Reflections on Mary
Some thoughts in anticipation of Christmas and following the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary reflect those of her Son and Lord: her Conception (8 December) mirrors his Annunciation (25 March); her Nativity (8 September) mirrors his (25 December); her Presentation (21 November) his Presentation (2 February); her Sorrows (15 September) follow the Victory of his Cross (14 September); her Dormition / Assumption (15 August) is the fulfilment of her share in his Resurrection / Ascension. Thus, as her Conception, Nativity and Presentation anticipate her Son’s – she is His Mother, her Sorrows, her share in the mystery of the Resurrection and of Pentecost, and her Assumption follow the accomplishment of the Paschal Mystery in the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ – she is his disciple.
MARY - Our Mother and Fellow Disciple
She is also our mother, by the word of Jesus from the cross (John 19:26-27). Most of us probably began to pray as Christians at our mother’s knee. As a Jewish mother, responsible for prayer in the home, Mary would have been Jesus’ first teacher of prayer and the traditions of the holy people, as she herself had been taught, and was continually being taught by the Holy Spirit. And this is where she is our teacher, by example. Gabriel’s message at the Annunciation may have come ‘out of the blue’, but her ‘fiat’, her obedience to God’s call, did not. It was the fruit of her formation in the prayer and traditions of Israel, of which she was the pure refinement by the Holy Spirit of its holy remnant. So for us too, the life of prayer and ‘the obedience of faith’, let alone any response to a specific call from God, will depend on our faithfulness to the worship and prayer forms of the Church and our knowledge of the Holy Scriptures. If we are faithful in these ways, we may reasonably expect our prayer to ‘take off’, as we are enabled to surrender ourselves to God in prayer, to give up our own will for his and abandon ourselves to His divine providence. At Cana of Galilee (John 2:1-11) Mary becomes Jesus’ disciple and our teacher as she says to us: ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ The result on that occasion of obedience to His word was a manifestation of His glory, a glory which Mary and all his faithful disciples are called to share.
But, of course, on the path to glory, with Mary, we cannot by-pass the cross; indeed the way of the cross is the path to glory. If our prayer has ‘taken-off’, we shall experience times of dryness, confusion and even of deep darkness. Think of Mary’s faith, i.e. her faithfulness, mostly in silence and obscurity. She is there, always in the background, during Jesus’ childhood and ministry; she is there at the cross, she is there with the disciples after the resurrection and in the upper room in anticipation of Pentecost. Now she is there in the glory of her divine Son, our Mother and teacher in the Holy Spirit as we share her path to glory, the way of the cross.
Dryness, confusion, even darkness: if that is our experience of prayer and discipleship, it was hers too, to a pre-eminent degree. Think of her Son’s seeming rejection of her as he left the family home and the family business for the life of an itinerant preacher and healer. That was a severance of emotional ties and consolations, in favour of what? She knew he was the Messiah, the Son of god, but how did what he was doing and what was happening to her make sense in the scheme of things? All she could do was to hang on to her faith-knowledge, imparted to her by God’s messenger, that he was God’s Son. The rest, as yet, she could not understand. All she could do was to stand by him in faith, if no longer as his mother, then as his disciple, until she literally stood by him at the cross and heard his commission to her as the new Eve to become the universal Mother of all his faithful people.
So too for us perseverance in faithfulness and prayer will have its reward as we see it manifested in the glory of Mary and the saints. Our faith in Jesus as the Christ, the son of God, who has loved us and given himself for us, will be fundamental to perseverance in times of dryness in prayer, of turmoil in the circumstances of our lives, of confusion and controversy in the part of the Church to which we belong, of doubt and distrust of our fellow Christians, of temptations to despair of human nature in the face of manifest evil, for we shall know with Mary that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, because, by our prayer and faithfulness, we shall know that all the suffering, all the confusion, all the negativity even, are ‘covered’ by the love of God and will be transformed into instruments of glory in his kingdom. As Mary progressed through vocal prayer and worship with God’s people, through the gift of contemplation, to mystical union with the Trinity, so may we also, her children and fellow disciples.
The celebration of Mary’s Conception is a joyful remembrance of God’s ineffable providence in preparing through the centuries a dwelling-place meet for His Son, and an occasion for us to abandon ourselves to that same loving providence, whereby God wills to bring us and all creation to the glory of his kingdom. This Christmas let us abandon ourselves with Mary to God's purposes of love, knowing that they will be brought to fulfilment in His infant Son. We may not understand how that will be. But then neither did she.