It was just two weeks ago that we celebrated Mass with Archbishop Vigneron in the Archdiocese of Detroit. Today I am writing you from the Archdiocese of San Juan in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico means “rich harbor.” This is the first diocese in the Western Hemisphere and the “door” by which Christianity came to the Americas. My trip brings me here for two reasons; 1. We are updating the bishops in each of the six dioceses about the FEMA relief effort led by Manuel Martinez and our partners at Catholic Extension and Hagerty Consulting (all of the dioceses are seeking FEMA relief from Hurricane Maria or the earthquakes that struck a little over a year ago), and 2. The future Shrine to Our Lady of Divine Providence led by Eric Mercado and our staff at SFC.
Mary is very much a part of our CFCS mission.
May: The Month of Mary
I am curious how many of you have noticed in your diocese or in the greater Church the veneration of Mary during the month of May. Just a week ago we celebrated Mother’s Day, but in various dioceses there have been a number of liturgical celebrations and events celebrating Mary. I haven’t read exactly what led to this tradition in the Church during May. Of course, Mary is the Mother of God so how can we not celebrate her as our mother during the month we celebrate our own mothers? May also follows Easter, and I think it is through Mary’s eyes that we best understand the loss of Christ during Good Friday.
As for me, I came to the realization some years ago that our experience of God the Father and Mary as our Mother is dramatically impacted by the experience of love that we received from our own mother and father. When we are born we can’t even understand our dependence on the love that our mother brings to us, as we into the world. Before we can speak, our mother nurtures and cares for us, providing security and comfort. It was in the passing of my mother a few year ago that I felt as if I could understand the great love and sacrifice that Mary made in bring Christ into the world. As much as I was missing my mother, I understood more fully how much she had sacrificed for me as a child, a young man, and later as a husband and father.
With the work we do with families in our cemeteries and funeral homes, we all too often get to witness children and their parents saying good bye to their own mothers. Praying to Mary will help comfort families in their loss.
To understand Mary is to understand the love that God has for each of us.
The “Door” to Christ
Over the years I have had a number of people that ask me whether Catholics “worship” Mary. The answer is no. When we pray to Mary, we are asking her to bring us closer to her son, to intercede, to appeal to her son on our behalf, and pray for our intentions.
Over the five years we have worked in Puerto Rico, I have often pondered the meaning of this experience both personally and for CFCS. Just as Puerto Rico was the “door” by which Catholicism was brought to the Americas, for me and for CFCS it has been a similar experience of deepening our faith. Our shared experience with Archbishop Gonzalez and the staff in Puerto Rico has opened the “door” to renewing our faith. We started working in Puerto Rico because Servicios Funerarios Catolicos (Catholic Funeral Services) was struggling as it had over-expanded across the island and we needed to re-focus the ministry and business plan. When I first arrived, I was told that SFC was founded so they could help build a Shrine to Mary, Our Lady of Divine Providence, at the site called the Santuario where a large concrete cross 14-stories tall sits high above San Juan. At the time we started in Puerto Rico, I didn’t appreciate this devotion.
In Puerto Rico, funeral masses were routinely performed at funeral homes not parishes. SFC was originally commissioned to bring Catholics back into the parish for mass when a loved one died. We are the only funeral home allowed to do so. It was in the ensuing years that we endured Hurricane Maria, then earthquakes, and now a pandemic. If you were to ever think of a people who rightly should give up, it would be the Puerto Ricans. Yet, if you want to find a more joy-filled community, it is there. You can’t find a more devout and passionate staff than the employees of SFC. It is infectious.
This year we are looking once again at establishing a cemetery at the Santuario and hopefully raising the funds to build the first chapel at the site. It is in the faith of the people of Puerto Rico that we will venerate once again Mary, Our Lady of Divine Providence, who brings her son to the Americas and to CFCS. Let us pray for the Shrine to be built and to help the people of Puerto Rico realize a dream.
Mother Mary pray for us!
With blessings and gratitude,