By Deacon Aaron Williams
As the world observes the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady in Fatima, Portugal, many bishops are taking the opportunity to consecrate their diocese to the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, as requested by Our Lady of Fatima 100 years ago. I am very thankful that our own Bishop Joseph Kopacz has chosen to do likewise, but for more reasons than the simple anniversary of Fatima.
When our diocese was founded 180 years ago, it was originally established under the patronage of Our Lady of Sorrows (the titular title of the basilica in Natchez). I have done much reading on the history of our diocese, but I have never been able to find even speculation on why such a title was chosen. It could be as simple as a particular devotion of Bishop Chanche, our founding bishop. Regardless, I find the patronage of Our Lady of Sorrows very fitting considering the history of our diocese.
For one thing, the state of Mississippi has a history of sorrow — particularly in our struggles with poverty and racism. Likewise, the history of Catholicism in this state includes the martyrdom of several Jesuit priests and many lay Catholics during the eighteenth century when the Gospel was first brought to Mississippi. Even today, there are struggles in maintaining a Catholic identity in our diocese, especially due to our very small numbers — where most of our schools have a majority of non-Catholic students and many of our parishes find themselves very empty on Sunday.
I suppose we could just give up and say that Catholicism just didn’t work out in Mississippi; but, for that reason, I find Our Lady is still a great patron and model for our diocese today. Of course, Mary’s life and motherhood was filled with various sorrows and often some confusion. I doubt Mary always understood why things had to happen the way they did in her life and in the life of her Son. Still, Mary also experienced great joys and appears as a joyful mother both in her visit to Elizabeth and at the Wedding in Cana.
In this way, Mary stands as a great model of a life-long disciple to Christ by her willingness to endure the struggles of the faith and deeply ponder her joys. For that reason, I find our bishop’s choice very appropriate to coincide this consecration with the launch of the diocese’s Pastoral Priorities. Mary is the model Christian. Thus, if we want to learn how to better express the Christian mission in our diocese, we should look to no other guide than Mary.
The three core goals of our Pastoral Priorities are to create welcoming and reconciling communities, to facilitate life-long discipleship, and to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord. At the Wedding in Cana, we see Mary as a sort of reconciler — attempting to prevent the embarrassment of their hosts. Likewise, Our Lady of Fatima requested that we fervently pray for the reconciliation and peace of the world. Surely, Mary can also bring about such reconciliation in our parishes.
I already said that Mary was a life-long disciple of Christ, but it is worth stating that she was also the first disciple. Who better than Mary to teach us how to follow her Son? Finally, Mary’s command to “do whatever he tells you” can be taken by us as a command to make Christ the Lord of our hearts. He was truly both her Son and her Lord, and so by promoting devotion to her, our bishop is proclaiming the Lordship of Christ in our diocese. Likewise, families which make a place for Mary in their home similarly set Christ as the Lord of their family.
I hope that all the priests, religious and lay faithful of our diocese take great advantage of the opportunity given by our bishop in this total consecration to Mary’s Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart. There is a lot of room for growth in what is still a very young diocese in the history of the Church. From the beginning, Mary has been the mother of the church in Mississippi and we should frequently request her fervent intercession on our behalf. This consecration is a great opportunity for the renewal of the Catholic faith in our diocese, and we would be making an incredible mistake to not take advantage of this moment.
(Deacon Aaron Williams is concluding a ministry internship with the Catholic Community of Meridian. He and his classmate, Deacon Nick Adam, will return to Notre Dame Seminary within the week to complete their final year of seminary formation before their priestly ordinations on May 31, 2018.)