I write on a Marian Feast in the Liturgical calendar of the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church. It is a beautiful feast. One which I always look forward to, every year.
Yet, as one who works and walks with Christians from across the confessional spectrum, I am well aware of the sad divisions which seem to surround reflections on the Mother of the Lord.
Sadly, those divisions have too often clouded the contributions the Mother of the Lord has to offer to every Christian at this moment in the history of the Christian church.
I propose we focus afresh on the message of Mary, the Mother of the Lord. I also propose we focus on what joins us together, her Son and Savior, Jesus Christ. As the first disciple, she has much to teach us about following Him.
Many years ago I was an invited guest at a celebration of the life and ministry of an evangelical Protestant leader who has not only significantly influenced America but had played an important role in my own life and work, Dr. M.G. “Pat” Robertson.
In 1990, Pat Robertson did something rather controversial – at least back then. He invited a Catholic lawyer to come and help to build the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a public interest law firm. That Catholic lawyer was me.
Over the years I served as the Executive Director of the ACLJ, my respect for Pat grew. We certainly had our differences. But, we found a common mission in defending the right to life and the first freedom of religious freedom. We also found our brotherhood and common roots in Jesus Christ.
The event which I attended several years after moving to Virginia was specifically to honor Pat on his birthday. It was a black tie affair, accompanied with all the fanfare. I was one of only a few Catholic Christians who attended it. Back then, evangelical Protestant and Catholic collaboration was not all that common. Thank God, things have changed.
At the end of the evening, an evangelical protestant giant named Reverend Jack Hayford gave the concluding tribute, address and prayer to conclude the nights’ festivities. Pastor Hayford’s message, (to the surprise of some present), was that we are living in, what he called a “Mary Moment.”
With genuine insight, Pastor Hayford broke open the meaning of the message of Mary, the Mother of the Lord, as a model for all Christians. He also presented the lifestyle of Mary as a model for all Christians.
He encouraged all those present to follow Mary in the way of simplicity, humility and obedience to God. He emphasized the words spoken by Mary at the Wedding Feast of Cana. After imploring her Son to perform His first public miracle she directed those who were serving to: “Do whatever He tells you.”
In that inspiring message, Jack Hayford was participating in what the early fathers of the Church did often. he broke open the message of Mary as a gift for the whole Church. He also offered her as a model for every Christian.
Over the years, this kind of recovery of the significance of the life witness and evangelical message of Mary has touched many Christians. For Catholic and Orthodox Christians, it has always been at the heart of our understanding of the Christian way of life. It has also pointed to the mission of the Church.
Catholic and Orthodox Christians honor Mary as the Mother of the Lord, the woman singularly chosen in the eternal plan of God to be called mother by Jesus, to bear God Incarnate in her womb for nine months and then to give Him to the whole world. They also see her as a symbol of the whole Church.
That womb of that mother became a temple of glory, a new Ark of the Covenant and a new tent of meeting, where heaven touched earth – because Jesus Christ lived within Mary. Reflection on the profound meaning of that mystery of the faith has produced some of the most inspiring prayers and theological reflections in early Church writings.
Mary was also a real mother to Jesus. She was chosen, along with Joseph, to raise the One who lived within her for nine months – after He was born. In her presence and with her human influence, the biblical texts tell us He “grew in wisdom and stature” in His Sacred humanity. (Luke 2:52)
In the undivided Church, East and West, for the first 1,000 years, Mary was a source of inspiration, not division. She was seen as pointing the Church to Jesus Christ, her Son and Savior. Remember, in the first century, there was an undivided Church. The writings of the early Fathers of Eastern Christianity are filled with reflections and prayers on Mary. So too are the writings of the early western fathers.
When one probes the writings of Augustine of Hippo, Bernard of Clairveaux, Therese of Liseux, the late Theresa of Calcutta and so many others within the continuing western Christian tradition, that kind of reflection continues.So too in the Orthodox Christian tradition.
That reflection included even some of the protestant Reformers. For example, Martin Luther once wrote of Mary, “ Men have crowded all her glory into a single phrase: The Mother of God. No one can say anything greater of her.”
Jesus called her Mother and he entrusted her, as one of his last gifts, to his beloved disciple John,with these tender words found in the Gospel of John:
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home. ” (John 19:26, 27)
The early fathers of the undivided Christian Church saw that gift to John as a gift to the whole family of Jesus, the Church which was born from His wounded side on that second tree on the Hill of Golgotha. Mary was there by Gods plan. No mere carrying case for nine months, but a profound part of the plan of salvation.
Mary was there at the Incarnation, Birth, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of God Incarnate. She was there throughout the often called hidden years of Jesus in the workshop and the home of Nazareth. In the life of the Redeemer, every word and every act was redemptive, revealing the mystery of heaven touching earth, and the deeper purpose of our own lives, which are being redeemed and recreated in Him.
Mary was the first evangelizer and first disciple who gave the first Christian testimony to her cousin, Elizabeth, and won the first convert “ in utero” in the person of John the Baptist. This event, traditionally called “The Visitation,” is recorded in the Gospel of St. Luke (Luke l: 39-45).
That encounter immediately followed after the visit of the Angel Gabriel to Mary (Luke 1:6-38) and is one of the fruits of her humble and obedient response to the invitation offered from God. That response was not a onetime reaction, but led to a whole way of living. The message of Mary is about offering our lives to the Lord, in a surrender of love to Love.
She was there on the great day of Pentecost, the birthday of the Church, and she points the whole Church toward Jesus Christ and His ongoing mission.
Her Fiat [Medieval Latin, let it be done ) was given in response to the visitation from the messenger of heaven, the angel, and provides every Christian with a pattern of prayer and a way to live the Christian vocation. That Fiat led to her song of praise, called the Magnificat in Latin. This canticle begins with the words in Latin, Magnificat anima mea Dominum (“My soul doth magnify the Lord”)
That hymn of praise, memorialized in that beautiful biblical text which ancient Christian tradition referred to as the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), has produced some of the most beautiful hymns, prose and poetry in the Christian tradition – for good reason.
The Fiat is more than a prayer and the Magnificat is more than a hymn of praise. Together they constitute a lesson book, a guide, for every Christian, on how we can follow the Lord in our own lives.
Mary always said yes to the invitation of the God of love. She humbled herself. She confronted her own fears and entered into a new way of living, with Jesus Christ as the center of her very being. Her simple response of yes overflowed into her song and lifestyle of praise.
Through this response, she assumed a life posture of receiving and giving. She became a fruitful woman, a God-bearer (which in Greek is Theo-tokos ). She brought forth the Word of God! Her Yes, her humble surrender, is a prototype, a model, of the vocation of every Christian.
The message of Mary reveals the meaning of life. God is not meant to be a sort of add on to our life, to be taken off the shelf when needed. Rather, He is its source and its summit. There is a way, a pattern that all men and women are invited into – not just once, but daily – by placing Jesus Christ at the center of who they are and how they live.
The message of Mary points us to what Christian Scripture calls the “more excellent way“, the way of love. Mary understood and walked this way of love, with extraordinary humility. (1 Cor. 12:31) Is it any wonder that the early Christians painted her image in the catacombs during their moments of fear, persecution and doubt? They found great inspiration from this little woman of great faith.
In her yes they came to understand that ordinary people can change human history. They were inspired to add their own yes, their own fiat to hers.
Justin Martyr and many other early Christian apologists found in her fiat, her obedient yes to the angel, the undoing of the “ no-I will not serve” given by the first woman Eve. They called Mary “The Second Eve“, and saw her as the mother of a new creation, precissely because she brought Jesus into the world.
In her womb she carried the One whom Scripture calls the “New Adam”. Jesus was born from her as the first born of a new race of men and women who find a new birth through His saving Life, Death and Resurrection.
That same Redeemer now comes to reside within, and live His life through, all those who respond to the invitation of Love. Mary’s choice, her response to the invitation of a God who always respects human freedom, is a singularly extraordinary event in all of human history. She was chosen by God and she chose God.
The message of Mary is an invitation to each one of us to explore our own personal histories and write them anew in Jesus Christ by exercising our own freedom and choosing the more excellent way of discipleship.
Mary shows us the way to surrender to Gods loving invitations in our own daily lives. When we embrace this message, and live a life of discipleship, we invite Love Incarnate, the Savior whom Mary bore, to be born in and through each of us.
We become what the early, undivided Church called Mary in the Council of Ephesus, “God Bearers .” An early father of the undivided Christian Church, Gregory of Nyssa, once wrote:
What came about in bodily form in Mary, the fullness of the godhead shining through Christ in the Blessed Virgin, takes place in a similar way in every soul that has been made pure. The Lord does not come in bodily form, for ‘we no longer know Christ according to the flesh’, but He dwells in us spiritually and the father takes up His abode with Him, the Gospel tells us. In this way the child Jesus is born in each of us.
We become, in a spiritual sense, a tent and an ark within which the Lord takes up His residence. A home in which he comes to dwell. We are all invited to reveal Him to our own age – so desperately in need of salvation and deliverance.
When we begin to grasp this message of Mary we not only find ourselves transformed, but we can learn how to become the vehicles through which Love is made real, incarnated for all those around us.
God comes to dwell in all men and women who say Yes to Him. “ Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him .” (John 14:23) We are to bear God’s love to an age in need of a Savior.
The message of Mary invites us to live our lives fully surrendered to Jesus Christ – to do whatever He tells us. The ongoing creative and redemptive work of God’s love, in and through His Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ, continues through us because we are members of His Body.
We can learn so much from the message of Mary. Most of all, we can learn to respond the same way she did by saying yes to the God’s invitations, “Behold the servant of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to Thy word.”
Pastor Jack Hayford was right, we are living in a Mary Moment. It is time to live the message of Mary, the Mother of the Lord, together.
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.