For centuries, Mary has captured the hearts and imaginations of Christians all over the world as they reflected on her role and importance in the life of Jesus and of his followers. Litanies of Mary attempt to honour various aspects of Mary’s life: she is named Mother of Mercy and Compassion, Our Lady of Grace, Queen of Heaven, Star of the Sea, to name a few. Qualities such as patience, acceptance, forgiveness, understanding and love are honoured in her. All of these titles and qualities, and more, enable us to reflect on the importance of Mary, the woman who gave birth to Jesus and whose faith and trust in God enabled her, at the Annunciation, to say yes to what God was asking of her.
The gospels provide us with mere glimpses of Mary, but they give us important insights into her life. We know Mary was a woman of deep faith, steeped in the religious traditions of the Jewish people, and we know that in her home at Nazareth she taught Jesus about having concern for others, about living the life of a faithful Jew, studying the law and the prophets, and taking part in the prayer-life and religious festivities of the Jewish community. From Mary, Jesus learned to be part of a family and to relate to extended family and friends. Mary not only received Jesus into her body but also into her heart and mind. In saying yes to God, Mary lived as a woman of faith and she trusted that God would sustain her in her role. Given the circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus and the traumas experienced by a family that fled their country to keep Jesus safe, Mary knew real suffering and anxiety, and we know that she pondered all manner of things in her heart.
Mary’s life of faithfulness to God is reflected in her pondering of the Word of God and placing herself at the service of God. As Jesus grew in wisdom, age and grace and began to understand something of the mission to bring good news to the world that God asked of him, Mary continued to be a significant part of his life. Mary is named a disciple of Jesus because she listened to Jesus and shared her faith with others. Mary was among the few women who remained at the foot of the cross when Jesus died, and in John’s gospel we hear Jesus say to her: ‘Woman, behold your son’, and to his beloved disciple Jesus says: ‘Behold your mother.’ With these final words of Jesus, we now understand Mary to be our mother also. Jesus thus entrusts the care of his mother to us and entrusts us to the care of his mother, signifying a new community of faith and discipleship.
In the Acts of the Apostles Luke speaks of the believers being together, giving themselves to constant prayer, sharing food and breaking bread, and remembering Jesus. Mary is named among this group of believers. After the resurrection of her Son, Mary again pondered in her heart all that had happened and rejoiced in God’s goodness to her. In her own life Mary faced pain, suffering, confusion and uncertainty; in the face of everything, Mary’s faith and trust in God remained unwavering. At all times Mary trusted that God would make all things new, and her words to us today might well be: “Listen to him.” She remains for us today the model of the faithful disciple and the one given to us as our mother – the Mother of the Church.
Kathy Horan is liturgy educator with the Office for Worship.
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