This image of Our Lady of the Stick can be found at the Abbey of San Felice in Giano, Italy, where the Missionaries were founded in 1815.
By Fr. Steve Dos Santos, C.PP.S.
The celebration of Mary Help of Christians was instituted by Pope Pius VII in 1815, a year after his triumphal return to Rome from exile under Napoleon. Our founder, St. Gaspar del Bufalo, named her patroness of our Congregation because of the difficult mission that lay before the Missionaries. St. Maria de Mattias, who founded the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, also had a particular love for Mary under this title.
While the image above is not technically Mary, Help of Christians, it is one of my favorite images of Mary. I associate it with this feast because of the way children run to her for protection, and the way in which she so forcefully fights off the devil in order to protect them. In it we see Mary defending her children, the way a mother bear might defend its cubs.
In the first reading, John tells us that “the dragon became angry with the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring” (Rev 12: 17). The passage takes place in the midst of the spiritual battle between the forces of heaven and hell. We often forget about the spiritual world, and the battle that is constantly going on all around us. This feast reminds us that Mary is not a passive observer of this battle. She too takes up arms to defend us from the Evil One and his minions.
The Gospel for this feast is the story of the wedding feast at Cana. On the surface, this story is about the provision of choice wine and the evasion of embarrassment. But the miracle is deeper than just the provision of earthly needs. The wine in its abundance stands as the icon of God’s abundant grace. God is more than just a heavenly ATM doling out our earthly needs.
Mary’s words to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you,” are spoken also to us. Whatever our need, whatever our closeness to her son, she bids us listen to him and follow his instructions. In this single direction is the core of the Christian life. Mary bids us to follow the direction of her son, and therein lies an abundance of grace waiting for us.
Mary is the Help of Christians. We can always turn to her. She stands as intercessor for us, offering her prayers in support of our struggles. But she desires more for us than just plenty of wine and a good name. She desires our salvation and always stands ready to help us with her intercession, and when we need it, her stick to fend off the devil.
Originally from Alameda, Calif., Fr. Steve Dos Santos, C.PP.S., served for a number of years at St. Agnes Parish in Los Angeles. He is now the vocation director of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood.