very close to Her Heart, an image of great tenderness.
This title of ‘Our Lady of Hope’ is a beautiful one – and one which will resonate in a particular way for those who feel (for whatever reason) that they are without hope. At different times in our lives, many of us may feel that we are without hope – sometimes this sense will be brief; but for some it may be longer-lasting and go deeper, to the heart of the person.
‘Hope’ is that little flickering light which, in the midst of darkness or trial, we perceive some way in the distance even if it does not yet illuminate us fully, nor yet offer us it’s gentle warmth. Hope is also the antithesis of despair – the sense that all hope is truly gone, all light extinguished. Hope maintains that light, even if it is flickering.
In the same way that trials beset us often in life, the experience of Mary during Her earthly life was not so very different. She, too, experienced trials – we often speak about the ‘Seven Sorrows’ of Mary – and not least among them, standing at the foot of the Cross and watching the Passion and Death of Her Son.
And yet, Mary’s Heart was always filled with the light of hope, even in the midst of Her suffering. Indeed, on that first Good Friday, the Immaculate Heart of Mary was probably the only place where true hope continued to flicker and burn, as the crowds mocked Christ and His Disciples scattered while He suffered and died on the Cross. All the while, Mary stood faithfully, filled with hope that the promise of the Lord would be fulfilled, and consenting over and over to the Divine Will.
In his Apostolic Exhortation ‘Marialis Cultus’, Pope Saint Paul VI touched on the example of the Blessed Virgin when he wrote –
“Mary is not only an example for the whole Church in the exercise of divine worship but is also, clearly, a teacher of the spiritual life for individual Christians. The faithful at a very early date began to look to Mary and to imitate Her in making their lives an act of worship of God and making their worship a commitment of their lives. As early as the fourth century, St. Ambrose, speaking to the people, expressed the hope that each of them would have the spirit of Mary in order to glory God – ‘May the heart of Mary be in each Christian to proclaim the greatness of the Lord; may Her spirit be in everyone to exult in God’. But Mary is above all the example of that worship that consists in making one’s life an offering to God. This is an ancient and ever new doctrine that each individual can hear again by heeding the Church’s teaching, but also by heeding the very voice of the Virgin as She, anticipating in Herself the wonderful petition of the Lord’s Prayer -‘Your will be done’ (Mt. 6:10)-replied to God’s messenger: ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let what you have said be done to Me’ (Lk. 1:38). And Mary’s ‘yes’ is for all Christians a lesson and example of obedience to the will of the Father, which is the way and means of one’s own sanctification.” (Marialis Cultus, para.21)
That statue of Our Lady of Hope in the Church in Paris is constantly surrounded by little votive lights; I can’t help thinking that each of these represents the prayer of a heart in distress at a given moment, coming to the feet of the Mother of God and asking Her maternal assistance. And, to quote Pope Paul again, “when She tactfully told Her Son of a temporal need She also obtained an effect of grace”.
This is what the Blessed Virgin does; it is precisely the same as She did for the wedding couple at Cana.
And it is because of the efficacy of Her intercession that the Church honours Her with a further title, which follows on from the first; She is the ‘Cause of Our Joy’.
May this heavenly Mother hear and attend to the cries of all who place their hope in Her.