Our Lady of the Highways may not be one of the Church’s official titles for our Blessed Mother, but anyone who’s attended Sister Brenda Query’s adult education sessions knows that the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the community to which she belongs, never begin a journey without invoking Mary’s protection under the title of Our Lady of the Highways.
In keeping with the tradition, Sister Brenda ends every session by leading attendees to pray: “Our Lady of the Highways, be with us on our journey, for all your paths are beautiful, and all your paths are at peace.” It’s a fitting title and prayer since whenever Mary is cited in Scripture, she is almost always en route to one place or another.
Following the Annunciation, Mary traveled to the hill country surrounding Jerusalem to assist Elizabeth where she remained until after John’s birth. No sooner had she returned to Nazareth, then once again she was traveling, this time with Joseph to Bethlehem.
Following the birth of Jesus, there was the trip to the temple in Jerusalem, the flight by the Holy Family to Egypt, and their eventual return to Nazareth. According to Scripture, the Holy Family traveled to Jerusalem every year for the feast of Passover, a practice that we can assume Mary and Jesus continued after Joseph’s death.
During Jesus’ public ministry, Mary was in Cana for the wedding celebration where Jesus performed his first miracle, and later she was in the company of relatives when they asked to speak to Jesus because they were concerned for his safety.
As Jesus’ first disciple, Mary followed her son along the road to Calvary, and after his death and resurrection, she remained in Jerusalem until John took her to Ephesus where the apostle felt she would be safe.
Given her many travels, it’s clear that Mary was fully engaged in life. She was never a passive bystander nor a distant observer of events. Although Mary’s contemplative disposition is most often associated with her pondering the ways of God in her heart, it’s her apostolic involvement in the service of others that testifies to the fruits of her contemplation.
Mary never used prayer or viewed the contemplative life as an escape from life’s responsibilities. In fact, we do Mary a great disservice if we separate her contemplative spirit from her active life. Such dichotomies contradict the purpose of contemplation, which is union with the will of God, manifested in our thoughts, words and actions.
In “Interior Castle,” St. Teresa of Avila, mystic and doctor of the Church, wrote, “Let us desire and be occupied in prayer, not for the sake of our enjoyment, but so as to have the strength to serve.”
Mary’s every impulse, movement and action were a direct response to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, not for her own sake but for the well-being of others.
Clearly, Mary’s penchant for travel didn’t end with her life on earth. Throughout the history of the Church, Mary has come from heaven to instruct her children. Her many apparitions include visits to Guadalupe, Fatima, Lourdes, La Salette, Akita in Japan and Kibeho in Africa, to name a few. All remain sights that draw pilgrims from around the globe.
Neither distance nor time are too remote for Mary to travel when it comes to aiding her children on their journey to her son, but then who is more qualified than this seasoned traveler to guide us safely home, be it to our home on earth or to our home in heaven?
On Feb. 11, the Church celebrates the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, where Mary appeared to St. Bernadette and revealed a spring of healing water that has become the site of countless miracles. As the pandemic continues to rage around the world, what better time to turn to our Blessed Mother and ask her to intercede for healing — not only physically, but spiritually for the many ills that plague our world?
We turn to Mary in prayer, but we can’t stop there. Like Mary, we must be fully engaged in life in whatever way God is calling us. As pilgrims on the journey, we have no better example than Mary, who never gave in to cynicism, bitterness or divisive rhetoric.
In a recent Angelus address, Pope Francis said, “Mary is the road we travel to Jesus,” which leads me to believe he would approve of the title “Our Lady of the Highways,” even though it’s not an official Marian title.