Mary, the mother of Jesus, has acquired many titles over the centuries: Blessed Mother, Queen of Heaven, Madonna, and Our Lady — with many manifestations — to name just a few. May is traditionally a month with a special focus on Mary, and it has me thinking about two Marian titles that speak to me particularly during the times in which we live: Our Lady of Lourdes and Mary, Undoer of Knots.
In January 2018, I traveled to Lourdes, France, to attend an international Catholic media conference. It was January, and the crowds typically present at this popular pilgrimage site were nowhere to be seen. I spent much of my free time with little interruption at the basilica and the grotto below, where Mary appeared to a young Bernadette Soubirous in 1858.
I was struck by the quiet and sustained prayer of the few people whom I did encounter at the grotto and at candle racks located on the grounds. And, every day, people came for the water associated with miraculous healings. St. John Paul II instituted the Church’s annual observance of the World Day of the Sick to coincide with the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes on Feb. 11.
But it isn’t just the pilgrims who go to Lourdes who are in need of healing. We all need healing — whether from physical or mental illnesses, from broken relationships, or from a multitude of other kinds of suffering that are part of the human condition. While I was there, I prayed for the special intentions of a few friends. I also prayed that Mary would intervene to heal our world from the maladies of war, poverty and indifference.
Three years earlier, I was in Philadelphia with a diocesan delegation attending the World Meeting of Families with Pope Francis. There I was introduced to a Marian title which, at the time, I knew very little about: Mary, Undoer of Knots. The idea comes from St. Irenaeus of Lyons who compared Eve to Mary, who undid the “knot” of humanity’s disobedience.
In Philadelphia, a grotto dedicated to Mary was set up alongside the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul. People were invited to write down their struggles or prayers of petition on white ribbons and tie them to a wall. Then, they were invited to untie someone else’s ribbon, representing their willingness to carry the other person’s burden. The untied knot was then retied on a wall along the street, where the pope later blessed them. I learned that Mary, the Undoer of Knots is one of the Holy Father’s favorite images.
We face many knots in our lives — many that we’ve tied ourselves. Mary, the Undoer of Knots is someone to whom we can turn with our problems and challenges, someone who can help us untangle ourselves from our struggles so we can be opened up to receive God’s love and mercy. She has become the patron of sorts for those who suffer from anxiety, addictions and other personal challenges. She is someone we can turn to while we continue to cope with the pandemic, social tensions and the worries we each carry in our own hearts.
We can be thankful that Mary is always ready to intercede for us with her Son, the source of divine mercy, healing and compassion.
Our Lady of Lourdes, and Mary, Undoer of Knots, pray for us!
Joe Towalski is the editor of The Central Minnesota Catholic and the director of communications for the Diocese of St. Cloud.