A Month to Celebrate
The month of May is the month of Mary, the Catholic Church’s most revered human figure, second only to than the Savior himself. A lot has happened this past month regarding Mary, primarily the celebration of the 100th year anniversary of the first apparition of our Lady in Fatima, Portugal, on May 13. In addition, the feast of Mary, help of Christians was on May 24, and, on May 31, to conclude the month of Mary, we celebrated the feast of the Visitation from Mary to St. Elizabeth.
Since the month of Mary had just concluded, I figured that I would write this up to explain to my friends just how important Mary is to me and my spiritual journey, especially in light of encountering some “God the Mother” folks this semester. Ever since I encountered those people, I’ve reflected pretty heavily on why Mary is such a vital figure in the life of the Church, and I figured that, despite the month of Mary being over, we should still reflect on this deep mystery and great gift called Mary.
Before I go further into this blog, I probably should clarify the major misconception about Marian doctrine for my non-Catholic friends out there: Catholics do not worship Mary. Like all Christians, we reserve worship solely for God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). This respect is pretty hardcore, so it might make sense why this mistake might be made. However, as I hope you’ll come to discover, this respect will make sense and is actually grounded in Scripture.
So, without further ado, here are my top 5 reasons why I love Mary and Marian doctrine.
5. It’s logically sound.
The whole reason as to Catholics’ respect for her actually makes sense. It can actually be boiled down to a basic deductive argument:
- Mary is the mother of Jesus.
- Jesus is God.
- Therefore, Mary is the mother of God (Greek: theotokos; Latin: Genetrix Dei).
Essentially, the thing that I want to stress here is that this conclusion should be a simple one for the Christian. And, as all deductive arguments go, if one agrees with all the premises, then the conclusion must follow. As we’ll come to find out out, this simple syllogism has implications that are legion, no matter on what side of the debate a Christian might be in the above argument.
4. Christ himself loved her.
This seems obvious since–and I hear it all the time–“Jesus loves everyone.” But this must be especially true for his mother. I mean, if we look at the Wedding at Cana story, it’s so obvious that Jesus is a mama’s boy:
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” [And] Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:1-5)
I love this scene because, well, first, Jesus is trying to be sassy, and I always try to take note of what’s going on when the Lord is whipping out the sass. But, more importantly, usually when the Lord is sassy, the people around him just submit (see Mark 11:12-14, Matthew 15:1-3, and Matthew 23:23 for my personal favorite examples); however, in this case, his mother does not submit at all. Rather, she fires back with her own passive-aggressive sass by telling the servants to listen to whatever Jesus tells them. And, guess what: The Lord himself actually does it!
Whenever I read this exchange, I immediately think of my mom telling me to take out the trash and, no matter how much I grumble and complain, I do it anyway. So why do I take out the trash despite my complaints? Well, I can guarantee you it has nothing to do with having a fresh, not-so-smelly garbage bin; it’s because I love my mom.
Similarly, the Lord loves his own mother. I can hardly imagine that St. John would have just included that exchange for storytelling purposes, either. So, as Christ loved her as his mother, I’m thinking that I should follow suit.
3. Mary looks like Jesus.
I think it is safe to say that any orthodox Christian–Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant alike–would say that Mary gave birth to Jesus. Therefore, if we believe that he was conceived virginally–ie., Joseph isn’t his biological father–then Jesus pretty much looks like Mary. I’m not going to expand on that anymore, but the point I’m trying to get at is that if we look upon the face of Mary, then we can see Jesus’s face.
In fact, to go further, it makes sense that Mary, as a mother, would be the one to teach Jesus about her Jewish faith, primarily her own love for the Father. So to look upon Mary is not only to look upon the face of her Son, but, rather, his love for the Father. “But she’s only human, Kevin!” This is true; but this same human, at 14 years old, faithfully said, “Yes,” to the angel who even called her “full of grace” (or, at the very least, “highly favored”) (Luke 1:28), and to God who expected such a heavy burden from such a young woman: to bear the Savior. Clearly, she is qualified to teach love of the Father.
All of that is significant because we know that Jesus is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” and that there is no other way to the Father except through him (John 14:6). As I’ve heard some of my Protestants friends tell me from their conversion stories: We all find our way to Jesus somehow. It just so happens that, at least for me, Mary has been so vital to my way to Jesus; I can’t express how meditating on the Gospels through a daily Rosary has helped me on my spiritual journey. But, in fact, I’ll try:
Whenever I pray the Rosary, I conclude it with, “Grant, we beseech thee (Mary), that by meditating upon these mysteries of the most holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may both imitate what the contain and obtain what they promise through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.” What kinds of mysteries does the Rosary contain and promise? I used to think that they were the literal promises of the Rosary, but, contained in those promises, are something much more: the promises of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We Christians all know what those are–I don’t need to repeat those back to you–but my point in this reason I love Mary is that I find myself meditating on them in a more serious way by praying the Rosary. In this way, Mary is a way to Jesus, who is the way to the Father; as I heard in a homily once, “Praying the Rosary is reading the Gospels with your mom while sitting on her lap.” And, as I’ll discuss in the next point, praying with Mary has some powerful implications.
2. Jesus gave her to us and us to her.
Whoa, time out, did he really? Well, as far as Scriptures go, Catholics point to John 19:26-27, where Jesus was on the cross and told his mother, “Woman, behold, your son,” and to the beloved disciple, “Behold, your mother.”
Honestly, I never really thought too much about this passage. They always taught it to us in Sunday school and whenever we covered apologetics in LifeTeen (youth group), but it was never really more for me than a historical occurrence that St. John included. However, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) explains the John verse in this way:
This union of the mother with the Son in the work of salvation is made manifest from the time of Christ’s virginal conception up to his death; it is made manifest above all at the hour of his Passion:
Thus the Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross. There she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, enduring with her only begotten Son the intensity of his suffering, joining herself with his sacrifice in her mother’s heart, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this victim, born of her: to be given, by the same Christ Jesus dying on the cross, as a mother to his disciple, with these words: “Woman, behold your son.” (CCC 964)
Ok, that was a lot of words, but what the heck does it all mean? For me, it means that Mary was totally with God’s plan for salvation, from the minute she agreed to carry God the Son (theotokos), all the way until the hour of his death. In fact, she even shared in his passion–his suffering–specifically because of her love for Jesus–God the Son, the Savior–as his mother. Then Jesus, in literally the second-to-last line before he dies in John’s Gospel (I’m counting “It is finished” as his dying breath), gives Mary to his disciple.
But she didn’t just stop at the cross. In the very first chapter of Acts (linked below), we find not only the disciples praying for the coming of the Spirit….they are joined also with Mary! In this passage, it’s clear that Christ did not just give her to the beloved disciple: He gave her as a resource for the whole Church! This passage, as well, is proof that we as Catholics don’t worship Mary: The disciples are not praying to Mary here; rather, they are praying with Mary! And I love her for this: Christ gave her to us as a resource–as another person to pray alongside with.
I mean, this all ties back to the beginning of my essay: Mary is the mother of God, Who, as we saw in the Wedding at Cana, listens to her requests, even if He should find them silly, but, regardless, He gave her to us as a resource as a guide to Himself and as an extra special (cf. definition of holy) person to join in our circle of prayer friends because, unlike your grandmother or your aunt, she actually has a direct pipeline to God. But my list doesn’t end here….I still have one more reason to love Mary.
1. I have a spiritual mother.
So far, we’ve covered why we ought to respect Mary, at the very least, as the mother of God. But how does a relationship between the Lord and His mother swing over to us having a relationship with her?
When I took an introductory class on Jewish traditions during my freshman year of college, I was introduced to the Book of Ruth. I must admit, back then (even now, if I was more honest), I wasn’t much of a Bible-reader, so I wasn’t too familiar with her story. However, the Jews use her story as one to tell their new converts, and, as I reflect more on it now, there’s a good reason for that. But, I’ll let the summary below do the introductions for me:
In the very beginning of Ruth, we meet a mother, Naomi, and her family, consisting of her husband and two sons, who left their hometown of Bethlehem (sounds familiar) because of a famine. The two sons eventually get married to these Moabite girls (ie., not Jewish) named Orpah and Ruth. They all live happily ever after…..until all the men in the family died, leaving Naomi with her two daughter-in-laws. However, things are great again in Bethlehem, so Naomi packs up to go to her home, but, in her love for her daughter-in-laws, she pleads with them to each go back to their own mothers and homes since their husbands–her sons–are gone.
Naomi managed to convince Orpah to go; of course, she isn’t ruthless (pun totally intended) because she kisses Naomi before leaving. However, Ruth wasn’t having any of that; she “clung to [Naomi]” (Ruth 1:14), saying to her,
“Wherever you go, I will go, wherever you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people and your God, my God. Where you die I will die, and there be buried. May the Lord do thus to me, and more, if even death separates me from you!”
Connecting Ruth/Naomi and the beloved disciple/Mary
When I read this chapter, I instantly connected with Ruth’s relationship with Naomi in my own relationship with Mary. Especially since the feast of the Ascension of the Lord was last Sunday, there’s this great parallel that I noticed. As the Easter feast is drawing to a close, I’m reminded of the conclusion of Christ’s time on Earth and his inevitable departure. Of course, Christ said that he would leave us the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17), which is what we will celebrate this Sunday in Pentecost.
But in Ruth’s reaction, I see, again, my third reason why I love Mary. In Ruth’s love for her husband, she loved also the woman who gave him life and raised him, and when he had died, she clung onto Naomi as if she were her own mother, refusing to return to her real mother. In a similar way, while I live in and come from the world, I’ve spent so much time with Christ and basked in his love throughout Lent and Holy Week and the Easter season that I don’t want to return to that life. As Pope Benedict XVI said, “The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness!”
And Ruth was, indeed, made for greatness: In case you didn’t know, she actually ends up marrying one of Naomi’s relatives in Bethlehem, Boaz. If you’re familiar with Matthew 1, this name will sound familiar: “Boaz is the father of Obed…Obed became the father of Jesse, Jesse the father of David the king” (Matthew 1:5-6). Therefore, Ruth, our exemplar of a child clinging to her mother, is even more significant as an ancestor of our Lord. The Book of Ruth and the Davidic narrative happens because a young woman clung onto her mother-in-law.
Loving Our Own Mother
In this week between the Ascension and Pentecost, I think about how lonely the disciples were since their teacher was gone, but they had not yet received the Spirit. In this time, we read from the Acts of the Apostles that they prayed fervently (Acts 1:13-14). As I mentioned before, they didn’t just pray by themselves….they had Mary in their company! Mary prayed with them!
Why? Ruth knew just how much Naomi loved her as her own daughter; I know that, should I ever get married, I hope that my wife can see my love for her in my own mother’s love for her (no pressure, Mom). And yet, the disciples, I think, must’ve felt similarly: Through Mary’s love for her son, they could feel her love for them, and, reflected in that love, they could feel Jesus’s love for them (again, a throwback at my third reason why I love Mary).
Within the Catholic Church, I find such a deep history of tradition, starting from the very beginning with the original twelve apostles and St. Paul; I find myself in the midst of these great giants of Christianity. And yet, they found a companion–a mother–in Mary. If a Church giant like St. Peter or St. John could find in Mary a mother….why can’t I? Should I not cling to the mother of my own Lord, as Ruth clung to her husband’s mother? Should I not expect to find a deep love from Mary, who so bravely loved her God? As I prepare to go to Mass to receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, I am reminded of Mary’s great love for me….because of that, I cling onto her tightly.
As I had mentioned above, earlier this past spring semester, I came across some folks who preached to me about “God the Mother.” In that encounter and during my reflection of it afterwards, I realized that people actually do desire a spiritual mother, not just a Father, a brother, and Advocate. I pray that, as we conclude the joyful nature of the Easter season and as we move away from the month of Mary, we may never forget the immense love that she has for her son and, in extension, for us, the members of the Church, his bride.
Originally posted on my Blogger on 6/4/2017.