Salus Populi Romani

The image known as Our Lady of Czestochowa is most likely familiar to all of you – it is attributed to St. Luke.  In fact, over the centuries, many, many images of Our Lady have purportedly been painted by the evangelist himself, but the one we want to share with you today, in honor of his feast day, is the Salus Populi Romani (Health of the Roman People, or Protectress of the Roman People) to which our present holy father has a special devotion.

The icon is housed in the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. St. Luke is said to have painted the image on a tabletop which belonged to the Holy Family, while listening to Our Lady herself recount stories of her Son’s life.  St. Helena brought the icon from Jerusalem to Constantinople.  In the painting, Mary’s eyes fall upon us, the viewer, and we are held in her gaze.  Jesus, whose hand is raised in blessing, looks to her, blessing those whom His Mother looks upon with tender mercy.

Many miracles have been associated with the ancient image, particularly when it is honored in procession.  Pope St. Gregory the great processed with the icon in the sixth century, imploring an end to the Black Plague.  St. Pius V carried the image in procession in 1791 begging Our Lady for a victory in the naval battle of Lepanto.  Victory was indeed granted through her intercession, and today that miraculous trouncing of the Turkish fleet is celebrated each year on October 7th as the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, formerly known as Our Lady of Victory.  In 1834 Pope Gregory XVI honored Our Lady’s icon with a procession, pleading for an end to a cholera epidemic.

Most recently, Pope Francis had the icon brought from St. Mary Major to the Vatican, to be venerated during the special prayer service for peace in Syria and the Middle East.  The fact that Pope Francis brought the actual icon, not a copy, is quite telling – it speaks not only of his love for Our Lady, (about which friends from his past have already shared many stories), but also of his abiding trust in her maternal intercession.  Our Lady, Protectress of the Roman People, is a mother who comes to her children in their need, meets them where they are, and brings healing and peace.

It isn’t hard to understand how the image of a mother and queen who assists her children, not from her throne, but side by side with them, would resonate with the heart of Pope Francis, who has the tender heart of a pastor, a “shepherd with the odor of sheep”. It seems to fit perfectly with the Holy Father’s emphasis on encounter, something which has shaped his life and mission since he experienced a life-changing encounter with God’s mercy in the confessional at age 17.  It was at this time that he first recognized God calling him to the priesthood, though it would be several years before he would finally pursue his vocation by entering the Society of Jesus.  That idea of an encounter with mercy is what lead him to choose the Episcopal motto miserando atque eligendo (more on that here) when he was made bishop.

The icon of Salus Populi Romani has long been associated with the Jesuits, who spread this devotion around the world, being the first to obtain permission from the pope to duplicate the image for their houses of study.  In fact, it is sometimes called “the Jesuit Madonna”.  Their founder, the great St. Ignatius of Loyola, also had a devotion to Our Lady’s icon, and it was at St. Mary Major that he celebrated his first Mass, on Christmas night in 1538.

There is also an interesting link between devotion to Salus Populi Romani among the Jesuits, and the devotion of Our Lady of the Knots, which a very famous Jesuit has recently popularized.  But we’ll save that story for another time.  Instead, we’ll leave you with the words of Pope Paul VI, who, the same day he proclaimed Mary Mother of the Church, (at the closing of the third session of Vatican Council II in 1964) offered this prayer to the Madonna at St. Mary Major.

With a spirit full of trust and filial love, we raise our glance to you, despite our unworthiness and our weakness. You who have given us Jesus, the source of grace, will not fail to help your Church, at this time when she is flowering because of the abundance of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and is committing herself with renewed zeal to her mission of salvation.

Turn to Jesus, our advocate – Pope Francis’ Wednesday Audience


the ascension

Hello, all! Sorry we haven’t posted in a while.

Our prayers are with the people of Boston, and all who were killed or are suffering because of Monday’s horrific bombing.

St. Michael and all the Holy Angels, protect and defend us!


Below is the Vatican Radio translation of the Holy Father’s Wednesday audience:

Dear brothers and sisters,
In the Creed, we find the affirmation that Jesus “ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.” The earthly life of Jesus culminates in the event of the Ascension, that is, when he passes from this world to the Father, and is lifted up to His right hand side. What is the significance of this event? What are the consequences for our lives? What does it mean to contemplate Jesus sitting at the right hand of the Father? Let us be guided by the Evangelist Luke.
We begin from the moment Jesus decides to embark on his last pilgrimage to Jerusalem. St. Luke notes: ” When the days for his being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem” (Lk 9:51). While he “ascends” to the Holy City, where his “exodus” from this life will be accomplished, Jesus already sees the goal, Heaven, but he knows that the path that brings him back to the glory of God passes through the Cross, through obedience to the divine plan of love for humanity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that ” the lifting up of Jesus on the cross signifies and announces his lifting up by his Ascension into heaven, and indeed begins it” (n. 661). We too must be clear in our Christian life, that to enter into the glory of God requires daily fidelity to His will, even when it requires sacrifice, when at times it requires us to change our plans. The Ascension of Jesus actually happened on the Mount of Olives, near the place where he had retired in prayer before his passion to be in profound union with the Father; once again we see that prayer gives us the grace to faithfully live out God’s project for us.

At the end of his Gospel, St. Luke narrates the event of the Ascension in a very synthetic way. Jesus led the disciples “[out] as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them. As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven. They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God “(24.50 to 53). I would like to note two elements of the passage. First, during the Ascension Jesus fulfilled the priestly gesture of blessing and certainly the disciples express their faith with prostration, they kneel and bow their heads. This is a first important point: Jesus is the only and eternal Priest, who with his passed through death and the tomb and rose again and ascended into Heaven; He is with God the Father, where he always intercedes in our favor (cf. Heb 9:24). As St John writes in his First Letter, He is our advocate, our advocate with the Father (cf. 2:1-2). It’s nice to hear this. The first thing we do when we are called by a judge or are called to trial, the first thing we do is look for an advocate to defend us. We have One who always defends us. He defends us from the insidiousness of the Devil, He defends us from ourselves, from our sins. But, dear brothers and sisters, we have this advocate. We must not be afraid to turn to Him, to turn to him with our fears, to ask for his blessing and mercy. He always forgives us, He is our advocate, He always defends us. We must never forget this. The Ascension of Jesus into heaven then reveals to us this reality that is so comforting for our journey: in Christ, true God and true man, our humanity was brought to God; He has opened the passage up for us, He is like a leader at the head of the rope when you scale a mountain, who has reached the summit and draws us up to him leading us to God . If we entrust our lives to Him, if we let ourselves be guided by Him we are sure to be in safe hands. In the hands of our Savior, our advocate.
A second element: St Luke mentions that the apostles, after seeing Jesus ascending to heaven, returned to Jerusalem “with great joy.” This seems a bit strange. Typically when we are separated from our families, our friends, in a lasting separation, above all because of death, we are naturally sad, because we will no longer see their face, or hear their voice, we will no longer be able to enjoy their affection, their presence. Instead, the evangelist emphasizes the profound joy of the Apostles. How come? Because, with the eyes of faith, they understand that although subtracted from their eyes, Jesus remains with them forever, He is not abandoning them, and in the glory of the Father, supports them, guides them and intercedes for them.
St. Luke narrates the fact of the Ascension in the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, to emphasize that this event is like the ring that engages and connects the earthly life of Jesus to that of the Church. Here St. Luke also mentions the cloud that took Jesus out of sight of the disciples, who remain to contemplate Christ ascending to God (cf. Acts 1:9-10). Then two men in white robes intervene, urging them not to remain looking at the sky, but to nourish their lives and their witness from the certainty that Jesus will return in the same way they saw him ascend into heaven (Acts 1: 10-11). It is an invitation to begin from the contemplation of the Lordship of Jesus, to receive from him the strength to carry and bear witness to the Gospel in everyday life: contemplation and action, ora et labora St. Benedict teaches, are both necessary in our lives as Christians
Dear brothers and sisters, the Ascension does not indicate the absence of Jesus, but tells us that He is alive among us in a new way; He is no longer in a definite place in the world as He was before the Ascension; He is now in the lordship of God, present in all space and time, next to each of us. We are never alone in our lives: We have this advocate who waits for us, we are never alone, ​​the Crucified and Risen Lord guides us, and with us there are many brothers and sisters who in silence and obscurity, in their family life and work, in their problems and difficulties, their joys and hopes, live their faith every day and, together with us, bring to the world the lordship of God’s love.
I offer a cordial welcome to the members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, and I assure them of my prayers for their episcopal ministry. I also greet the priests of the Institute for Continuing Theological Education at the Pontifical North American College. Upon all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, including those from England, Denmark, Sweden, Australia, India, Singapore, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Canada and the United States, I invoke the joy and peace of the Risen Lord.

St. Luke would agree…

St. Luke, the physician and evangelist whose feast we celebrate today, would no doubt agree with Gloria Purvis that the way God made women is a gift, not a problem that needs to be fixed.

St. Luke, pray for us and especially for all physicians!