This article first appeared at: stpaulcenter.com.
As a Protestant, I believed that Mary was the virgin mother of Jesus, but she had no place in my life. She was a disciple, but so were many others. I do not recall a sermon on Mary’s fiat, her loving care for Jesus as his mother, or her devotion to him all the way to the cross. Now I feel how tragic it is that Mary is ignored by so many who love her son, especially when imitation of Christ is at the heart of Christian practice.
Mary is our spiritual mother and model disciple. How did she face an uncertain future? She gave consent to the will of God in a variety of ways.
Consent to the unknown (see Luke 1:26–38). Though Mary knows it will bring a mix of joy and suffering, she surrenders to God’s will that she become the mother of the Messiah. Through her consent she receives the gift of motherhood; he does not merely take up residence within her. She not only provides her womb, in which Jesus grows, but she is the source of Jesus’ flesh and blood.
She is the only mother whose son created her. Through Mary, Jesus becomes the God-man, our Savior, through whom we receive life. Mary’s humble response to the angel’s announcement is neither a prideful “You picked the right woman!” nor a false humility, “I could never raise the Son of God.” She simply states her willingness to be available to do whatever God has called her to do.
Like Mary, will we consent to bear new life or face new challenges without knowing the parameters of how much will be required of us? Will we be available?
Consent to serve (see Luke 1:39–56). Though Mary is newly pregnant, she goes immediately more than seventy miles to serve her cousin, Elizabeth, who is already six months pregnant. Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, declares to all that Mary is uniquely blessed as the mother of her Lord. Mary responds with her Magnificat, acknowledging God’s tremendous work within her as he fulfills his promises to bring salvation. Mary stays with Elizabeth for three months, serving her. Then Mary travels home to complete her pregnancy.
Mary chooses to serve without asking to be served. She reminds us of Jesus’ words during his ministry: “For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
Will we, like Mary, consent to serve even when we do not feel like it?
Consent to follow her husband (see Matthew 2:13– 15). Mary willingly travels with Joseph to Bethlehem to register their family in obedience to the Roman authorities. She trusts Joseph to care for her and the baby, far away from their families, who could have assisted them at delivery. Then she births Jesus in a cave outside of Bethlehem.
When Joseph tells her that an angel has warned them to flee, Mary does not second-guess him, claiming that usually angels tell her what to do. She packs up their belongings and follows Joseph into a foreign land, doing what she can to preserve Jesus’ life. Mary follows the promptings of her heart and the word of the Lord through her husband.
Will we, like Mary, follow our husband’s lead, especially when it comes to the well-being of our children?
Consent to a hidden life (see Matthew 2:19–23; Luke 2:19, 21–35, 39–52). Though Mary knows the prophecy Simeon gave her—that a sword will pierce her heart— she embraces motherhood, the joys and the sorrows.
She exemplifies for us that the call to be open to life is a call to lay down our lives.
Mary loves Jesus. She nurses him and cares for him. With Joseph she takes him to the temple to be circumcised. She celebrates the Jewish feast days with him, like Passover in Jerusalem. She raises Jesus, knowing she does not fully understand him. She ponders God’s work in her life (see Luke 2:19). For thirty (hidden) years Mary lives with Jesus. Mary is “the incomparable model of how life should be welcomed and cared for.”
Scott and I traveled with our infant son Jeremiah for a speaking engagement. After I settled him for the night, I worked on my talk. Very late, just as I was creeping into bed, I heard Jeremiah’s peep. I leapt out of bed to keep Scott from waking and nursed Jeremiah.
Four times I thought he was asleep in the crib, only to crawl between the covers and hear him begin to peep again! I was tense; I am sure the baby sensed it.
The last time I jumped up, angry. I had a talk to give in just a few hours! Immediately I knew my attitude was wrong. This was not the baby’s fault. I felt the Lord say to me, pick him up as you would pick me up!
Gratitude flooded my heart: oh, to pick up Jesus! Tenderly I picked Jeremiah up, placing him on my shoulder. In my heart I said, it’s OK, little one, if you don’t even sleep tonight. It’s God’s problem if I am not coherent tomorrow.
I was at peace, and of course, Jeremiah immediately fell into a deep sleep. I thanked God for the reminder of how I should approach my children. After I laid him down, the four hours’ rest I got was ample to deliver my talk. How kind of God to help me see my child through Mary’s eyes.
Undoubtedly Mary treasured time with her son. But did she, like us, find the time went too quickly, and he was no longer a baby, a toddler, a teen? Do we take time to ponder God’s great work in our lives and our children’s lives?
Consent to love at a distance (see Luke 11:27–28). Mary does not accompany Jesus everywhere he ministers, though others do. She supports him from a distance and binds her heart to his through prayer.
While Jesus is teaching a crowd, one woman proclaims a blessing on his mother: “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!” (Luke 11:27b). Jesus refocuses the crowd’s attention. He does not downgrade the debt he owes Mary as his mother. Instead he highlights the impetus for her actions that others, like us, can imitate. “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28). Mary’s obedient response to God’s Word, no matter the cost, is blessed. She is obedient in great and small things; therein lies her greatness.
Do we, like Mary, allow an adult child to assert his or her independence, all the while communicating our love, respect, and support? Do we love from a distance? Do we bind our hearts to theirs in prayer?
Consent to suffer: Our Lady of Sorrows (see John 19:25–27). Our Lord needed his heavenly Father and his earthly mother, all the way to the cross. Accompanying Christ to Calvary, Mary consented to his sacrificial self-offering with her own self-offering.
When Jeremiah was two, we discovered we were pregnant. We shared the wonderful news with the children and went to Mass in celebration. Three days later I began to miscarry. We shared the sad news with the children just before we went to Mass. My heart was heavy as I grieved for this child, our third miscarriage. The responsorial psalm referred to a “sacrifice of praise.” I prayed, “I will praise you, Lord, as a sheer act of my will; but I will always be sad that I never held these three little ones.”
Until this time Mary’s title “Our Lady of Sorrows” bothered me. She was Jesus’ mother—surely there was no need to focus on the negative with such a sad title. At that moment the Lord spoke to my heart: “And how could my mother not be Our Lady of Sorrows, since she held in her arms the lifeless body she gave me?” All of a sudden I understood her title. My life, like Mary’s, has had moments of agony that do not detract from the unspeakable joys I have had as well.
Will we, like Mary, offer our sufferings and losses, choosing to trust the Lord for what we do not understand?
Consent to continue to serve even when her child is gone. Mary’s work is not done once Jesus is gone. From the cross, in the midst of his anguish, Jesus gives his mother to the Beloved Disciple, which includes giving her to us as beloved disciples as well. Mary receives him—and us—as her child (see John 19:26–27). Mary lingers with the disciples in the Upper Room at Pentecost. She leaves her homeland and travels to Ephesus, Turkey, with Saint John, and she is probably the source for Saint Luke’s infancy narratives. She reminds widows, widowers, empty nesters, and retirees there is more work to do!
Will we, like Mary, continue to serve the Lord as we get older, welcoming opportunities to care for others in Jesus’ name?
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