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When we encounter the Cross, we turn to Mary: Give us the strength, Mary our Mother, to accept and embrace the Cross!
—His Holiness Pope Francis

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Since I'm not a theologist, can anyone explain according to Catholic doctrine why, when we encounter the Cross, we turn to Mary, rather than to Christ?

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Return? We turn to Mary, not because she is better than Christ, but because she is our greatest intercessor with him. Who else would Christ listen to more than his own Mother? –  Byzantine Oct 11 '13 at 22:45
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I would like "encounter the cross" to be clarified, and what it means to "turn to Mary." What do these phrases mean to us in a practical sense? –  Steve Oct 14 '13 at 4:18
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Mod Notice: This site is not a place to attack beliefs you believe are wrong. I have removed a bunch of comments and a couple answers that just attacked Catholicism. Either this question gets asked and answered in the context of Catholic teaching or <there no option b>. –  Caleb Feb 18 at 15:58
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5 Answers

Mary is the mother of the incarnation. If the incarnation matters, then Mary matters. Mary matters because God mattered to Mary. Mary said “be it unto me according to thy word”.

John 1:1-14 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made…And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

The Word of God is Jesus Christ; Mary bore the Word that became flesh. She did this as a humble servant. When we look to Mary, we look to the reality of the incarnation. We look to the heart of a mother, the human mother of Jesus Christ.

We are to have the heart of Mary and want what God wants for us, setting aside our agenda, our will, and doing the will of God the Father through the overshadowing presence of the Holy Spirit. This is what Mary did while yet on Earth.

Matthew 12:47-49 Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren…For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.

Mary physically bore the “Son of Man” who in glory is the “Son of God”. Surely, it is foolishness to attempt to divide the incarnation (Mary) from the risen Lord (Jesus Christ).

So, when we turn to Mary, we turn to the incarnation, and this is not turning from, but towards, Christ.

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+1 I think you summed up the title "Theotokos" rather nicely. –  Charles Alsobrook Oct 12 '13 at 19:38
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A priest whom I highly respect and recommend his homilies almost always ends with a "turn to Mary". I'm glad the Pope's saying the same thing I've always heard him say and the same thing the Catholic Church has always said.

The Incarnation is the truth that God saved the world through through the birth of a child.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. (Phil 2:8)

And the Incarnation is the center of all human history. Catholics honor Mary because she is the channel by which salvation came into the world. They call her Mother of God and Mother of the Church.

Mary is Mother of the Church because, on account of the eternal Father's ineffable choice and due to the Spirit of Love's special action, she gave human life to the Son of God, "for whom and by whom all things exist" and from whom the whole of the People of God receives the grace and dignity of election.

Redemptor Hominis

And so they turn their eyes to Mary who shines forth to the whole community of the elect as the model of virtues.

Lumen Gentium 65

An important point is that, regular Christians, have always turned to Mary and found their way to Jesus. She's not a stumbling block, she's certainly not Satan! And that's why certain doctrines, which ordinary non-Catholics find to be pretty strange are only strange because even more ordinary Catholics took them for granted. Then, when the pope goes and says something that ordinary Catholics take for granted (and he probably took for granted when he was an ordinary Catholic) non-Catholics get the feeling that the visible head of the Church on earth is trying to deflect a few prayers to Jesus.

Well, the fact is, asking for the Queen's intercession is pretty normal. It was Esther's intercession, at her cousin's prompting, that saved the her people. The people of God could of, and did, pray for salvation, but they also asked Esther, who also prayed and had salvation granted to her people.

Catholics turn to Mary, because Jesus is the King. They give all due deference to Mary, honor her, but not adore her, because God honored her.

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The title "Mother of God" predates all the division that we have seen in the church. So not only Roman Catholic but most of the major denomination have no problem with this title of "Mother of God" to Mother Mary –  Seek forgiveness Feb 15 at 3:44
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The "turn towards Mary" has been integral to Christianity since its inception. Mary is the great "yes" to the Word of God. So much of a "yes" is she that the Word of God literally dwells within her.

Hence, when we struggle to say "yes" to God, which is always the case, but especially so when faced with crosses, we're encourages to turn to Mary as an example, encouragement, and intercessor. Her perfect yes and perfect submission to the Word of God is the gateway to the Word of God.

Furthermore, Jesus explicitly entrusts his beloved (John) at the foot of the cross to Mary and Mary to his beloved:

25 Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home. (John 19:25-27)

One could argue from this passage alone, particularly in light of how deeply symbolic and packed full of significance John's Gospel is, that not "turning to Mary" and even "taking Mary into your home" is an act of defiance against Christ's command.

So, in the very least, we turn to Mary when we encounter the cross because Christ told "his beloved" to behold His Mother at the cross!

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In the Gospels, when we read about Jesus's Passion( the carrying of the cross to the Place called The Skull), the only disciples that had the courage, strength, and love to walk with Christ was Mary and the women of Jerusalem. So you are probably asking why we don't ask Jesus, right? Well, first of all, don't think that Jesus is not the Mediator for Catholics when it comes to asking for help in prayer. The reason we pray to Mary for anything related to intercession is because of relationship between a mother and her son. A mother is very faithful to her son and wants the best for someone that is asking something of her Son. If you think praying to Mary is an abomination, look at Luke 1:39-45. Mary is called Blessed which entails that she is favored not only by man but also God. A person favored by God such as Mary can absoulutely intercede for us.

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Welcome to the site! This doesn't really have much to do with your answer, but I find that sharing the following tends to help new visitors avoid mistaking the purpose of this site. I do hope to see more from you! When you get a chance, please see How we are different than other sites? and What makes a good supported answer? –  David Stratton Feb 14 at 18:48
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Not sure if this answers the question, and it may not be what Pope Francis was intending to imply, but I read his statement as more of an analogy. Maybe it could be rephrased into something like...

When you encounter difficult moments in your life, especially when you're doing what you think is right, look to Mary as an example. She had to experience the crucifixion of her own son. Although it was painful at the time, she remained faithful as she had always been, having hope in the resurrection. Embracing the cross like Mary is to be faithful, knowing that God will prevail in all things.

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This site is not a discussion forum or a place for personal opinion and speculation. We like to see factual answers that can be backed up with references. Did you just speculate on this or can you demonstrate that this is in alignment with Catholic teaching? –  Caleb Feb 18 at 16:00
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