«She [the Virgin St. Mary] is the Mother of mercy, because she bore in her womb the very Face of divine mercy, Jesus»
— Pope Francis, Homily on the Opening of the Holy Door of Mercy at Archbasilica of St. Mary Major, Jan 1st 2016
Last February, Aleteia has circulated a story which has been making the rounds on social media for some years now, appearing and resurfacing now and then. I think the first time I heard about this story, it was apocryphally attributed to Venerable Bishop Fulton Sheen, but I can’t ascertain its accurate provenance.
Either way, it’s not as important where it came from, as it is what it says. According to this story, St. Peter came to Jesus, very alarmed since he saw a lot of souls entering Heaven without coming across the pearly gates where he stood guard with his keys. Jesus, on the other hand, tells him not to be concerned with that, for those souls were coming through another entrance opened by His Mother, through the prayer of the rosary.
I believe I heard this story in some way even before Pope Francis was elected. At the time, it was not very controversial. Nor is it now, don’t get me wrong…
But something changed in those very same Catholic circles where this story was once popular. Sure, Mary is still perceived as bypassing the authority of St. Peter… but now, Mary is not seen as opening entrances where the sinners may more easily enter Heaven.
No, on this new version of the story, Mary is viewed as someone who closes the door on the sinner’s face, the same door Peter opened. Or as someone who kicks out of Heaven the souls who just entered through the pearly gates unlocked by the petrine keys.
If this seems to you as a depiction of Mary that makes her unrecognizable, you would be right.
However, even if the rigorists who depict Mary this way may reject the description I just made, in practice that’s what they think of her. There is a sector of the Church, who is in opposition to Pope Francis (when not to all the pontiffs we’ve had since the 2nd Vatican Council) and at the same time, has a profound fascination with everything Marian.
Of course, there would be nothing wrong with it, if they simply used their influence and love for Tradition to promote all the Marian pieties of which they are so devout, like praying the rosary and novenas or nurturing Marian spiritual readings or if they preached about the many approved Marian apparitions, all for the edification of souls. The problem is that they will mix all these beneficial aspects of Marian piety with an enthrallment for private revelations, without distinction between the approved and unapproved ones, which are then twisted to foster conspiracy theories whose sole purpose is to sow dissent and disobedience against the Holy Father, thereby leading souls away from communion with the Church (and therefore, salvation).
This can be done in a very flamboyant way (most traditionalist sites and blogs who fight against the Pope have lots of Marian iconography all around), but also in more subtle ways. Cardinal Raymond Burke, arguably the most influential clergyman spearheading the resistance against Pope Francis, has alluded to conspiracy theories concerning the third secret of Fatima to promote the idea of an alleged Church apostasy, an idea that has been used to undermine Francis’ teachings and actions as pope. The Correctio filialis, written by laypeople and minor clergy and which purports to correct the Pope’s teachings, begins with a reference to being published on the day of the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. And the Profession by the Kazakshtan bishops, written to counter Amoris Laetitia, also ends with a reference to being published on the Day of the Holy Family and on the centenary of the Apparitions in Fatima.
In all of these instances, the intention is clear… since the Holy Father is the Vicar of Christ, judged by no one on this earth, bringing Mary into the equation is a way to usurp authority for those who don’t have any, but want to rebel.
It is, however, one of the most anti-Marian things to do. If we read the Holy Scripture carefully, we will see that those who were seeking power from their following of Jesus Christ, or those who were infected with a rigorist mindset (wanting to call down fire from Heaven to fall on the sinners) were the apostles, not Mary. In Scripture, Mary tends to avert the spotlight and instead to meditate things in silence, in the intimacy of her own heart, obeying almost without a word. The only time she seems to ask something from her Son, she is more concerned about the wellbeing of a couple of newlyweds, who had no more wine (a biblical symbol for joy)… and her intervention breeds more confusion than clarity (to use the terms preferred by anti-Francis dissenters), since it seems like she is forcing Jesus to do something when it is “not yet the time”. Of course, that’s not the case, for she says to the servants to do everything Jesus asks them to. In other words, obedience.
Obedience is the hallmark of Mary, and disobedience is what dissenters seek to justify at all costs. It is, therefore, an insult to Mary to weaponize her against Peter. I have no doubt that she who was so obedient to her Son would also be obedient to the one her Son chose as His Vicar.
I will then take this Marian month of May to try to dispel some of the conspiracy theories around the Holy Virgin. Of course, I won’t be able to address all the conspiracy theories out there, for they are legion. I will, however, bring focus to texts of mine (or texts of others) about Fatima, Akita and La Salette.
In every single one of these instances, I will bring attention to a crucial detail: the Church does not impose on the faithful that they have to believe in any particular private revelation. It does, however, say that we should be guided by the Church’s teachings, with submission to the authority of the Roman Pontiff and the bishops in communion with him.
It is, therefore, extremely illogical for me that we should heed any particular revelation warning us of a general apostasy involving the Roman Pontiff. Since we are not bound to believe any particular revelation, but are bound to the teachings of the Pope, it would seem a low blow from God’s part that my salvation should hinge on me heeding a private revelation commanding me to disobey the Pope’s teachings.
Dissenters who rail against the Pope usually quote St. Paul on Gal 1:8: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema”.
But it seems to me that those who use private revelations to go against the well-founded and biblical authority of the Pope are the ones St. Paul is warning us about on that passage. By using private revelations to postulate an apostasy involving the Pope, they are the ones adding something to the gospel besides Mt 16:18, where Jesus sets the Church on Peter, the Rock, promising him that the gates of Hell should not prevail.
As such, I do not believe Mary should be a pretext for that. She never wanted to add anything to her Son’s message, only to submit and obey to the gospel which was given to her and us. A gospel that includes Mt 16:18.
May Mary shine her light on everyone who reads these articles, so that every reader may get to know her as she really is, as the Mother of Mercy who, with her Son, wants every sinner to be saved. Amen.
[Photo credit: Aleteia, author unknown; Fair use]
Discuss this article!
Keep the conversation going in our SmartCatholics Group! You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter.
Pedro Gabriel, MD, is a Catholic layman and physician, born and residing in Portugal. He is a medical oncologist, currently employed in a Portuguese public hospital. A published writer of Catholic novels with a Tolkienite flavor, he is also a parish reader and a former catechist. He seeks to better understand the relationship of God and Man by putting the lens on the frailty of the human condition, be it physical and spiritual. He also wishes to provide a fresh perspective of current Church and World affairs from the point of view of a small western European country, highly secularized but also highly Catholic by tradition.