Sunday, October 20, 2013

Mary

Mary as a Model for the Church

Originally a term paper for Catholic Distance University

The life of Mary should inspire every Christian, as she has shown us the best way to be a disciple of Christ. She shows us how to trust and love God and how to live a life of humility, purity and devotion. Even the early Protestant leaders professed great devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, for all Christians for at least fifteen centuries understood the pivotal role she plays in the salvation of mankind and the pure example she gives for how to live a holy life. The Bible traces this holy life for us, allowing us to see how Mary responded to God's graces. Mary is the perfect role model for how a Christian should live their life when following the Lord.

Christ tells us that whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it, and no one exemplifies the innocent and humble faith of a child more than the Virgin Mary.1 As the angel of the Lord spoke with her, she was confused and did not understand how a child could be conceived in her womb without her ever being with a man.2 Yet, with the faith of a child she accepted the Lord’s role for her, disregarding her own plans and dreams and placing God’s will above her own. When she arrives to visit with her cousin Elizabeth, John the Baptist leaps in Elizabeth’s womb merely at the sound of Mary’s voice.3 Elizabeth, humbled that the Mother of God has come to visit her, asks why she has been granted such an honor.4 However, Mary is not prideful in this honor, but chooses to accept it with great humility, giving praise and glory to God for making it all possible. Praising God in her Magnificat, Mary said that she wished to magnify the Lord for what he has done, that even though she is his lowly handmaiden, now all generations would call her blessed because God has done these great things for her.5 Protestant leader Martin Luther said, “One should honor Mary as she herself wished and as she expressed it in the Magnificat. She praised God for his deeds...Mary does not wish that we come to her, but through her to God.”6

After giving birth, Mary was blessed with being the first to adore the Incarnate Word, coddling the God of the universe in her arms. The beaming mother joyfully presented him to the shepherds and magi who came to adore the Lord. In hearing their words, as well as the prophesies of Simeon and the prophetess Anna, Mary ponders the mysteries of the Lord, keeping “all these things in her heart.”7 Jesus was raised in a faithful Jewish home, following all of God’s commandments. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, quoting the documents of the Second Vatican Council, refers to the household as the ‘domestic church’, where “one learns endurance and the joy of work, fraternal love, generous - even repeated - forgiveness, and above all divine worship in prayer and the offering of one's life.”8 The life of the Holy Family is a prime example of the domestic church. While we should never forget the role St. Joseph played as foster father, protecting his family and teaching Christ a noble trade, Mary was also part of the life and development of Christ. In her motherly role, Mary raised our Lord to be devout in the Jewish faith, taught him the psalms, to rest on the Sabbath, brought him to the Temple, to worship in the synagogue, and to celebrate the Jewish holy days. She nursed him, changed him, cleaned his skinned knees, comforted him after nightmares, cooked for him, and spent more time with him than anyone else. As the Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen wrote, "Let those who think that the Church pays too much attention to Mary give heed to the fact that Our Blessed Lord Himself gave ten times as much of his life to her as He gave to His Apostles.”9

Mary is present with Jesus throughout his public ministry, which started at the wedding at Cana thanks to his mother’s intercession.10 Always with faith in Jesus, Mary remained with him even unto the cross when all of Christ’s apostles abandoned him except for John. Watching her only son, bleeding and dying upon the cross like a criminal, a sword pierced her heart as Simeon prophesied those many years ago.11 However, Mary’s faith in Christ remained firm as she never left his side even for a moment. Even though things seemed at their darkest, God was triumphing over the Serpent from the Garden as he promised he would in Genesis when he declared, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel.”12 Here was the woman’s seed, our Lord Jesus Christ, bruising the serpent’s head at Golgotha, the Place of the Skull. As his last act before giving up his life for us, Christ presented his mother to the entire Church through John, who took care of her for the rest of her earthly life. As Christ said, whoever does the will of God is his brother and sister, and therefore as Christ’s brethren, we are also Mary's children. As Luther wrote, “Mary is the Mother of Jesus and the Mother of all of us even though it was Christ alone who reposed on her knees...If he is ours...all that he has ought to be ours, and his mother is also our mother.”13 Mary’s involvement with the Church did not end with Christ’s death upon the cross. Tradition holds that Christ first appeared to his mother after his resurrection, for no one felt such great a pain in their heart than the woman who had watched her only son be brutally tortured and executed, and no one deserved to behold the risen Lord more than his Blessed Mother. She was present at Christ's ascension into Heaven and with the apostles in the Upper Room, "persevering with one mind in prayer”, and was there to receive the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, the birthday of the Church.14

When we die, if we are blessed with entering heaven, it will first be without our bodies since the resurrection of the body will not happen until after Christ's second coming; yet, because of her faith and humility, God granted Mary the gift of being assumed into heaven, body and soul. Saint John wrote in the Book of Revelation: “Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, loud noises, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail. And a great sign appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars...And she brought forth a male child, who is to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her son was taken up to God, and to his throne.”15 As Luther preached in 1522, “There can be no doubt that the Virgin Mary is in heaven.”16 The Bible shows that in Jewish royal tradition, the mother of the king sits at his right hand and serves as his queen; likewise in heaven, the King of kings and Son of David has his Queen with her crown of twelve stars.17 In heaven, Mary continues to intercede for her children, bringing our prayers to the Lord, and praying “for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.”18 This new Adam and new Eve have renewed the universe. Whereas Adam and Eve in the Garden chose their own will over God's, thus plunging the world into death, the new Adam and new Eve chose God's will before their own, defeating death and the devil. Mary, ignoring all her plans for the future, chose instead to follow God's will (Let it be to me according to your word).19 Likewise Christ, ignoring the fears of his human nature, chose to follow the will of the Father (Remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what thou wilt).20 Their yesses negated the no's of our first parents and as Saint Irenaeus succinctly stated, “The knot of Eve's disobedience was untied by Mary's obedience; what the virgin Eve bound through her unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosened by her faith”.21 The coronation of Mary should give every Christian hope that we, too, may share in Christ’s glory in heaven where we will obtain our own crown, as is promised us.22

Mary’s life of “obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the work of the Savior” is a shining example for every Christian on how to live a life dedicated to Christ and this is why we give her honor.23 The Church is acknowledging the unique and important role she plays in our salvation. The flesh of Christ, torn and bloodied by the wounds of his passion for our salvation, was received from his mother Mary. Born without the stain of original sin, she lived her life in purity, as is attested to from the earliest Christians and even by the Protestant leaders of the sixteenth century.24 Luther said, “[S]he is full of grace, proclaimed to be entirely without sin...God's grace fills her with everything good and makes her devoid of all evil,” and, “God guarded and protected her from all that might be hurtful to her.” John Calvin, whose theology greatly influences the Presbyterians, Reformed Christians, Evangelicals, Fundamentalists, and Baptists, said of Mary, “It cannot be denied that God in choosing and destining Mary to be the Mother of his Son, granted her the highest honor.” Ulrich Zwingli, another contributor to the theology of the Reformed faith, said, “I esteem immensely the Mother of God, the ever-chaste, immaculate Virgin Mary...The more the honor and love for Christ grows among men, the more esteem and honor for Mary grows, for she brought forth for us so great, but so compassionate a Lord and Redeemer.”25

Although many Protestants no longer hold Mary in such high esteem, it is not unusual to find her still being honored in some of today’s non-Catholic faiths. The Anglican/Episcopalian traditions honor Mary with six holy days throughout the year and the Orthodox churches continue to honor her as strongly as the Catholic Church does. In honoring Mary, Christians do not worship her, as is often the charge; “[t]he Church does not hesitate to profess [the] subordinate role of Mary...[f]or no creature could ever be counted as equal with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer.”26 While we do not worship Mary, Catholics, Orthodox - and even the early leaders of Protestantism – regard Mary with high esteem for her life of humility, sanctity, faith, and love of her son. We understand that without Mary, the Incarnate Word would not have taken flesh. She offers us an example of how to live a holy life by embracing the vocation that God has chosen for us. The Blessed Virgin Mary embraced her vocation as mother as devotedly as Christ embraced his cross. She shows us the benefits of meditating on the mysteries of faith. As a loving mother, she shows us the important role that the household plays in the formation of children, not only in secular matters, but most especially in a child’s faith. Through her dedication, following Christ throughout his public ministry even to the foot of the cross, she shows us that even in our most painful and darkest of hours our focus should always be on Jesus. The Queenship of Mary offers us the hope that we, too, may share in the life everlasting if we stay faithful to Christ, trusting in his promises, seeking his mercy, and keeping all of his commandments. All Christians should use Mary as our model for holiness, for she is the perfect and shining example of how to live a Christian life. As Luther preached on Christmas in 1531, “[Mary is the] highest woman and the noblest gem in Christianity after Christ . . . She is nobility, wisdom, and holiness personified. We can never honor her enough.”27 Looking to the Mother of God as our example, in honoring Mary by emulating her life, we shall be led ever closer to Jesus; ad Jesum per Mariam. For the rest of our days, we should always hold in our hearts and minds the last words of Mary ever recorded in the Scriptures; that loving motherly advice she gives for all of her children in the Church, that which will bring us the most happiness in this life and the next: “Do whatever he tells you.”28 That is how she lived her life, and that is how we should live ours.

Notes

1 – Mark 10:15
2 – Luke 1:26-38
3 – Luke 1:41
4 – Luke 1:43
5 – Luke 1:46-55
6 – Luther, Explanation of the Magnificat, 1521;
7 – Luke 2:15-38
8 – CCC, 1657
9 – Sheen, The World's First Love, 103
10 - John 2:1-11
11 – Luke 2:35
12 – Genesis 3:15
13 – Luther Christmas sermon, 1529
14 – Acts 1:14
15 – Revelation 11:19 - 12:1, 5
16 – Luther, Feast of the Assumption, 1522
17 - 1 Kings 2:19; Jeremiah 13:18; Song of Solomon 3:11
18 – LG, 62
19 – Luke 1:38
20 - Mark 14:36
21 - LG, 56
22 - James 1:12; 1 Peter 5:4; Revelation 2:10, 3:11
23 – LG, 61
24 – On Perpetual Virginity, http://www.davidmacd.com/catholic/martin_luther_on_mary.htm
25 – Protestant Reformers on Mary, http://www.catholicapologetics.info/apologetics/general/mary.htm
26 – LG, 62
27 - http://www.davidmacd.com/catholic/martin_luther_on_mary.htm
28 – John 2:5

References
Agape Bible Study. (2007). The Virgin Mary's Role in Salvation History. Retrieved from http://www.agapebiblestudy.com/documents/The%20Virgin%20Mary%27s%20Role%20in%20Salvation%20History.htm
Armstrong, D. (n.d.). Martin Luther on Mary. Retrieved from http://www.davidmacd.com/catholic/martin_luther_on_mary.htm
Catechism of the Catholic Church. (2011). Retrieved from http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_INDEX.HTM
Catholic Apologetics. (n.d.). The Protestant Reformers on Mary. Retrieved from http://www.catholicapologetics.info/apologetics/general/mary.htm
Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. (1964). Retrieved from http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html
Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version - Catholic Edition. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1966).
Luther. (n.d.). In CatholicCulture.org. Retrieved from http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/most/getwork.cfm?worknum=114
Sheen, F. (1952). The world's first love. Retrieved from http://archive.org/download/TheWorldsFirstLove/sheenTheWorldsFirstLoveedited.pdf