A Message by Bishop Mark Bartchak
What can be more frustrating than having played baseball all afternoon in the rain with friends, and having hit a homerun in that game, arriving home and you cannot untie your high top canvas sneakers?
Because of the wet conditions on the ball field, you double-tied the shoe laces and they now feel like they are permanently glued together.
I know something that can make it worse. Your mother is expecting you momentarily to help with some household chores, but you would not dare enter the house with those dirty wet shoes!
Can it get any worse than that? Besides the risk of being lectured about being outside in the rain, at age 10 it would be embarrassing to ask your Mom for help with those shoelaces.
You can probably think of other experiences when the basic things of life seem to be all tied up in knots, including the circumstances of living in this extraordinary time of need due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
So many activities that we take for granted, and so much of our daily routine has been interrupted or disrupted.
The impact on our lives and our well-being is touching people emotionally and spiritually.
People have shared with me the anxiety they are experiencing. And people have shared with me the impact on their spiritual life on the most personal level.
They wonder if the Lord hears their prayer and they wonder if the Lord can do something about all the knots that they are feeling these days.
One of the significant things that people have shared with me are the thoughts or feelings of not being able to ask someone to help them.
I’m not talking only about the reluctance of a 10 year old who would be embarrassed to ask his Mother for help.
There are other people who don’t even know who to turn to for help, including God. It is often difficult for people who have not been praying regularly or participating in Sunday worship.
Most people know prayers from memory, but the issue is not knowing the words.
It has to do with a trusting relationship with God who seems not to be attentive when there is something going on like the Coronavirus.
And for some, they have disconnected from God because they were pulled in a different direction in their own life.
I recently read a reflection by Pope Francis who observed that this reaction is similar to what was going on in the story that most people know as the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32).
The wayward son found himself in a really bad situation and much of his difficulty was caused by his own self-centered desires and plans. When all of his material wealth was gone, he came to his senses.
The Father’s merciful love is shown in the way in which he exceeds his son’s request to be treated like one of his hired servants. He treats him with love and dignity because he is his son.
The son was so frightened and ashamed. It was far worse than soaking wet sneakers that a 10 year old cannot untie. It must have taken a lot of courage and every last bit of faith that the son had in himself and in his father.
Pope Francis offers another way to find help in such difficult situations. He encourages us to draw strength from a Marian devotion that he helped to draw attention to several years ago.
It’s as profound and as simple as a 10 year old boy who finally has to ask his mother to untie the knots in his soaking wet sneakers and discovers that it is not going to ruin his life when he asks for help.
Pope Francis has a great devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of untier or undoer of knots.
The devotion is depicted in an early 18th century painting in Germany. It depicts Mary holding two cords which have been literally untied.
Why is the devotion so appealing? It’s because everyone has experiences when life is tied up in knots, which causes us to feel like we are paralyzed.
And this devotion is so simple and straightforward. There are no jaw-dropping miracles; no thunder and lightning; no feats of spiritual heroism involved. It’s just the patient, painstaking, dogged untying of knots.
So what are these knots that need to be untied?
Of course it includes the insidious Coronavirus and all the ways it has impacted our lives.
It can be misunderstandings between parents and children that result from the restrictions that need to be observed for the sake of everyone’s health and safety.
It can be the anxiety due to the loss of freedom to move about and be with others.
It can be all of the heartache and distress caused by the economic impact on peoples’ lives.
And it can be the spiritual void that people are feeling because they cannot go to church on Sunday.
There are all sorts of problems and struggles and look for a solution.
In John’s Gospel we are given the story of the first miracle performed by the Lord Jesus. It happened at a wedding in Cana and they ran out of wine at the reception.
Someone brought it to the attention of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and she brought it to the attention of her Son.
Jesus asked his Mother, “How does this concern of yours involve me?”
Her response was an amazing act of faith. She does not reply to Jesus but to the waiters who were serving at the wedding celebration.
Mary says, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Her direction to do whatever her Son Jesus says, results in the first miracle of the Lord recorded in the Gospel.
And John tells us that not only did Jesus reveal his glory, but his disciples believed in him (John 2:1-11).
In other words, an act of faith by Mary the Mother of Jesus and Mother of the Church, resulted in multiple acts of faith.
In thinking about the implications of this for all of us, I am reminded of the passage in the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus concludes a prayer to his heavenly Father. The Lord then addresses all of us when he says:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. Your souls will find rest, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
I cannot think of anyone who knows the meaning of Jesus’ invitation to seek his help than his own Mother. As a loving mother the Blessed Virgin Mary tells us to do whatever her Son tells us.
All the more reason to seek her guidance and assistance in trying to address the many ways that our lives get tied up in knots because of the Coronavirus.
I think you get the point.
So let me conclude by saying the prayer to Mary, Undoer of Knots, but be ready because I am going to pause during the prayer for you to mention the knots in your life today.
O Virgin Mary,
Mother who never refuses to come to the help of your children in need,
Mother whose hands never stop working for the welfare of your children,
Moved as they are by the loving mercy and kindness that exists in your Immaculate Heart,
Cast your compassionate and merciful eyes on me and see the snarl of knots that exists in my life.
Oh Mother! You know the difficulties, sorrow and pain that I’ve had because of them.
O loving Mother, I place the ribbon of my life and these knots into your loving hands,
Hands which can undo even the most difficult knot.
Most holy Mother, come to my aid and intercede for me before God with your prayers.
I cast these knots into your hands (mention your intention/need) and beg you to undo it,
In the name of your son, Jesus Christ, and for the glory of God, once and for all.
Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, pray for us!
It’s been a long time since I needed help with untying the wet shoe laces of my sneakers, but I have my share of knots.
I encourage you to pray for one another so that all can be untied.