The Way of Mary
Deacon Keith A Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC
"And Mary said to the angel, "How shall this be, since I have no husband?"
And the angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.
For with God nothing will be impossible." (The Gospel of Luke 2:34-37)
And Mary said, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her. (Luke 2:38)
The so called "practical people" are not really the most useful in the service of Christ's Church, nor are those who merely expound theories. Rather it is the true contemplatives who best serve her; those with the steady generous and passionate desire of transfiguring and divinizing all creation with Christ and in Christ. It may sound paradoxical, but in the Church of Jesus Christ, the mystic is the only practical person." Bishop Alvaro del Portillo...
How "impractical" the spiritual life seems to the contemporary mind.
Maybe this is because we have too often relegated spirituality to the realm of the monk or the ascetic and have become what we call "practical" - meaning that we have lost the ability to hear and see God?
Or perhaps, in a sincere desire to find deeper meaning in the daily grind of life, we have followed the "pied pipers" of some schools of self improvement that neither improve nor help us truly find the self we seek to improve?
Or, perhaps, we have followed modern simplistic formulas packaged as remedies for our emptiness and despair, only to find them even more meaningless at the end of all that effort?
The story of Mary's encounter with God invites us to learn to listen for the voice of God in our own lives. It invites us to change the way we live. It invites us to walk in Mary's way, which is the way of surrender to the One whom she bore and who was her Redeemer and Son.
Learning to Listen
When we learn to listen, to stop our incessant flurry of activity, we will begin to hear His wooing, His loving invitation. Mary did. That invitation is to enter into an authentic relationship with the God who created us and knows both who we are and who we can become. He calls and we only need to hear and say "FIAT", "Yes".
That is Mary's way.
The Promise made to Mary required a personal response, her "Fiat". Similarly, in each of our lives, the path to a fruitful spiritual life is our willingness to surrender. This gospel dynamic is a paradox to the modern mind, insisting that in losing our life we find it and in surrendering our self through love we find out who we are meant to become and are transformed in the dynamic process.
However, this insight is not simply a paradox (though it is that to those who do not have the ears to hear or eyes to see) but it is a path, a way that leads us to authentic contemplative prayer. This invitation to contemplation, when accepted and practiced, leads us toward developing an interior life that grounds us in the love of God and the life of grace, no matter how hectic our daily routine becomes.
Prayer becomes not something we "do" but a participation in the very life of God, a way of being with God, with ourselves and with the whole world. It prompts a new way of seeing the world wherein the ordinary becomes extraordinary and daily events become naturally supernatural. This is the beginning of authentic spirituality, the kind that truly improves us because it helps us to find the source of all truth, the One who is the "Way, the Truth and the Life."
Making it our own
Mary's way must become our own way. Because Mary's way is the way of relationship- and the spiritual life is all about relationships, with God and in Him and through Him with one another and His entire creation.
The spiritual life is the gift of God. We do not "make it happen." Rather, we receive and respond in love. It is about self-donation, receiving, giving, receiving ... and in that pattern learning to be free, to truly live and die for love.
Only human persons can give themselves away in love like God did in Jesus Christ. They do so by exercising that which makes them most like the God who created them, their capacity for exercising their freedom. True Love is a truly free choice. It is made daily, sometimes hourly.
The Gospel of John tells us that "God so loved the world that He gave..." What did He give? He gave His Son. He still gives His son through the family that His Son draws to Himself at the second tree, the tree of surrendered love, the Cross of Calvary. There we witness the greatest act of surrendered love, the complete gift of Love Himself to the entire human race.
That kind of surrendered love continues to be revealed in the lives of very real men and women who are truly "spiritual" in the sense that they make heaven touch earth the way that He did.
It is in this sense that we say that the spiritual life is about living lives of love that are "cruciform" - that is, lives in the image of a cross. All men and women are invited into this holy exchange of love. All who give themselves away for the sake of others participate in that single greatest gift when they choose to love.
We know when we have been with such men and women. You know the ones. They have come to understand this great mystery - they are the saints in our midst.
This kind of love was personified in the life of the little Virgin of Nazareth named Mary. Barely mentioned in the texts of the New Testament, she lived a hidden life, filled with profound importance. She never promoted herself but rather became a "faceless" leader, promoting the Son whom she loved and who was Himself her Savior.
The Way of Surrendered Love
In an age of arrogance, when so much of what is presented as faith is grandiose and where prayer has often been trivialized into a formulaic manipulation of God, a bargaining process, a means to achieving our own ends, or a "baptized" self interest, Mary shows us a different way, the way of surrendered love that is the fruit of true prayer.
St. Paul wrote a letter to the early Christians at Corinth at a time when they were quite taken with themselves, seemingly reveling in the manifestations of the spiritual gifts in their own midst. He exhorted them in these now famous words:
"... Eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."
How desperately these words need to be heard once again in both the contemporary religious community and in a world that is starving for love.
If we desire to be more than a "clanging cymbal" or a "resounding gong"; if we long with all of our hearts to receive and become the greatest of these treasures, we need to come to know the Love who by His very goodness created the whole universe.
Out of that love, He holds everyone in an embrace and desires to communicate Himself every moment to each one of us. The surest way to experience that kind of intimate relationship of transforming love is by learning to listen.
The Way of Prayer
Listen. This is the beginning of prayer. This is the Prayer of Mary. She was a woman of few words, a woman of the Word, a woman of silence.
A contemporary mystic, Mother Teresa of Calcutta said it this way:
"God is the friend of silence... in that silence; in that silence he will listen to us; there he will speak to our soul, and there we will hear his voice. The fruit of silence is faith. The fruit of faith is prayer, the fruit of prayer is love, the fruit of love is service and the fruit of service is silence. In the silence of the heart God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you. Then you will know that you are nothing. It is only when you realize your nothingness, your emptiness, that God can fill you with Himself. Silence gives us a new way of looking at everything. We need this silence in order to touch souls. God is the friend of silence. His language is silence. "Be still and know that I am God"
I am a Catholic clergyman, a deacon. I love the high liturgical worship of my Church in all of its grandeur, sign and symbolism.
In my life I have been touched with the grace of several "renewal" experiences and I am at home in many different kinds of personal and group prayer expressions ranging from the enthusiasm of evangelical, Pentecostal and charismatic worship to the deep and profound piety expressions of my own, and other, Christian traditions including the beauty of Orthodox Christianity.
However, as I have aged, I have grown increasingly tired of the limited nature and, in some instances, arrogance of much of the contemporary presentation of prayer and worship that we Christians either model in our churches or present over the media. When I find myself "channel surfing" and stumbling into some of the contemporary presentations of our faith, I must admit to a certain discouragement and sometimes anger.
I witness an odd subculture and hear a language that few folks outside of its own small closed circle can understand. Sometimes I discern a haughty arrogance behind the claims of some of those who seem to be the champions of that subculture. I ask myself, "Is that how Jesus spoke, or acted?"
Then my heart breaks.
I know that there are countless people truly seeking the great treasure of a relationship with God. It is not found in bravado but in the brokenness fully revealed in the Love personified who hung on that second tree planted on Calvary's hill.
Under the Tree
Trees have such significance in the biblical texts of both the Old and New testaments of the Bible.
It was at a tree in the garden called Eden that the first "No" was uttered by the first Eve. It was at another tree on a mountain called Golgotha that the One whom the early fathers of the Christian church called the "Second Eve", wept out of love for the Son whom she loved so profoundly. Early Christian writers were fascinated by the imagery of those two trees. In fact, reflections on those trees have given rise to some of the most inspired writing of the Christian tradition.
For example, a monk of the ninth century, St. Theodore the Studite once wrote:
How precious the gift of the cross, how splendid to contemplate! In the cross there is no mingling of good and evil, as in the tree of paradise: it is wholly beautiful to behold and good to taste. The fruit of this tree is not death but life, not darkness but light. This tree does not cast us out of paradise but opens the way for our return.
This was the tree on which Christ, like a king on a chariot, destroyed the devil, the lord of death, and freed the human race from his tyranny. This was the tree upon which the Lord, like a brave warrior wounded in hands, feet and side, healed the wounds of sin that the evil serpent had inflicted on our nature. A tree once caused our death, but now a tree brings life. Once deceived by a tree, we have now repelled the cunning serpent by a tree. What an astonishing transformation!
That death should become life, that decay should become immortality and that shame should become glory!
The journey of each of our lives walks between those two trees. We are faced with countless choices. How we respond determines who we become.
At the foot of the tree of the cross several disciples came to finally understand the invitation to surrendered love. There they confronted their deepest fears and witnessed the God of surrendered love pour Himself out for the entire human race.
There they learned the intimacy of silence.
Mary was there.
Her way leads only to that tree. After all, it is the way of her Son. It is not an easy way. But, she was not afraid. Both through her life and by her presence at the foot of that tree she shows us how to overcome the greatest obstacle to the spiritual life, fear.
It is the fear of death that secures the root of our inability to deal with suffering, struggle and scarcity. It is the fear of failure that impedes our willingness to risk. It is the fear of being disappointed or disappointing others, including God, that impedes our progress in the spiritual life.
"Fear is useless, what is needed is faith" were the words spoken by the Lord to the civil ruler at the time of Jesus whose daughter had died (Mark 5:36). These are the words that we need to hear today.
We hear and see these words lived out in the Way of Mary. Remember, she was acquainted with fear and had long ago learned to overcome it by faith.
"But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus." (Lk 1:29-30).
Living the Way of Mary can help us to uncover the sources of our own fears and to unmask their disguises in our own lives. Through this process we can overcome them and transform them through our responses of faith to God's invitations.
Responding to the promise
Every one of us has been given a "promise", an invitation to a relationship, from the same God who spoke to Mary. He never lies. He is able to accomplish in us and through us what we all too often consider to be "impossible."
He never coerces, He invites. We are invited to respond as Mary did and to walk in that same way of surrendered love.
Living the Prayer of Mary can help us to both comprehend and apprehend the presence of God by experiencing the "Holy Spirit" overshadowing us.
Then we come to believe that there is such a thing as love - and goodness- in ourselves as well as in the world around us - because both flow from the wounded heart of the One who is good.
The Way of Mary is not an invitation to do but rather an invitation to be. It fosters an interior disposition, a way of surrender.
The God whom Mary loved so fully longs for this kind of response from you and from me. It is the response of sons and daughters who freely and voluntarily exercise their freedom to choose and give themselves away in love as He has done for every one of us.
The woman who heard the promise, believed it, treasured it in her heart and bore its fullness to the whole world shows us the way we are to respond.
That is the way of Mary. It is a way of life, the Christian way.
Let us begin to make it our own.
This article is adapted from a chapter of a wonderful book by Deacon Keith Fournier entitled "The Prayer of Mary: Living the Surrendered Life".
Order your copy today! "The Prayer of Mary: Living the Surrendered Life"
Deacon Fournier is a Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia serving at St. Benedict's Catholic Church, a dynamically orthodox Roman Catholic Parish, dedicated to fidelity to the Magisterium and faithfulness to the Church's mission of sanctification, evangelization and transformation. He holds degrees from Franciscan University of Steubenville, the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and is currently a PHD student at the Catholic University of America. His latest book is entitled, "The Prayer of Mary: Living the Surrendered Life".
Third Millennium, LLC
https://www.catholic.org VA, US
Deacon Keith Fournier - Author, 757 546-9580
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