Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
May 22, 2000
Imitate Mary's exuberance
One of the more significant shifts in our religious understanding brought about by the Second Vatican Council was in its re-evaluation of Mary. The council fathers made a momentous shift by, instead of issuing a separate declaration on Mary, bringing their reflections and teachings on her into the document on the Church as the light of Christ. The emphasis in Marian teaching shifted from a dogmatic one to one of greater attention to Mary as our sister and mother in the faith.
Mary is the Immaculate Conception, but she is also the daughter of Sion, a poor and humble Jewish woman who was one with her people. Indeed, seeing her as daughter of Sion casts a different light on how we see her as the Immaculate Conception. Her freedom from original sin does not make her a goddess, but is rather a sign that she is first among the disciples. By imitating her virtues and her love for Jesus, we will draw closer to the Redeemer himself.
One can see this even in as elevated approach to Mary as that of St. Maximilian Kolbe, the 20th century Auschwitz martyr. Kolbe saw the Holy Spirit as "quasi-incarnate" in Mary. Still, the Immaculate Conception did not make Mary God. Rather, it enabled her to reflect the Spirit's power of fruitful love.
Father Raniero Cantamalessa, the pope's preacher, refers to Mary as "a letter written by the finger of the living God." Again, what we see in such an expression is the importance, not of Mary herself, but of God acting through her.
Mary's humble obedience, her oneness with the will of God, lets God shine through, indeed lets the Word of God become flesh and bring us to salvation.
This is the call for all of us. We live in an age filled with pride and vanity when so much secular iconography is oriented to a glorification of the self. Mary, however, finds her self by turning away from self and towards the Father. Through the presence of the Holy Spirit, she too is God's word.
Next week, we celebrate the feast of the Visitation, one of the less-renowned Marian feasts. Yet, this little meeting of Mary and Elizabeth holds so much for our faith. Just as these two woman - one in her youth and the other in her old age - are pregnant, so too is the event itself pregnant with meaning.
We see it most of all in Mary's Magnificat. This joyous outburst of thanksgiving is sometimes called "a hymn of praise." But the word "hymn" tends to sap it of its unbridled exuberance. Mary is pregnant with the Word of God and is overwhelmed by the sheer joy of it. Everything in her world has been turned upside down by this event and everything in the whole world can be thrown topsy-turvy by it.
God "has cast down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty." Here, too, we see a rather different model of Marian "devotion" than has often been the norm.
This devotion does not ossify Mary on a pedestal by venerating her without imitating her. It is a devotion, first, of overwhelming gratitude to God "who has done great things for me." But from there, it moves outward in love to touch the anawim, God's little ones. It becomes one with the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the people of our time. Ultimately, it aims at the quiet transformation of the world with the Spirit of the Gospel.
This is a Mary for the new evangelization. Such an evangelization aims not only at a new springtime of personal faith - as great an accomplishment as that would be. But it also involves the re-ordering of all of creation. At the Visitation, Mary shows the way of that reordering. We can and should pray to Mary and honour her. But if we are serious about the new evangelization, we ought to see imitating her as the highest form of Marian devotion.
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