“Oh Mary, my Mother, my Mother.” (Saint Pope John Paul II).
They say that when soldiers die in battle, their last words are often an invocation for their mothers…
I have often been called to teach students the classic German historical novel written in 1929 by Enrich Maria Remarque, which is translated into English and called, “All Quiet on the Western Front” – there is a film by the same name. The text outlines the terrible experience of a young German soldier and his friends on the front line in the Great War and concludes very sadly with his death in battle.
In the text, the true reality and horrors of war are explored in a completely realistic and non-romantic manner, which is designed to shock the responder and cause us to rebel against war of any form.
In the novel – gradually – the entire group of teenage boys who had enlisted into the army together after being recruited from their classroom in their final year of school, die – one after the other – on the frontline in the War.
There are many moving and terrible descriptions of destruction in the text, but the descriptions that have struck me most profoundly and stayed with me most clearly, are those that centre around the final words of the soldiers before they died. In most of the cases, Remarque describes the dying soldiers as being able to “only whimper softly for their mothers…”.
Descriptions such as these are understandably heartbreaking. After all, when a person calls on their mother, we are reminded of their childhood and thus, reminded of their vulnerability in that moment. And for the mother, instinct often kicks in and they know that sometimes, the only thing that their child needs from them is to be close for a while, so that they will feel safe. In fact, in my own experience of motherhood, I witness the worst behaviour from my children when they are most desperate for a bit of additional maternal attention…
And so, these things were in my mind the other day, when I read the story of the assignation attempt on Saint Pope John Paul II.
On 13 May 1981 – in the days before the bulletproof “Pope Mobile” – when the Saint had been walking through Saint Peter’s Square, Turkish political extremist, Mehmet Ali Agca, shot him twice in the stomach.
As Saint Pope John Paul II was struck with those two bullets in his stomach, he fell into the arms of Archbishop Dziwisz, who was his secretary.
The archbishop asked the Pope, “Where?”
Saint Pope John Paul II replied, “In the stomach.”
“Does it hurt very much?” Archbishop Dziwisz asked.
And Saint Pope John Paul II replied, “Yes. Oh Mary, my Mother, my Mother.” And then he fell into unconsciousness.
This attack did not kill the Saint, who died of complications of influenza on 2 April 2005. Rather, his doctor, Doctor Crucitti described the injuries as though the bullets had hit a steel wall and changed directions, because the bullets were only millimetres from vital arteries and organs that would have killed the Holy Father at the time.
Later, the Holy Father said, “Someone’s hand had shot me, but Another Hand directed the bullet.” And even afterwards, His Holiness visited and forgave his attacker in prison. Then he called on the Church itself to “pray for my brother (Ağca) ... whom I have sincerely forgiven.”
It is no secret why this man became a Saint…
And yet, in my reflections over the last few days, it is not the miracle with the bullets or even the beautiful act of forgiveness that have consumed me. I have been reflecting on the words of the Saint in those moments that could have been his last when he said, “Oh Mary, my Mother, my Mother.”
They remind me of the final words of other Saints. Saint Bernadette Soubirous spoke such similar words before she died, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for me, a poor sinner, a poor sinner.”
For the Saints call on their eternal mother – Mary – and she comes to them…
And so – as I reflect on the power of words and how they reflect upon us and the power they yield for us – I am filled with sorrow… For I wonder if in my distress I too could call out faintly in a whimper to my Mother?
Oh, my Lord and my God, I beg of you to give me the Grace to call on Your beloved Mother with my dying breath… For it is She who will lead me Home…
“Oh Mary, my Mother, my Mother…”
For with prayer, I stand on Holy Ground where everything is clear. Here. At the Foot of the Cross.