May - The Way of Mary
Chapter 12 of the ICCA, on Mary, opens with the beautiful story of her apparition at Knock, where she appeared with St Joseph as Mother of the Holy Family and St John – we could say, prophetically – as Mother of the Church, with the brightest light coming from the Lamb of God in the centre.
An approach to appreciating Mary’s life I found helpful was what Chiara Lubich (founder of the Work of Mary, or Focolare Movement) called ‘the Way of Mary’. She suggested seeing the various stages in Mary’s life as indicating stages we too could go through – though not necessarily in the same order, since everyone is different.
1) The Annunciation, where Mary experiences the Trinitarian Face of God. Gabriel tells her the Lord – that is God the Father – is with her, that she’ll conceive a Son, and that the Holy Spirit will come down upon her. Her answer is to completely commit herself with a huge ‘Yes’ to God. With Mary, I’ve got to say my own complete Yes to what God wants of me too.
2) The Visitation, where, as Fr Tom Norris says, ‘Mary first tells by deeds of love and later by words of love’ (Mary in the Mystery). Her change of situation is not only religious, but has political, social and economic implications. Ephrem of Syria remarked in the late 300s AD that when Mary says that from now on all generations will call me blessed, from that time, the new Reign of God began to be preached. If I choose God as the centre of my life, like Mary I’ll have to translate that commitment into action by beginning to love and serve those around me.
3) The birth of Jesus, where she becomes Mother of God. We share in that birth if we experience the truth of Jesus’ promise in Matthew 18:20: ‘where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.’ ‘In my name’ means that two or more of us are ready to give our lives for each other, with the result that we have that very special presence of Jesus he promised to the community of his followers. As my friend Joe McCarroll put it once, in the days of instant everything, Jesus has invented for us an instant Church, with a simple recipe: take two or three dried Christians, add mutual love, and hey presto, you have your instant Church.
4) Mary presents her Son in the temple and meets Simeon. This is a moment of joy for her, because this just and holy man confirms that her child is the Son of God. The first stages of the Way of Mary have been joyful, but now there’s the message of sorrow. Saint John Paul II called this a second annunciation, the annunciation of the Cross in her life. The widening out of the old Covenant to all of humanity, to come about through the death and resurrection of her Son, will involve Mary too. We realise that to follow Jesus and Mary, we’ll have to say ‘Yes’ to the Cross. And still, that promise of the sword has mixed in with it the joy of knowing, with Mary, that we’re bringing Jesus to the world – so the suffering is well worthwhile.
5) Mary’s flight to Egypt, accompanied by the slaughter of the innocents, underscores that the enchantment of Mary’s first ‘Yes’ is accompanied soon after by trials. More and more we’re finding out that living the Gospel goes completely against some of what have become deeply engrained attitudes in our surrounding culture.
6) Mary’s losing Jesus when he is twelve years old looks like a prequel for the loss that will mark Mary’s life when she’ll stand beside the Cross. She suffers from her lack of understanding of that loss of Jesus in the Temple. Jesus’ first recorded statement (‘Did you not know I must be in my Father’s house?’) reminds her that Jesus belongs to his Father in heaven, not her. Having committed ourselves to God we may feel we’re losing him, maybe having to struggle against various temptations we thought long gone. With Mary, we’re called to make a new step in our relationship with her Son.
7) And now comes Mary’s greatest loss, her second ‘Yes’ to God, which Fr Tom Norris calls her second motherhood – that of the Church. In his encyclical on suffering, Salvifici Doloris St John Paul II describes these sufferings of Our Lady as reaching an ‘intensity which can hardly be imagined from a human point of view, but which was mysteriously and supernaturally fruitful for the redemption of the world’. And in his Redemptoris Mater he calls this moment ‘a night of faith’, because for her, it is a ‘night of God’. United with her Son, in his forsakenness by the Father undergoing his own dark night of God, Mary is giving us a language of suffering with, and deep compassion for, all in our society who seem to have lost God.
8) After her desolation, we see Mary, Mother of the Church, at the centre of the Upper Room with all her maternal charism towards the Apostles, alongside Peter whom Jesus had constituted their head. ‘All these joined in continuous prayer, together with several women, including Mary, the mother of Jesus …’. Through her ‘Yes’ she now finds herself at the centre of the Church in a motherhood that generates Christ in his Body through the Holy Spirit.
9) And finally, Mary’s Assumption and Coronation when God calls her, body and soul, into heaven. Conceived without sin, Mary is the image of Eden, the perfection God originally planned for the whole human race, and eventually found in her. And Assumed into Heaven she already shows us God’s plan fulfilled for the whole created universe. We may not have been immaculate, but in trying to relive Mary, we can hope, with her help, to become ‘immaculate’ and at the end of time to be assumed into heaven, around that resplendent Lamb of God glimpsed by those ordinary/extraordinary souls in Knock on a rainy August evening in 1879.