Following is the homily delivered by Fr Tim Cullinane SMA at the annual Novena in Honour of Our Lady, at St. Joseph’s SMA Church, Blackrock Road, Cork, on Saturday, 20th May 2017.

Pope Francis and Mary

Pope Francis has a special devotion to Mary. He told an interviewer that during the second vote in the election for Pope, when it became likely that he would be elected, he prayed the rosary and he said this gave him great peace. Twelve hours after his election he made a quiet visit to the Basilica of St Mary Major to venerate the famous icon of  Our Lady, protectoress of Rome. He placed a small bouquet of flowers in front of the icon and entrusted his pontificate to Our Lady and asked for her help and protection and finished by singing the Salve Regina.

One time when he was asked in an interview, “What Mary meant to him?” he did not give a deep theological answer which he could easily have done. Instead, he said simply, “She is my Mama!” Italians have a great devotion to their mother or Mama as they call her and Pope Francis with his Italian mother found it easy to transfer this title to his second mother Mary. It is a moving image of what our relationship with Mary should be – that of a child towards a loving mother. Mary is our Mama looking after us and concerned about us as she was concerned about the need of a newly married couple at the marriage feast of Cana when she turned to her son and said, “They have no wine.”

This image of Mary as mother or Mama has a solid biblical basis. Jesus gave us Mary as our mother on Calvary when, as he hung dying on the cross he said to John, “Son, behold your mother,” and to Mary, “Woman. Behold your son” It was his last gift to us before he died. Recently at Fatima, Pope Francis told us that we should follow the Mary of the Gospels and steer away from a Mary of our own making who holds back the anger of God, one more merciful than Jesus himself  and from misguided messages of Marian apparitions that lead to fear and alarm. Great injustice is done whenever we say that sins are punished by his judgement without first saying, as the Gospel clearly does, that we are forgiven by his mercy. There is no faith based on fear or chasing secrets and visions. True faith is based on the Gospel of love.

Pope Francis has a great devotion to the rosary. At one papal gathering of 80,000 people in St Peter’s square in November 2013 Pope Francis said, “I want to recommend some medicine for all of you- spiritual medicine. Each person was given a small box containing a rosary and a guide on how to pray it. In his youth, Pope Francis had not a great devotion to the rosary.  This is how he describes how he grew in love of the rosary:

“One evening in 1985, I went to recite the Holy Rosary that was being led by the Holy Father, John Paul 11. He was in front of everybody, on his knees. In the middle of the prayer I became distracted, looking at the figure of the Pope; I was touched by the sight of him totally engrossed in prayer to his mother. It was a powerful witness to me. I felt that this man, chosen to lead the Church, was following a path up to his Mother in the sky. That testimony did not get forgotten in an instant. From that time on I decided to recite the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary every day.” Pope Francis is a busy man, who travels the world and has so many demands on his time and yet makes time to pray the rosary daily. What does that say to us?

Today there is a lot of talk about a practice called mindfulness. Mindfulness helps us to be totally present in the present moment whether it is drinking a cup of coffee or washing the dishes or listening to a homily or being totally engrossed in saying the rosary like Pope John Paul 11 was that evening in 1985. The rosary may be called Christian mindfulness.

Apart from his devotion to the Rosary Pope Francis has a great devotion to “Our Lady Untier of Knots” which many of you may not have heard of so I will tell you something about it. Since the 18th century this has been a popular devotion in Germany.  In recent years the devotion has spread worldwide through the encouragement of Pope Francis. In May 1986, Fr Bergoglio, as he was known then, in order to create space for the new Provincial administration agreed to a sabbatical in Germany. It was a difficult time for him. The dirty war was going on in Argentina with many people disappearing and his own community divided on how to respond to the situation leaving him at times alone and isolated

During the year he visited the city of Augsburg where in the Jesuit church he was deeply moved by a painting of Mary entitled “Mary Untier of Knots.” The painting goes back to a couple who had serious problems in their marriage and were on the verge of a bitter divorce. The husband sought help from a local Jesuit priest, Fr Joseph Rem who prayed to the Virgin Mary to untie all the knots in their relationship. Peace was restored and to give thanks for this reconciliation their grandson commissioned the painting, “Our Lady Untier of Knots” and donated it to the church. The painting shows Mary surrounded by angels and protected by the light of the Holy Spirit crushing a serpent with the child Jesus in her arms. In the middle of the picture, an angel to Mary’s left is passing her a silk thread full of knots that she unties handing on the unknotted thread to an angel on her right. The painting was inspired by a meditation of Irenaeus in the late 2nd century. He wrote “the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by Mary’s obedience. Pope Francis was very moved by the picture and Mary helped him to untie the knots in his own life at that time. He composed a prayer to “Our Lady Untier of Knots” which you might find helpful.


Holy Mary, full of God’s presence during the days of your life, you accepted with full humility the Father’s will and the devil was never able to tie you around with his confusion. Once with your Son you interceded for our difficulties and full of kindness and patience you gave us an example of how to untie the knots of our life…Holy Mother, Mother of God and our Mother you who untie with a motherly heart the knots of our life, we pray that you receive into your hands(the name of a person) and free him/her of the knots and confusion with which our enemy attacks. Through your grace, your intercession, deliver us from all evil and untie the knots that prevent me from being united with God (name  knot) so that free from sin and error, I may find Him in all things, may I have my heart placed in Him and may I serve Him always in my brothers and sisters, Amen

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