FROM THE BOUNDARY: All generations shall call her blessed- Pt. II
The Feast of the Assumption, 15 August, Mother Mary’s ‘taking up’ into heaven. Both Roman Catholics and Anglicans give to her the highest place of honour in the Communion of Saints. There are those who regard this as bordering on idolatry. It’s been suggested too that Biblical references to Mary as a physical virgin after she conceived Jesus are wrong; that in old Hebrew the word for ‘virgin’ simply meant ‘a young girl’. Frankly, I think this much more likely. Does it really matter? Surely, ‘our’ Mary, the frail girl mother-to-be with her rounded tummy, who might have been stoned to death, is no idolized statue on an altar, is not a plaster queen, is not someone who stalked the streets of Nazareth with a startlingly clear vision of things like a heavenly robot – for then she would have no sensible meaning for us. She would be a pre-packaged Mary of supernatural fairy tales with a number of walk-on parts in the Gospel stories of her Son’s life, the stuff of romantic dreams. Do we really need all that gubbins to love her, to love her Son, to follow him? Surely not.
No. Our understanding of her must begin with what she was, a mother like other mothers in her humanity, her pain and joy. Yes, the pregnant girl “cried out….in the agony of giving birth” (Rev 12:2), as mothers do. Yet, too, a mother unlike other mothers, for through her “God sent his Son…that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal 4:4-7). If the Holy Mother is to be meaningful to us, our conceptions must embrace both of these.
The humanity of Jesus is derived from the humanity of Mary. Yet our veneration of her is derived from our veneration of him. For Jesus was as much her Saviour as ours – and a Saviour who on times appeared to rebuff her. “Who is my Mother?”, he asks in St Mark’s Gospel (3:33). And in St Luke’s (8:21), we read that on being told that his mother and brothers were trying to see him, he exclaimed “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” It sounds harsh, doesn’t it? For that was the very thing the girl mother-to-be had done from the Annunciation. She’d had the courage to believe in the God of the impossible, to leave the solution of all her problems to Him, despite not understanding the meaning of it all. Yes: the model of complete trust. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38). If only we can be near her, we really can’t fail to be with Jesus, for it’s to him that she leads us.
She suffered much. But then Old Simeon had predicted it. A sword would pierce her heart, he’d said. She must have been very strong. How difficult for her to grasp who Jesus was. Yes, she must indeed have pondered many things in her heart (Luke 2:51), like all of us who want to believe. Doubtless, like all mothers, she fretted about the dangers Jesus brought upon himself, about his seemingly wild and erratic behaviour, about the company he kept, even about what seemed, at times, his death wish knowing also that there were those who sought his death. Dear, dear Mary of Sorrows. There must have been great pain, a pain all mothers would understand. Yet, in the depths of her heart, she understood. “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it” (John 2:5).
She stood with the other women and the disciple Jesus loved at the foot of the cross. You remember Jesus’ words? To John, he said “Behold thy mother”; and to Mary, “Behold thy son”. So John took her into his own home (John 19:25-27). What he said to John he said to all of us, to the whole Church. Beloved Mary – the Mother of all Christians, the Mother of Mothers, the Mother of Mercy, the Mother of you and me, a Mother who’s always there for us – as mothers always are. In her body she carried the sign and seal of the new covenant in the blood of her Son. Through her, the indispensable link between the human and divine, God’s presence returned to His people. If Jesus was the new Adam, then truly she was the new Eve, an Eve restored to innocence to the honour of all womankind.
All the fine phrases of the Church are intended to illumine the character of Mary our Mother – our Mother of Sorrows, our Mother of Mercy, our Mother of Charity, our Mother, Star of the Sea, our Mother, Undoer of Knots. Our Mother has the heart of a mother, tender, unselfish, forgiving, ready ever with prayers and gentle hands for all who journey on the rough seas of life. So yes, she is indeed our life, our sweetness and our hope, our exemplar for living and trust. Dear, sweet, blessed Mary, who after this our exile gave unto us the fruit of her womb.
Go safely, then – until the next time.
Untying knots, from the boundary: “Mary will surely tell you ‘Get up, go to the Lord: he understands you.’ And she leads us by the hand as a Mother, our Mother…to the Father of Mercies” (Pope Francis).