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Posted by on May 22, 2015

Why Mary is Important

Why Mary is Important

Hail Mary - F Fong

When we think or speak of Mary, the Mother of God, it is always important to keep in mind that she is best understood in the context of her relationship with her son, Jesus. Said formally, Mariology is always constructed in the context of Christology. This is so because Christ is the redeemer and the sole source of salvation. Everything in creation came to be through him. Mary, because of her role, participates in the creative and redeeming action of God in a special way.

Mary’s exceptional conception as sinless affords her the choice to live fully for God. She was not programmed to be good, but rather, Mary did not carry the deep fear of interference and resistance against God that exists in all other human beings. The rest of the human race has the grace and possibility to work with and overcome fear and anger, but we must work to limit our desire for control and instead surrender to God’s grace. We often do not choose right away to stop being resentful or angry. We often project onto others the responsibility for our own self-inflicted injuries. Mary had a clear vision of her place in life. She was born totally honest and prepared to grow. She chose to say “yes” over and over to these qualities, even when they brought suffering.

According to the Scriptures, Mary grew in her understanding of her son, herself, and the work of God in the world for salvation. We read more than once in the Gospel of Luke that she “pondered” how their lives were unfolding and what God was doing. She did not have a road map to reassure her of where they were going, but she had given her consent at the Annunciation and she trusted over and over. Her pregnancy was unexpected and controversial. The choices that Jesus made had consequences. His declaration in the synagogue that he was the Messiah brought immediate violence and ejection from the community. We find him and Mary later in the Gospel living in a completely new town, Capernaum, not a hill village like Nazareth but a fishing village.

Icon of the Wedding at Cana - Lucia 398 - CCWhen Jesus began his itinerant preaching and healing ministry we know that Mary, her sister and a group of women accompanied him as well as the crowds. This was not a normal lifestyle for first century Jewish women. Mary had to give up her reputation, village, old friends and the comforts of a house. In all of these ways she was an excellent listener of God as he called her out of the usual, the expected. She had to be quite aware of the danger that Jesus was in. In the Gospels, in village after village, the rage and jealously grew in the scribes and Pharisees. They hated his penetrating honesty, his clear perception of their air of superiority. They despised Jesus’ humility and closeness to the cast-offs of society. Mary must have constantly had to put her worries in the hands of God. She modeled an exceptional surrender to God and acceptance of His will. No one could have gone through this without being in deep prayer and interior connection to God all the time. She stood by Jesus from Cana to Golgotha and we have no reason to believe that she knew that “everything was going to be all right.”

Throughout the centuries Mary has been understood as the second Eve who reversed the willfulness and disobedience of the first Eve. Even when this story is understood metaphorically, Mary still is understood as the first human to be perfectly and happily obedient. She is also appreciated as the mother of the Church because she remained as the center of the early church community and loved them as her own. But it is her maternity of Jesus which stands out as the most important role she has because of its eschatological (future reaching) character. What is meant by this is that she is not just a person who did something unique in the past. Mary was and is “full of grace.” In the spiritual relationship which she has with her son and the whole of creation, Christ’s grace pours through her as the first disciple to all of humanity. Mary mothers us (protects and strengthens us) if we let her. Catholicism understands all of humanity, living and dead, to be in spiritual solidarity, a mystical body. Because of this solidarity or communion, Mary can help us to have a readiness to commitment, trust even in unbearable loss, and unimaginable joy when we are united to her son.

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Posted by on Dec 31, 2007

Why Mary is Important

The Feast of the Holy Family

flight-to-egypt.jpg

The Feast of the Holy Family falls on the Sunday between Christmas and the Feast of Mary, Mother of God, January 1. The readings for the day focus on qualities that make for happy relationships between people, including members of families.

Sometimes when we focus on the Holy Family as the model for family life, we get bogged down with the perfection of Jesus and Mary, the holiness of St. Joseph, and the impossibility of actually living a perfect life ourselves. Then we write off their example as just another bit of pious nonsense that has nothing to do with the reality of crying babies, mortgage payments, difficult bosses, and all the other stresses that come with marriage and family. For those who are not married and/or don’t have children, the feast can seem irrelevant or even be a painful reminder of unfulfilled hopes.

So, I find myself wondering, what is it that makes a family, any family, “holy?” It seems to me that if the Holy Family is to be a model for the rest of us, that must mean that we are also to be “holy.” What made them holy?

Being holy does not mean having no problems or challenges in life. Holiness, it seems to me, lies in how we handle those difficulties that come in every life. After all, without the problems, difficulties, challenges, “crashes,” struggles, “hitting bottom,” or whatever we call it, we would never need to turn to God for help. We could just continue blithely on our way, assuming everything is fine, and in the best American cultural sense, be “rugged individuals” who can make it on our own.

But that isn’t what the spiritual life and journey are all about. Our spiritual lives are about learning from our mistakes, growing in wisdom, reaching out for help and community, being purified in God’s love, so that we can run joyfully to the Lord at the end of our days.

When we look at the lives of Mary, Joseph and Jesus, we find that they were filled from the beginning with many of the same challenges faced by other families. An unexpected, unplanned pregnancy, one outside the marriage; governmental demands that upset a family’s plans; taxes; inconvenient timing of a birth; the necessity to leave home and become refugees in another land; a child who feels grown up enough to go off on his own at the age of 12 without telling anyone where he’ll be; the death of a spouse or parent; a child whose life choices and career don’t meet the expectations of the family or community; the untimely death of a child. All these things were part of the lives of the Holy Family, as they can be part of our own lives. What made Joseph, Mary and Jesus holy as a family was their response to these challenges and their loving support of each other through them.

Joseph’s first recorded response to Mary’s pregnancy was compassion. He did not want to expose her to the penalties of the Law. He loved her and wanted her to be safe. When the angel told him in a dream that Mary had not been unfaithful, he accepted her as his wife. He made a home with her and supported her through the pregnancy and birth. He took her and Jesus to safety in Egypt, again following the instructions received in a dream. When it was safe, he took them back to their home in Nazareth cared for them and made a home for them.

Both Mary and Joseph must have “pondered” many things along the way. Many things did not make sense at the time. They really didn’t know what God had in mind. Jesus was a normal child. He had to learn how to be a man and how to respect and love the people around him. Mary and Joseph taught him by their actions as well as their words, just as we teach our children more by the way we act than by our words. It’s no surprise that people in families tend to share many gestures, facial expressions, attitudes and beliefs. The Holy Family would not have been different in this. The characteristics we seen recorded about Jesus were probably in great part those he learned from his parents.

In this week following the Feast of the Holy Family, as we enter a new calendar year, I hope we can take their lives as ones that exemplify the kind of relationships that result from heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love (Col 3:12-17). These qualities are not ones that stem primarily from feelings, but rather they are attitudes and behavioral choices to which we are all called.

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