Commentary on Our Lady of the Way
The first Jesuit church in Rome was called Madonna della Strada, Our Lady of the Way. When Ignatius and his companions came to Rome in 1537-38, they celebrated Mass in this church, heard confessions, preached, and taught catechism to children. Witnessing the good accomplished, the pastor of the church entered the Jesuits and asked the pope to place the church under the Society’s care in 1542. It was before the image of Our Lady in this church that many early Jesuits pronounced their vows and prayed before departing for foreign lands. When the church was replaced by the church of the Gesu, the image of Our Lady was placed in a special chapel. This title of Our Lady echoes the perduring Ignatian motif of the pilgrim and of the Society as a “pathway to God” (1550 Form. Inst., ), as well as the words of Jesus, who called himself “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6).
Readings: Proverbs 4:10-18; Ps 118; Matt 1:20b-23
The Gospel reading describes the vision that Joseph had after he had learned that Mary, to whom he was betrothed but not yet married, was already with child. In the normal course of events and in those days he would have been strongly tempted to take drastic action in response to a serious breach of trust. In fact, Mary could have been stoned to death for presumed adultery. Joseph, however, whom we are told was a “just man” simply wanted to arrange a quiet separation.
It was then that he had a vision in which he was reassured that the Child Mary was carrying had been conceived by the power of God’s Spirit. In other words, God was the Father of the Child. The Child, after his birth, is to be called Jesus, a name which means ‘Yahweh saves’ “because he will save his people from their sins”.
Ignatius of Loyola had a special devotion to Mary, the Mother of God, and it was often at her shrines that key events in the course of his conversion and in the founding of the Society of Jesus took place. And Mary has always had a special place in the Society of Jesus, which regards Mary as its Mother and Queen and as accompanying it on its way to serve her Son.
And so, the First Reading speaks of life as a journey and could be seen to be addressed to every Jesuit. It speaks of the ways to follow and those to avoid:
Hear, my son, and receive my words,
and the years of your life shall be many.
On the way of wisdom I direct you,
I lead you on straightforward paths.
When you walk, your step will not be impeded,
And should you run, you will not stumble.
The path of the wicked enter not,
Walk not on the way of evil people;
Shun it, cross it not,
Turn aside from it and pass on…
The way of the wicked is like darkness;
They know not on what they stumble.
But the path of the just is like shining light,
That grows in brilliance till perfect day.
Of course, it is clear that the Way we are to follow is Jesus and the life he calls on us to live. But today we can also ask the Mother of Jesus to be with us on that Way, which she herself followed so closely.