God's perfect creation and perfect disciple. She is Eve's counter, a new Eve. She is prefigured in Sarah, the mother of Ishmael and Isaac. Her role is hinted at with King Solomon's mother. She is the most favored daughter of the Father, the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, and first and foremost, the Mother of Jesus, the Mother of God. The Theotokos.
Martin Luther even said, "God says….'Mary's Son is My only Son.' (and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, "Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased."[Lk. 3:21-22]) Thus Mary is the Mother God."
In that Jesus is God, the second Person of the Trinity, she is the mother of God. This simple fact is the basis and most fundamental teaching about Mary.
Vatican II teaches: "The Virgin Mary, who at the message of the angel received the Word of God in her heart and in her body and gave Life to the world, is acknowledged and honored as being truly the Mother of God and Mother of the Redeemer. Redeemed by reason of the merits of her Son and united to Him by a close and indissoluble tie, she is endowed with the high office and dignity of being the Mother of the Son of God, by which account she is also the beloved daughter of the Father and the temple of the Holy Spirit. Because of this gift of sublime grace she far surpasses all creatures, both in heaven and on earth." (LUMEN GENTIUM; Chapter VIII The Blessed Virgin Mary; Mother of God in the Mystery of Christ and the Church; I. Introduction; #53)
Because of this special and unique relationship she is owed honor, being that she " far surpasses all creatures, both in Heaven and on earth." " At the same time, however, because she belongs to the offspring of Adam she is one with all those who are to be saved." (Ibid) So her honor does not reach the same level of honor and devotion owed to God. St. Thomas Aquinas calls this honor hyperdulia whereas the honor we give to God is Latria. (The saints are giving an honor called dulia)
We should honor Mary, especially since Christ Himself exhorted us to. "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the LORD your God gives you." (Exodus 20:12)
Is it likely that Christ would break His own Commandment? So if Christ honored His mother, so should we.
This can be seen at the wedding feast at Cana. "When the wine failed, the mother of Jesus said to Him, 'They have no wine.' And Jesus said to her, 'O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come. His mother said to the servants, 'Do whatever He tells you.'" (John 2:3-5)
Note that our Lord performed His first public miracle at her request. Even though His hour had not yet come.
Even her older cousin honored her, at the prompting of the Holy Spirit. "and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, 'Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?'" (Luke 1:41-43).
Is Mary the mother of Elizabeth's husband? The mother of the king? The mother of Caesar? Or Elizabeth's father? No, of course not. But Elizabeth calls her the mother of her Lord. The Mother of God.
St. Irenaeus (+202 A.D.), bishop of Lyons and pupil of Polycarp, St. John's disciple, wrote; "The Virgin Mary being obedient to His Word, received from the angel the glad tidings that she would bear God."
St. Alexander (+328 A.D.), bishop of Alexandria, wrote, "Jesus Christ . . . bore a body not in appearance but in truth, derived from the Mother of God."
St. Athanasius (+373 A.D.) wrote, "the Word begotten of the Father on high" who "inexpressibly, inexplicably, incomprehensibly and eternally, is he that is born in time here below, of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God."
St. Gregory of Nazianz (+382 A.D.), bishop of Constantinople, wrote, "If anyone does not agree that Holy Mary is the Mother of God, he is at odds with the Godhead."
And lastly (though there are many more), St. Cyril of Alexandria wrote, "I have been amazed that some are utterly in doubt as to whether or not the Holy Virgin is able to be called the Mother of God. For if Our Lord Jesus Christ is God, how should the Holy Virgin who bore him not be the Mother of God?"
St. Paul tells us: "For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and all were made to drink of one Spirit….. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it" (1 Corinthians 12:12-12;27).
If then the Church is the Body of Christ, then Mary is our Mother as well. If we, as Christians, are sons and daughters of the Father, and brothers and sisters of Christ, then, again, she is our mother. And as she cared and loved her Son, our Lord, so too she cares and loves us. It's been said that just as the moon reflects the light of the sun, so too does Mary reflect the light of her Son.
"Hail, O Mary, Mother of God! You did enclose in your sacred womb the One Who cannot be encompassed. Hail, O Mary, Mother of God! With the shepherds we sing the praise of God, and with the angels the song of thanksgiving _ Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to men of good will! Hail, O Mary, Mother of God! Through you came to us the Conqueror and triumphant Vanquisher of hell." (St. Cyril)
To honor the mother is to honor the Son.
Prayer, both personal and liturgical, is the duty of every Christian. “Jesus Christ, the Good News of the Father, warns us that without him we can do nothing (cf. Jn 15:5). He himself, in the decisive moments of his life, before doing something, used to withdraw to an isolated place to give himself to prayer and contemplation, and he asked the Apostles to do the same”.(80) He tells his disciples without exception: “Go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret” (Mt 6:6). This intense life of prayer must be adapted to the capacity and condition of each Christian, so that in all the different situations of life each one may be able “to drink of the one Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 12:13) from the wellspring of their encounter with Christ”.(81) In this sense, contemplation is not a privilege reserved to the few; on the contrary, in parishes, in communities and movements there is a need to foster a spirituality clearly oriented to contemplation of the fundamental truths of faith: the mysteries of the Trinity, the Incarnation of the Word, the Redemption of humanity, and the other great saving works of God.(82)
Men and women who are dedicated exclusively to the contemplative life accomplish a fundamental mission in the Church in America. As the Second Vatican Council put it, they are “a glory of the Church and a source of heavenly graces”.(83) Therefore, the monasteries which exist throughout the continent must be “especially loved by the Pastors, who should be deeply convinced that souls dedicated to the contemplative life obtain an abundance of grace, through the prayer, penance and contemplation to which they have given their lives. Contemplatives must know that they are part of the Church's mission in the present and that, by the witness of their lives, they work for the spiritual good of the faithful, and help them to seek the face of God in everyday life”.(84)
Christian spirituality is nourished above all by a constant sacramental life, since the Sacraments are the root and endless source of God's grace which believers need to sustain them on their earthly pilgrimage. The sacramental life needs to be complemented by the values of popular piety, values which will be enriched in turn by sacramental practice and saved from falling into the danger of routine. It should also be noted that this spirituality is not opposed to the social responsibilities of the Christian life. On the contrary, in following the path of prayer, believers become more conscious of the Gospel's demands and of their duties towards others. Through prayer, they are strengthened with the grace they need to persevere in doing good. In order to mature spiritually, Christians do well to seek the counsel of the Church's ministers or of other persons expert in the field of spiritual direction, which is a traditional practice in the Church. The Synod Fathers felt that it was necessary to recommend to priests this important ministry.(85)
The present crisis of the Sacrament of Penance, from which the Church in America is not exempt and about which I have voiced my concern from the beginning of my Pontificate,(93) will be overcome by resolute and patient pastoral efforts.
On this point, the Synod Fathers rightly asked “that priests give the necessary time to the Sacrament of Penance, and strongly and insistently invite the faithful to receive the Sacrament, without the Pastors themselves neglecting frequent confession in their own lives”.(94) Bishops and priests personally experience the mysterious encounter with the forgiving Christ in the Sacrament of Penance and they are privileged witnesses of his merciful love.
The Catholic Church, which embraces men and women “of every nation, race, people and tongue” (Rev 7:9) is called to be, “in a world marked by ideological, ethnic, economic and cultural divisions”, the “living sign of the unity of the human family”.(95) In the multiplicity of nations and the variety of ethnic groups, as in the features common to the entire continent, America presents many differences which cannot be ignored and which the Church has the duty to address. Thanks to effective efforts to integrate the members of the People of God within each country and to unite the members of the particular Churches of the various countries, today's differences can be a source of mutual enrichment. As the Synod Fathers rightly affirmed, “it is most important that the Church throughout America be a living sign of reconciled communion, an enduring appeal to solidarity and a witness ever present in our various political, economic and social systems”.(96) This is a significant contribution which believers can make to the unity of the American continent.
NEXT MONDAY: Installment eleven - Chapter Four: THE PATH TO COMMUNION
There is silence, but an eagerness underscores it. There have been many prayers said in this place. Many more will be said in the days to come. Spilling out into the hallway are many disciples and among them I see Joseph of Arimethea, Nicodemus, and much to my surprise, I see Joseph of Arimethea engaged in a whispered conversation with Gamaliel.
I understand that many days have passed since the Resurrection. I am also given to understand that the number of people to whom Our Lord has appeared has far outweighed any attempt by the Sanhedrin to call the whole thing a hoax.
Thus, though made bold by Jesus' Resurrected Presence, there lingers in these holy men and women, excepting the Blessed Mother, a fear of reprisal. But, yet, any persecutions have been kept to a bare minimum of verbal abuse, for the Romans will tolerate no more from the Jews at this point.
I am drawn to gaze at the Mother of God. She wears a dress of white; her mantle is blue and her veil of a lighter shade of blue. She is absolutely beautiful, and she is lost in heavenly contemplation, which assists everyone present to maintain a respectful silence, even if they do not yet pray as she does.
Suddenly Jesus stands with them in the space between the Apostles and the holy women. He is in a white tunic, with a white mantle about His shoulders. His beauty is beyond words, and His Love saturates the room and enters each heart.
"Peace!" is His greeting.
All of them fall to their knees, their faces rapt in utter love for the Son of God.
"I have said to you all that must be said. Do not worry about remembering all of My words. Do not forget that I am sending He Who will enlighten you."
"Yes, my Lord," Peter answers for all. "We will remember."
"We will leave this place now. No, do not fear! No harm will come to any of you. I will lead you, and you will follow. There will be no trouble, for the angels of Heaven will keep all evil away. Come."
And He makes His way through the large gathering, and one by one, others in pairs, all follow Him. The Blessed Mother, escorted by John, is given the rightful place behind her Son, then Peter and all the others. I do not count them all, but it is a considerable procession that leaves the House of the Last Supper and goes out into the streets of Jerusalem. It is early morning, but the citizens of Jerusalem are already up and about. Jesus passes from street to street calmly, and nary a head turns in His direction. Even as the long procession passes by, no one seems to notice.
I am given to understand that God's angels form a shield around Our Lord and those who accompany Him, so that in reality the local people cannot see that which is taking place. The Father has reserved for Himself the supreme dignity of this time, and all of the heavenly hosts kneel as He passes by, and strike their breasts as a sign of reverence and adoration to the Son of God.
Jesus' path winds out past one of the gates and He takes a path which leads away from the town as it meanders upward into the hills around the town. Our Lady tells me that the hill lies toward the east, and away from Calvary.
No one speaks, but keeps pace with the long strides Jesus takes. I notice that Our Lord's feet leave an imprint in the dusty road, showing clearly that He is truly there in Body and Soul. His shadow passes over bushes and scrubby grass, and His tall figure clad in white is clearly visible even to the last person in the procession.
I do not know exactly how far Jesus walks. It seems to be a fair distance. The hill is a gradual climb, so one does not actually notice the ascent.
Our Dear Lord stands majestically in the center while around Him gather His Apostles, disciples, the holy women. Only our Blessed Mother knows the event that is coming. She is so happy, and yet her eyes brim with tears for she knows that there will be physical separation from her Divine Son, and that not until the Father calls her home shall she be united with Him for eternity.
Again, Our Lady is composed, peaceful, filled with the Holy Spirit. That which is about to take place is also part of the Divine Will, and Our Lady's whole existence has been a perfect example of unity with the Divine Will.
Those closest to Jesus beg Him to speak. They all have about them an air of eagerness, for their own souls sense that God's Power is about to be manifested. Even though Our Dear Lord has prepared them for this moment, just as they were not fully prepared for the Passion and Death, so too, are they not fully prepared to lose the physical presence of their God and Savior.
I hear Jesus speaking to them, counseling them and at last, giving to them His Peace, which is the Divine Will. I become aware that the whole vault of Heaven, and even to the earth, bright rays of luminous light fill the place. My eyes are barely able to look upon this splendor, but it is God who assists me and thus I see that angels, countless beings of beauty, have appeared. There are ranks of angels all assembled, their voices raised in song of praise to the Trinity. Several of the angels come to be with the Blessed Mother.
She sees them fully, and for an instant, bows her head in humble prayer giving thanks for this favor of God upon her.
Jesus has finished. His final words seem to hang suspended above the crowd. The men and women gaze upon Him intently, and Jesus lifts His beautiful sapphire eyes to Heaven and the most ecstatic smile forms upon His lips.
He is transformed into all of His Glory as God and man. His physical body becomes dazzling, brighter than a million suns. This light radiates out to all the assembled, and the people in awe can only keep their gaze fixed upon Him Whom they love, yet imperfectly, but with the will to love perfectly.
Thus, it is that I see the very vault of Heaven open, and if it is possible, an even brighter light appears and descends to earth, completely covering Our Lord.
Slowly, without effort, the Risen, Glorified Christ rises from the ground. His eyes fixed now only upon that which He ascends to: The Father and the Holy Spirit. Those who are witnesses to this miracle gasp in awe. There are no words, so deeply are they affected. Higher and higher Jesus rises into the air, still looking up.
Now the choirs of angels, their song reaching a crescendo, gather about Jesus to escort Him into Heaven where the Most Holy Trinity will be, in a mystical sense, reunited. Truly, the Trinity cannot ever be separated, for God is One in Three. But there is no other way for our human minds to grasp this event than to describe it as a reunion. Only in eternity shall we fully understand this sublime Mystery.