One of Pope Francis’ favorite images of the Blessed Mother is that of a German Baroque painting entitled “Our Lady Untier of Knots.” The story behind the painting is poignant, and involves the desperate situation of a man who approached his priest to pray for a resolution of a quarrel that was threatening his marriage. The priest, in turn, prayed to the Virgin with the hope that she would, by her intercession, “untie and smooth out all knots,” that is, relieve the conflicts that might otherwise divide a family. As the story goes, the husband and wife reconciled soon afterward.
This figure of Our Lady is particularly compelling to me, all the more so within the last year since returning to the Diocese of Rockville Centre. It is our privilege as priests to have entrée into the families of parishioners. Most of the time, we get to witness moments of joy and sweetness, like weddings, baptisms, first communions, confirmations, graduations, anniversaries, etc. At other times, however, we must accompany families who have to deal with terrible pain and, even more tragically, with the results of deliberate actions that have intentionally caused injury.
What is the response of Christians in the case of the latter? Is our faith only capable of accepting the “acceptable,” that is, the rewards of virtue and goodwill? Or is it big enough to embrace those who find themselves in the web of vice and sin? The very notion of Our Lady Untier of Knots recognizes the complexity of the human condition, while at the same time assuring those who are most anxious among us that human suffering is not the “last word.” No: God’s love and wisdom always win the day.
You will notice that, in the bottom of the painting, the artist depicts the Angel Raphael leading Tobias to his future wife Sara. As the book of Tobit relates, the marital situation of Tobias and Sara was “complicated,” to say the least. Those, however, who put themselves at the disposal of God, are finally vindicated. As the Novena Prayer to Our Lady Untier of Knots reads in part:
“Mary, Mother to whom God entrusted the undoing of the knots in the lives of his children, I entrust into your hands the ribbon of my life. No one, not even the Evil One himself, can take it away from your precious care. In your hands there is no knot that cannot be undone. Powerful Mother, by your grace and intercessory power with Your Son and My Liberator, Jesus, take into your hands today this knot…I beg you to undo it for the glory of God, once for all, You are my hope.”