On August 2 the Franciscan family celebrates the Feast of Our Lady of the Angels. It is no coincidence that the second chapel and the cradle of the Franciscan Family should be named after Our Lady and under such an auspicious title. This was really an act of Divine Providence.
The Lord saw fit to gather the sons of St. Francis around his mother, just as the angels gather around her. Mary’s connection with angels goes back to her life at Nazareth. Let us remember that it was through the message that Gabriel delivered that she becomes the Mother of God in the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity. From scripture, we see the intimacy between Mary and God’s angels, in this case Gabriel the Archangel. From the earliest days of the Franciscan Family, there is a clear call to the brothers to live in the same intimacy as Mary, the angels and man lived in Sacred Scripture. Let’s not get too far ahead of the story. It’s always better to begin a book at the first chapter.
In Genesis 3:15 God tells Satan, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” From the moment of creation, we see Mary’s role in the salvation of her people. She will bear a son who will crush the serpent’s head. There are two important details here. First, this is a clear prophecy about the birth and mission of Christ and the Church. Second, it is very clear that Mary will bring Life into the world. Notice the upper case “L”. Life is not only a biological phenomenon, but he is also a person, Jesus Christ. If we are Brothers of Life, then we are brothers of Christ. Like Mary, the Brothers of Life cooperate with grace so that Jesus can enter into the world and all will come to know him and love him. Without Mary’s example and her prayers, this becomes a daunting task. We would not know how to live as brothers to Christ or how to bring his life to others. We look to Mary to teach us how to be brothers to her son.
Many Protestants would say that this is unnecessary, “We can go directly to Christ.” The glitch here is that God has given Mary to the world to point to the Son. “His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you’,” (Jn 24:5). Like Mary, the Brother calls the world to do whatever He tells us. While it may be true that one can bypass Mary and deal directly with Christ, it plays out very differently in Scripture, the early Church and the Christian tradition. Mary approaches Life on behalf of her friends who were hosting the wedding. Then she directs them back to Life.
In Luke’s Gospel, the angel approaches Mary and then she leaves to serve her cousin Elizabeth. We see Mary intimately involved in the lives of the faithful and the not so faithful, from Genesis to the Book of Revelation.
We all know that there was a woman who came from one of the Abrahamic tribes, which happened to be twelve. In addition, we know that there was a woman with the apostles who were twelve, reduced by one after Judas’ betrayal and back to twelve after the selection of Matthias. That woman was Mary of Nazareth, the Mother of the Lord. There is no doubt as to the intimate relationship between Mary, heaven and man. As Brothers of Life, we aspire to this same intimacy with heaven and man.
Let’s look at one more passage in Rv. 12:6-7a. “The woman herself fled into the desert where she had a place prepared by God, that there she might be taken care of for twelve hundred and sixty days. Then a war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon.” Again, the writer of Revelation establishes a link between Mary and the angels, this time with Michael. This is not extrapolation. The two verses were written together. The author intended to place Mary, Michael and the other angels into the same frame. In addition, stop and ask, “Who took care of the woman for twelve hundred and sixty days?” Just before this passage, Revelation tells us that the woman gave birth to a son who was threatened by the dragon and rescued by the angels, (Rv 12:5). We have two images at work here. There is the threat to the life of the unborn by the dragon that stood before the woman about to give birth. We have a clear reference to infanticide. The dragon wanted the life of the child born to the woman. However, the woman and the angels do not yield to the dragon. Instead, the child is “caught up to God and his throne,” (Rev. 12:5). Mary not only brings Life into the world, with the angels she also protects Life. The man who is to be a brother must be like Mary. He must protect Life and like Mary, he depends on Divine Assistance to do so.
Finally, we conclude with the passage from Gn 27:29 “May peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you; be master of your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be those who curse you, and blessed be those who bless you.” To whom do the Franciscan Brothers of Life bow? Is it not to Jesus Christ? Who is his mother? Is it not Mary of Nazareth?