Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
March 19, 2001
The great faith of Mary
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
Luke's Gospel records an occasion when Jesus was speaking to the crowds and an ecstatic woman shouted out, "Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!" Jesus' replied, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!" (Luke 11:27-28).
Is Jesus here diminishing the role his mother played? Far from it. He is pointing rather to that aspect of her discipleship that lies at the root of her motherhood - her faith.
Mary is not only the physical mother of Jesus, she also displays, as Pope John Paul says, "a new and different motherhood. . . . Is not Mary the first of 'those who hear the word of God and do it'? And therefore does not the blessing uttered by Jesus in response to the woman in the crowd refer primarily to her?" (Mother of the Redeemer, 20).
This "new and different motherhood: involves two factors: Mary is obedient to God, and she also kept God's word and pondered it in her heart and through her life accomplished it.
Just as Abraham is our father in faith so Mary is our mother in faith. The Lord's words to Abraham upon promising him a child - "Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?" (Genesis 18:14) - are echoed in the angel's words to Mary - "Nothing will be impossible with God" (Luke 1:37).
Both Abraham and Mary accept that God will do the impossible. Abraham becomes the father of many nations, Mary the mother of the Messiah. With both, there is trust in God's mighty promise.
And for both there is sacrifice. Abraham was obediently willing to sacrifice Isaac, the child of the promise. Mary, standing at the foot of the cross, did witness the sacrifice of her Son. Both "submit freely to the word that has been heard, because its truth is guaranteed by God, who is truth itself" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 144).
Pope John Paul goes on to point out there is a third aspect to Mary's "new and different motherhood." This he calls her maternal mediation. Mary becomes, as Vatican II stated, "a mother to us in the order of grace."
The pope sees this maternal mediation exemplified by the wedding feast at Cana. Mary not only is present at Jesus' first public miracle, she contributes to it by her observation, "They have no wine" and then with her comment to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you" (John 2:3, 5).
We see, on one hand, Mary's advocacy for human beings in their wants and needs and, on the other hand, her acting as a spokesperson on her Son's will.
Catholics have often referred to Mary's role here as that of a mediatrix, a term confusing to Protestants who note that Scripture teaches that Christ is the one mediator. Nor should Mary be seen as the one who obsequiously takes our requests to a distant, aloof Jesus.
The term maternal mediation makes clear that Mary takes us to Jesus, our one and only Saviour who shared our flesh and who died as all humans must die. Mary mediates only to show the saving love of her Son.
So Mary shows us the way - humble faith, a faith that ponders God's word continually, a faith that is willing to suffer, and a faith that is willing to take people's needs and desires to God and God's will to his servants.
Last week, I discussed St. Cyril's efforts to have Mary recognized as Theotokos. Cyril believed Mary was the Mother of God, but he also believed no woman could have faith as strong as that of the Apostles. Now, we believe Mary's faith is superior to that of the Apostles.
We believe in the faith of the Apostles, but there is an "orthodoxy" that is even deeper than that of dogma - the "orthodoxy" of right praise. When Mary sings, "My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant" (Luke 1:47-48), she defines the most basic truth - God is God, we are creatures and we rejoice to be in a personal relationship with him.
In a 1987 speech to the Curia, the pope reminded the assembled cardinals, bishops and priests of this: Their work, important as it is, "has no other purpose except to form the Church in line with the sanctity already programmed and prefigured in Mary." Taught faith is at the service of lived faith.
To emphasize his point, the pope quoted theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar: "Mary is the 'Queen of the Apostles' without any pretension to apostolic powers: she has other and greater powers." That power is the power of simple faith, too often overlooked in a world that places too much emphasis on position and prestige. Mary is one of God's lowly ones and her willingness to be lowly for Jesus is her great strength.
There is one other aspect here that I have been ignoring for the time being - the power of the Holy Spirit. In next week's article, we will begin to see the relationship between Mary and the Third Person of the Trinity.
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