I think it is quite fitting that in this month of May – the month the Church has traditionally set aside in honour of Our Lady – we think a bit about where Mary fits in the life of faith. Of course, it would be natural for us to look at the great impact she has had on music, art, devotion, and literature. After all, it is this great woman, about whom some of the best music has been written; it is this woman who has appeared in some of the finest paintings in western art; it is this woman who has inspired the building of beautiful churches and shrines; it is this woman who has lived in the hearts of Christians for over two thousands years.
Yet I would like to start in a way that makes the grand statements I just made seem a bit odd. I would like to turn to a passage of scripture that I’m sure you’ve all heard before. You can find it in Luke’s Gospel (chapter 8) and Matthew’s (chapter 12):
While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. 48 But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother.”
Many Catholics tend to squirm a little at these words. They take a quick glance at the shrine of Mary erected in the church, or they guiltily remember that last rosary they prayed and wonder whether the Church has got it all wrong on Mary. After all, there does seem to be a big difference with the way Jesus treats Mary in this passage and the way the Church treats her: Jesus didn’t write a song about her, or paint her, bow to or kiss her statue, and he certainly didn’t pray to her. In fact, he doesn’t even seem to let her in the room. Isn’t all the Catholic stuff about Mary a bit over the top, you may ask?
And it is a good question to ask. So, to begin to clear it up I want to take you to what a great saint of the Church said about the passage we just read. St. Augustine commented on it by explaining that Jesus does not distance himself from Mary. Instead, he uses the opportunity to make a point about faith. ‘Mary is more blessed’, he says, ‘in that she grasped faith in Christ than in that she conceived his flesh’. Again he says, ‘the maternal relationship would have been no profit to Mary, if she had not more happily borne Christ in her heart than in her womb’.
Finally defeating the critic he says, ‘Should the Virgin Mary not have done the will of the Father, she who by faith believed, by faith conceived?’ In other words, Augustine explains that Mary’s importance lies not primarily in her natural motherly relation to Jesus (though that is important) but in her spiritual union with him – in the fact that she first had faith before she had Christ in her womb.
So we need not worry that Jesus is condemning Mary in this passage and we’ve completely missed the mark on Mary. In fact, we can conclude from the words of Jesus and from what we know of Mary elsewhere in the Gospels that Jesus is effectively calling her the model disciple because she, above all creatures, showed faith in God by accepting the Angel’s message in the Annunciation.
In this talk I want to explore that idea of Mary as the Model Disciple, and to do so under three activities: praying, preaching, and pointing. Now, some of you may be wondering what I mean by pointing. Fear not; we will come to it. What I hope you can see by the end of the talk is that all three activities are interconnected and that placing ourselves at the feet of Mary, endeavouring to learn from her, we will be better equipped to do all three too.
Delivered by Seminarian Jack Green to IGNITE Youth at Saint John XXIII Catholic Parish, Stanhope Gardens on 28 May, 2017.
Part 2 will be published next Thursday.