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Mother of the Redeemer
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By Deacon Keith Fournier
"When Jesus saw his motherÂ 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). This tender scene speaks to us of the depth of the Love which inspires, informs, and transforms all human love, the LoveÂ Incarnate who gives us His Mother.
Christian Art and the Tradition of the Church are filled with reflection on the profound mystery and implications of this gift of a Mother named Mary to the Church. She was 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 (Luke 2:52).
In the undivided Church, East and West, for the first 1,000 years, devotion to and love of Mary was a shining light of the profound prayers, reflections and writings of the Christian Church. WhenÂ 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 western Christian tradition.
Â Jesus called her "Mother" and he entrusted her, as one of his last and greatest gifts to his beloved disciple and to the entire Church with these tender words of entrustment 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).
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 onetime reaction. It was the fruit of a life of surrender and stretched forward to characterize her whole life on this earth and her participation in the eternal communion of Saints. The Prayer of Mary is more about being than doing. It is about surrendered love to God.
Madonna and Child and the Young St John the Baptist - Sandro Botticelli - 1490-95
Madonna and Child - Fra Angelico - 1433
Her "Fiat" (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 for us. It immediately issues forth in the fruit of her praise, her "Magnificat." She said "Yes" to the invitation to love and she humbled herself. She confronted her own fears and she entered into a way of living. All of this was in continued response to an original invitation of love, a gift, initiated by a loving God.
It reveals the meaning of life for all men and women. God is not an "add on" to our life. 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. It reveals the path to authentic peace and is 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 (1 Cor. 12:31). She shows us the pattern of love surrendered to Love.
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 Scripture calls 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 by exercising our own freedom by choosing the more excellent way.
Mary shows us the way to surrender to God's loving invitations in our daily lives; a path, to living a life of surrendered love. When we embrace it , It allows Love Incarnate, the Savior whom Mary bore to be, in a real sense, to be "incarnated" in and through each of us so that He can be given to others. We become "God Bearers."
We become the tent and the ark within which that same God takes up His residence, comes to dwell, in our age - which is so desperately needs His saving presence. When we begin to touch and grasp this profound insight we not only find ourselves transformed but learn how to become the vehicles through which Love is incarnated for all those around us. He 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)
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Mary shows us how to participate in the ongoing incarnation of God's Love for the sake of world; to live redemptively, participating in the ongoing redemptive work of her Son and our Savior Jesus Christ.
We are called to bear God to an age in need. In living this kind of surrendered life we are transformed and participate in the mediation of God's love to others. The ongoing creative and redemptive work of God's love continues through us. That is, if we learn to respond the same way Mary did: "Behold the servant of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to Thy word."
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