Franciscan Formation – Inspirations (Part 19)
“Following the example of our Seraphic Father and according to the traditions of the Order, the friars are to express their filial love of the Blessed Virgin Mary in liturgical celebrations, in popular devotions (such as the Rosary, the Franciscan Crown, and other local expressions of piety), and in personal prayer.”
During my childhood, in my hometown, there was a permanent photo gallery of miraculous images of Mary from various shrines in the House of Culture. This was unusual because during the communist regime, which was against any religious expression, presentations like this were never shown. Looking at the different images of icons on display, I could not understand how to tell one Mother of God from another. It took me a few years before I understood that Marian sites commemorate the special presence, care, help and message that the people received from the Mother of Our Lord in those particular places. It probably helped that I had gone on pilgrimages with my parents to a number of shrines and learned their history. The problem, however, was that popular Marian devotion, at least in my area, blurred the connection between that devotion and God. Generally, in my opinion, the Blessed Virgin was venerated as a queen. It seemed that her Marian cult was focused entirely on her and failed to make a distinct reference to Christ. It appeared that this devotion did not clearly identify Mary’s mission in relation to the Lord. Thus, it presented Mary as a clement, merciful savior who intercedes for sinners, sinners whom a harsh and angry Father wants to punish. Of course, this way of feeling about it when I was a youth did not put God in a very positive light. It took some time to sort out my relationship with our Mother, but my effort was undoubtedly aided by studying various books on Mariology.
I realize that each of us has his own story of familiarity and friendship with the Immaculata. I am writing these personal memoirs so that each reader might ask: “Do I have a relationship with the Mother of our Lord? What does this relationship look like, how does it develop and what does it consist of? Am I a Marian friar? Am I attracted to Mary and do I talk about my experience of her presence in my life?”
When we are inspired by the Immaculata in our lives, we can talk about Marian spirituality. She becomes more than a role model for us, she becomes a companion on our journey. We submit to her influence. Marian spirituality is more than pious practices, it goes beyond venerating the Blessed Mother. In other words, the person who gives himself to her does not limit himself to the performance of external religious acts. Rather, he tries to imitate her path, her life, her thoughts, and her openness to the Word. When we develop a relationship with her, we can experience her love. Entrusting ourselves to the Mother is therefore a response to her love. As our spiritual life develops, we come to know ourselves more deeply, and thus we learn that we are weak and sinful, and we “taste” the cross of life that touches us in various situations. We need her presence and special support so that our relationship with the Lord does not “wither.” Like the Apostle John standing on Calgary, we accept the testament of the cross and bring the Mother of Christ into everything that concerns our lives. This is how we carry Mary with us.
I am writing about entrustment because it is not a one-time process. This entrustment can take various forms: prayers, rosaries, chaplets, litanies, pilgrimages, celebrations, and membership in various Marian confraternities or associations. Although these methods have an outward form, in entrustment they become something personal, shaping a constant way of living and thinking. The Immaculata is often evoked through thought and thus a stronger and closer relationship with her develops. It is a spiritual path for those who wish to strengthen their attraction to her, to change their lives and to evangelize. All of us can receive the gift of being more attracted to the Mother of God while we follow the path of entrusting our lives to her. We can do this without her appearing before us, in the way her apparitions have taken place in the history of the Church.
Although all religious communities are Marian in their own way, there is something about our Franciscan spirituality that gives us a special connection with the Mother of God. In the lower church of the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, a fresco by Cimabue depicts Francis as a humble servant standing to the side of the Blessed Virgin Mary as she holds the infant Jesus, surrounded by adoring angels. St. Francis seems to take a back seat because he knows who is more important in this heavenly adoration. Francis holds a book permitting the marks of the stigmata to be seen in his hands and body. Thus, the artist has expressed the spiritual attitude that the Friars Minor should develop in themselves: to be humble and adoring before the Mother of God. It is a spirituality that rejects the desire to become important, great or dominant, a desire which is deeply rooted in human pride. The Handmaid of the Lord does not teach Franciscans about royalty, greatness or seeking glory. She teaches them how to be close to the Lord and how to respond to Him with their fiat, with their life. Just as she holds the Incarnate Word in her arms in this fresco, so the Friars Minor are called to carry and give birth to the Incarnate Word (cf. Second Version of the Letter to the Faithful 50-53 FF 200). Francis loves Mary. He is grateful to her for having made the Son of God our brother (cf. 2Cel 198 FF 786; 1Bonaventure 9.3 FF 1165). He looks at Mary above all as a mother who serves in the work of redemption and teaches us how to worship the Trinity. Mary teaches Francis to adopt and attitude of poverty and humility when he seeks God’s presence and nearness. When we contemplate God’s love for us and being ever closer to Him, we can see the Bride of the Holy Spirit. Our vocation is to imitate her motherly vocation and to let her lead us to a closer relationship with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, a relationship that we live and carry out in the Church.
What we need, therefore, is to encourage our attraction to Mary and to entrust our lives to her. More than being devoted to Mary, this means developing a Marian spirituality. Thus, we should focus on imitating her in our lives, doing what Mary would do. With Mary, we discover how to open ourselves to the action of the Holy Spirit, how to receive and give birth to the Incarnate Word. In Mary’s beauty and love we see the face of our loving Father. When we truly give our lives to Mary, she will never overshadow our focus on God. We will see more easily that wherever Mary is, there we will find her Son and wherever Jesus is, there we will find His mother. Thus, we find even more reason to be in their company. That is exactly what entrustment is for.
Friar Piotr STANISŁAWCZYK
General Delegate for Formation
 Friars Minor Conventual, Constitutions Rome 2019, art. 47 §1.
 Cf. Adam Rybicki, Maryjna duchowość, in: Leksykon duchowości katolickiej, edited by Marek Chmielewski, Lublin-Cracow 2002, pp. 493-496.
 Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Redemptoris Mater, Rome 1987, no. 45, https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/pl/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_25031987_redemptoris-mater.html, January 16, 2024.
 Cf. Lotar Hardick, Josef Terschlusen, Kajetan Esser, OFM, Franciszkańska Reguła życia, Niepokalanów 1988, pp. 100-101.
 Cf. Alfonso Pompei, OFM Conv., Maryja, Matka Boża, in: Leksykon duchowości franciszkańskiej, edited by Emil Kumka, OFM Conv., Cracow-Warsaw 2016, pp. 878-894.
 Cf. Order of Friars Minor Conventual, Franciscan Discipleship. Ratio Studiorum, Rome 2022, no. 38, https://www.ofmconv.net/download/discepolato-francesc-ratio-stud-2022/, January 16, 2024.