A Mary Moment?
By Deacon Keith Fournier Founder, President (c) Third Millennium, LLC
Is Devotion to Mary a problem - or are we living in a "Mary Moment"?
Catholic Way - © Keith A. Fournier
Several years ago I was an invited guest at a celebration of the life and ministry of a significant evangelical Protestant leader. It was a "black tie" affair, accompanied with all the fanfare. Held in a posh ballroom in Southern California, it was a nice opportunity for my wife and me to experience this kind of an event and to pay tribute to this man who had touched our own lives in many ways.
I was one of only a handful of Catholics who attended the event and I was honored to be there to pay tribute to this man.
At the end of the evening, Reverend Jack Hayford, a giant of evangelical Protestantism, and a man of great integrity, gave the concluding tribute, address and prayer to conclude the nights' festivities.
Most of the evening was filled with accolades, music, stellar performances, multi-media presentations and the consumption of the finest of food fare. There was nothing inappropriate about it all. It was all well intended and everyone enjoyed the evening.
For my wife and me it was doubly unusual.
We were in a grand, lavish ballroom, surrounded mostly by Christians of a different tradition and "culture" than our own as Catholics. We did not fit in. That was not that unusual. Over many years I have been the "Catholic guy" in collaborative efforts with evangelical Protestants and other Christians. It is a unique distinctive of my own vocation. It flows from a long term commitment to integrate my faith, my life and my convictions by living in the "real" world. Hopefully it is also a response to my hope that my small efforts can make a meaningful contribution to the common good.
However, I was truly surprised at the final fare that ended this lavish event. It was better than any of the food courses because it satisfied a deeper human hunger, a hole in the soul. Pastor Hayford's message, (to the surprise of some), was that we are living in, what he called a "Mary Moment."
With genuine affection and deep insight he broke open the meaning of the life and mission of the mother of the Lord as a model for all in that room and beyond who would follow her Son in the Third Christian Millennium.
I was delighted because I agree.
Through an inspiring exegesis of the biblical text often called the "Magnificat", and using the few other references to Mary in the biblical texts, he offered the life of the Mother of the Lord as a model for all Christians and encouraged all those present to follow the path of simplicity, humility and obedience.
He emphasized the particular words spoken by Mary at the Wedding Feast of Cana when, after imploring her Son to perform His first public miracle (ah, the powerful intercession of a mother!) she directed those who were serving to: "Do whatever He tells you."
With characteristic evangelical fervor and a heart of compassion he suggested to all of us that as we approached the Third Christian Millennium, we were living in a "Mary Moment."
Over the years since that event, we have crossed over what John Paul II called the "threshold of hope" and we have entered the Third Millennium.
Truly understanding, and living, the implications of what that good preacher called this "Mary Moment," could help us all. Mary is a model of true humility and a needed antidote to an age of arrogance.
There is a lot of misunderstanding, fear and sincere disagreement concerning so much of what has evolved over two thousand years of Christian history as it relates to this little Virgin of Nazareth. Some of the practices of piety that have evolved around efforts to honor her in my own tradition are subjects of great tension with other Christians.
Yet we all believe that she was chosen to bear the Word of Life. Perhaps we can begin by acknowledging that the heart (and fruit) of true "Marian" piety in any Christian's life should be the rare and priceless virtue of humility. It was this virtue that so characterized her response of faith to the invitation of the Holy Spirit in her own life. When understood in this sense, this kind of "Marian" piety is not only piety but prophecy.
Those who live surrendered lives of poured out love, like Mother Theresa of Calcutta, are esteemed these days by all who have the eyes to see precisely because of the way that they personify the Love that they profess.
They make that love real in the flesh.
In conforming their lives to love they are not arrogant, rather they are prophetic. In that sense they are also "incarnational". They "en-flesh" the gospel, the "good news" and show forth the Love of Jesus Christ in ways that transform other peoples lives. Ultimately, one person at a time, they literally change the world around them.
A great hero of the Christian faith, Francis of Assisi once captured the spirit of these kinds of folks (of which he was one!) in these words of wisdom: "I preach the gospel at all times ...and sometimes I use words."
Catholics, Orthodox, and many other Christians especially honor Mary as the "Mother of the Lord". She is the woman singularly chosen in the eternal plan of God to be called "mother" by Jesus and to bear God Incarnate in her womb for nine months.
That womb of that mother was a "temple of glory", an "ark of the Covenant" and a new "tent of meeting" where heaven touched earth! Though Christians profess that within her womb was resident the uncreated "Word" from the Father, in a real sense every child in the womb is a created word of love and should be received as a gift from heaven.
She was also a real mother who was privileged to, (along with Joseph), 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.
For these reasons alone, is it any wonder that Christians for 2000 years have been captivated by the implications of her life?
Perhaps in continued reaction to perceived excesses in focus on her in the past, there has been a tendency to downplay the role of Mary in the plan of salvation that is the heart of the Christian revelation. This is unfortunate on many fronts.
The vocation or call of Mary was no "ordinary" vocation. The late great Bishop Sheen (the first "televangelist") once put it this way: "if you were God and you could choose your mother, how good would you choose her?" This was an effort by the Bishop to respond to the assertion in some Christian circles (perhaps in reaction against what has been perceived as an "overemphasis by Catholics on the importance of Mary) that she was not significant at all.
The good bishop was correct. She was chosen from among all women. She was "highly favored" or "full of grace", the scriptures tell us the Angel proclaimed upon that visit that changed her life (and our own) she was "blessed among women."
But in another way, her life was very ordinary. Perhaps that is why we fail to look more closely. We have a difficult time grasping the truth that the ordinary can be extraordinary. This little ordinary woman, virgin and mother has inspired the greatest and holiest Saints throughout Christian history.
For example, when one probes the lives of Augustine of Hippo, Bernard of Clairveaux, Therese of Liseux, the late Theresa of Calcutta and so many others within the Christian tradition, including Martin Luther, one finds a common love for and devotion to Mary.
Were they in error? Or are we perhaps missing something?
Is this truly a "Mary moment"?
Mary was there at the Incarnation, Birth, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of God Incarnate. She was there throughout the often called "hidden years" in Nazareth. In the life of the Redeemer, every word and every act was redemptive, revealing as it does the very life of God, the mystery of heaven touching earth, and the deeper purpose of our own lives.
She was there in those moments whose impact is timeless. They are still as filled with the invitation of grace today as they were when they first occurred.
She was there on the great day of Pentecost, the birthday of the Church. She was there as the first evangelizer and 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).
This encounter immediately follows the visit of the Angel Gabriel to Mary (Luke 1:6-38) and is one of the fruits of her humble obedient response. That response was not a one time reaction. It was the fruit of a life of surrender and stretched forward to characterize her life. The Prayer of Mary is about being not doing. It is about response and not initiation. It is about surrendered love.
Her "Fiat" [Medieval Latin, from Latin, let it be done) in response to the visitation from the messenger of heaven, the angel, provides a pattern of prayer and a way to live. It immediately issues forth in the fruit of her praise, her "Magnificat." This canticle begins with the words in Latin Magnificat anima mea Dominum ("My soul doth magnify the Lord")
This hymn of praise is memorialized in that beautiful biblical text which ancient Christian tradition referred to as "The Magnificat" (Luke 1:46-55). The word "Magnificat" has come to mean a hymn or song of praise of praise to God. This was the text that was quoted at length that evening by Pastor Hayford.
The "Fiat" is more than a prayer and the "Magnificat" more than a hymn of praise. Together they constitute a lesson book, a guide, for this journey called life that we all walk. That life that is so very real and human, with all of its blessings and all of it's pain, is packed with meaning, purpose and destiny, if we have eyes to see, ears to hear and hearts to respond with the kind of voluntary surrender that was so beautifully expressed by the Virgin of Nazareth.
This lesson book is desperately needed by Christians, indeed all people of good will, in this age so characterized by pride and arrogance.
The pattern of that prayer and song was the pattern of Mary's entire life. It follows a trajectory of surrendered love. It begins with Gods gift and invitation, invites our response, leads to praise and is intended to bear the fruit of a meaningful life.
It is this pattern that we will explore more fully together as we reflect on the prayer of Mary and its relevance for our own lives.
She said "Yes" to the invitation to love and she humbled herself. She confronted her own fears and she entered into a new way of living. All of this was in continued response to an original invitation of love, a gift, initiated by a loving God.
Her simple response of "yes" overflowed into her "magnificat" of praise. Through this response, she assumed a life's posture of receiving and giving, she became a fruitful woman, a "God-bearer" or "Mother of God" (which in Greek is Theo-tokos).
She brought forth the Word of God!
Her "Yes", her humble surrender, bore the fruit of her "Magnificat" which bore the fruit of the Word, which was spoken and birthed through her. This is a trajectory of love, a prototype of the vocation of every human person to bear the fruit of surrendered love. It touches the inner core of the meaning of life for all men and women who are children of the one Creator. We were made to give ourselves away to the Lord and to others.
God is not an "add on" to our life. Rather, He is its source and its summit. Spirituality is "inside out" rather than "outside in." There is a way, a pattern that all men and women are invited into - not just once, but daily. It reveals the deeper meaning of every human life and is the path to authentic peace and the portal of the mystery of meaning itself.
It is what Christian Scripture calls the "more excellent way", the way of love. Mary understood and walked this way with extraordinary humility.
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", the mother of a new creation. In her womb was carried the One whom the biblical authors would call the "New Adam", he was born from her as the first born of a new race of men and women who would find a new birth through His life, death and Resurrection.
That same Redeemer now resides within, and lives through, all those who respond to the invitation of Love like she did. 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.
However, it is meant to be much more. It is an invitation to each one of us to explore our own personal histories and to write them anew in Him.
And Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her.
In these few words, all of human history was forever changed. They came from the heart of a simple, young Jewish woman. They proceeded from a humble and honest self assessment and led her to a complete surrender of herself in love. That is the heart of holiness. We need to "unpack" the depth of the meaning of these words if we hope to both understand and to stand in them. Then our own personal histories can be changed.
This call to "Fiat" is not another "formula" or a new multi-step "how to" promise of "solutions" to the problems of life. It is not the answer to a riddle or the meaning behind some mystery.
Rather it is a path, a way, of living a life of surrendered love. It leads to a deepening process of conversion and allows the Love that Mary bore to be incarnated in and through each of us. This process is the way of "holiness" and lies at the very heart of the Prayer of Mary. It is a path to true peace. Every single man and woman alive today is invited to pronounce -with their entire being- the "Fiat" of surrendered love.
The author of the rich New Testament letter to the Hebrews tells us of Jesus Christ that he is able to understand us because He became one of us:
"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet was without sin" (Hebrews 4:15)
The Christian claim is that the Eternal Word, coexistent with the Father and the Spirit in the perfect unity that is Trinitarian Love, became a real man in time and history. He did so first within the womb of a thirteen year old Virgin who said "Fiat" and then through her became manifested to the nations.
As a pre-born child, He sanctified all mother's wombs by dwelling within the first temple, the new Ark of the New Covenant, the womb of His beloved self-chosen mother.
A contemporary best selling book on prayer promises to help the reader understand how to expand their own "tent-pegs." That may be a helpful beginning if it truly assists us in expanding our personal capacity to understand that there truly is a God who can, does and will act in our very real, human daily experiences if we have a genuine relationship, a dialogue, with Him.
However, it is only a beginning. After all it is not really about our tent pegs at all, it is about His dwelling-place among us.
Seeing prayer as only a way to expand our own territory is something like trying to learn to swim by swimming in a backyard wading pool. It is only a start. The Prayer of Mary teaches us to swim in the ocean of life with all of its undertows, by helping us to grasp the deeper truth about the spiritual life and the purpose of prayer.
We are to become the very tent and the ark within which that same God still takes up His residence, still comes to dwell. It is when we begin to touch and grasp this profound insight that we not only find ourselves transformed but learn how to allow ourselves to become the very vehicles through which Love is incarnated for all those around us.
This article is adapted from a chapter of a forthcoming book by Deacon Keith Fournier entitled "The Prayer of Mary: Living the Surrendered Life".
Rev. Mr. Keith A Fournier, the founder and president of "Common Good", is a constitutional lawyer. Long active in political participation, Fournier was a founder of Catholic Alliance and served as its first President. He is a pro-life and pro-family lobbyist. He was the first Executive Director of the ACLJ (American Center for Law and Justice). He also served as an advisor to the presidential campaign of Steve Forbes. Fournier holds a Bachelors degree (B.A.) from Franciscan University of Steubenville in Philosophy and Theology, a Masters Degree (M.T.S.) in Sacred Theology from the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University, a Juris Doctor (J.D.) from the University of Pittsburgh and an Honorary Doctor of Laws (L.L.D.) from St. Thomas University. Fournier is the author of seven books on issues concerning life, faith, evangelization, ecumenism, family, political participation, public policy and cultural issues.
http://www.commongoodonline.com VA, US
Deacon Keith Fournier - President/Founder, 757 546-9580
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