Mary is the woman who shows us the sublimity of a mother’s love and the ultimate fulfilment of all women. Her selfless love was ever attuned, listening to God’s Word and completely at God’s disposal. As a woman, she has the singular privilege of being Mother of Jesus, Mother of God. Not only did she give birth to her son; she assumed spiritual motherhood of all those who followed through the ages and she became Mother of the Church and our Mother in the spiritual life, continuing to accompany us on life’s journey. Mary is one of us, and the role of every woman is exemplified in Mary, as she gives life, nurtures and sustains her family or reaches out to embrace the wider world in an outpouring of pure and ardent love.
It is Mary who stands at the focal point of history, where the Old Testament is fulfilled and the New Testament begins. Summing up the longings of the ages, she brought into the world the Saviour, Jesus Christ, and from those who believed in him the Church was born. Our destiny is thus bound up with hers, linked with her Son and one with him. It is she who guides us to the light of life as she enfolds us in a love that renews and inspires us.
As the Church solemnly proclaimed in Lumen Gentium:
The Virgin Mary received the Word of God in her heart and in her body gave Life to the world. She is acknowledged and honoured as being truly Mother of God and Mother of the Redeemer … At the same time she is one with all who are to be saved. She is Mother of the members of Christ. (§53)
Those outstanding women of the Old Covenant were familiar to Mary, who knew the story of Ruth, one of David’s immediate ancestors, whose faithfulness and loyalty to her mother-in-law were rewarded with a family of her own. Others like Deborah and Judith are remembered for defending their people with strength and bravery, and Esther for her courage and self-forgetfulness in pleading to save her nation at the risk of her own life. The bride in the Song of Songs, described with all feminine grace and beauty, was a figure of God’s predilection for his chosen ones, and Mary combined all such qualities. From the Sacred Scriptures, she learnt to read the story of her life by reflecting on the history of her people and the wisdom of the law and the prophets.
When the angel’s greeting came to her, she was lovingly disposed, attentive and prepared to do God’s will. She understood that she was singled out for a unique motherhood. Looking at Mary, a young maiden filled with grace, we see how one can accept the possibilities God offers when faith makes the leap to trust in the creative power of love. Her ‘Yes’ still left natural fear and hesitation. What could this mean? She accepted joyfully, willingly, and was reassured: ‘Do not be afraid. I am with you.’ It was the moment when the Eternal entered time. The Infinite and the finite met in her. God depended on her to fulfil the plan of salvation and still needs us today to carry it to our world. Faith allows the impossible to happen.
With joy, Mary hastened to journey across the hills to wait and keep Elizabeth company, helping her prepare for the birth of John, herald of the Saviour, in her service of love. The welcome she received was prophetic, affirming the blessings that would flow into the future. Yet joy was tempered with pain, for there was also loneliness and sensitivity in the delicate situation where her relationship with Joseph was tested. At first she could not share the secret she was holding in her heart. Joseph was troubled and of a mind to part with her discretely—a painful dilemma she had to bear alone. However, that was not to be, and when her time came to give birth, no words could describe the wonder and the mystery that took place in the poverty of a most humble setting, hidden from the busy world. Mary kept these things in her heart, pondering and treasuring them as precious signs.
There was to be foreboding and sorrow when they went to the temple to make the prescribed offering, and the old man, Simeon, met them with words that must have struck deeply as he foretold the pain this mother would share with her child. Then there was the anguish and fear when Joseph had to take them and flee in the night to protect the life of the child from Herod’s threat. When Jesus was twelve years of age, there were those three long days of waiting and searching. Did she remember this later, in those three days between death and resurrection?
In times of need and crisis, Mary was the one who unobtrusively spoke to Jesus and then waited with confidence and trust, certain that he would intervene. He did provide the new wine in abundance for the wedding banquet when supplies had run out. Surely Mary still speaks on our behalf, aware of our needs, and her son never fails us.
In his most terrible abandonment and pain, she suffered with him on Calvary, where she waited courageously in steadfast fidelity and unfailing love. The days that followed were dark and frightening for his disciples, but Mary was there to encourage them and repair their shattered faith. This woman is there for us all. It is when we are overshadowed by the cross of suffering that we really know Mary is our Mother, standing beside us, a strengthening and comforting presence.
After the resurrection, the disciples were reunited and gathered with Mary in prayer in the upper room, awaiting the promise of the Holy Spirit. Ten days later, they went out transformed to give witness to God’s works, and the Church was born.
It is in prayer that we wait on God, in the prayer of the liturgy, when we come in the name of the Church, Christ’s mystical body, or alone in personal, silent prayer. At the same time, God is always waiting for us, respecting our choices and decisions. In prayer we commune most intimately with the Lord, opening ourselves to those deepest longings that often cannot be expressed in words. It is then that the Spirit pleads for us in ways beyond our telling. Our desire is in fact our prayer, St Gregory tells us. Those moments of quiet, unspoken prayer uniting us with God deepen our understanding and restore peace, going out to the troubled hearts of the world and giving true value to our lives.
God speaks to us as he spoke to Mary, silently, through inspirations in prayerful reflection, often through circumstances or through those around us. The Word that came to her at the annunciation was the living Presence of God in humanity. ‘The Word became flesh, and lived among us, and we saw his glory … full of grace and truth … For God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son’ (John 1:14, 3:16).
St Therese gathered inspiration from the gospels because she wanted nothing but truth and, in her final months, wrote a long poem in the form of a prayer addressed to Mary. The simple, ordinary years in Nazareth connected Therese with the Virgin Mary because her life, like ours, was made up of common events; she shared our sorrows, was eloquent in silence and joyful in poverty. She could then give her Lord a humanity because she was entirely his. She had nothing to give but herself, and God asked for nothing else.
Therese summed it up: ‘To love is to give everything. It is to give oneself.’ Love is never wasted, and waiting with a loving attitude is opening ourselves to limitless possibilities and vast horizons. We are reminded of our own Australian Saint, Mary of the Cross MacKillop, who never stopped giving and who knew no boundaries.
In Carmel at the close of each day in Advent, we sing a beautiful medieval antiphon to Our Lady called the Alma Redemptoris Mater, in which she is called ‘the Gate of Heaven, and Star of the Sea’. This gateway is always open, and she waits for us, like the shining star piercing the darkness and pointing the direction to her Son, the Incarnate Word. The Word was already born in her heart when she became Mother and embraced the human family in her tender love. Now he is born in our hearts so that we can become bearers of this love to the world, whether it be in spiritual motherhood or physical motherhood.
The most sublime wonders take place in the silence of ordinary, unnoticed events in everyday life and flow as grace on our world. Mary shows us how to wait on God, and she reveals how God is faithful, ever renewing the world with a wonderful, gentle and most powerful love.
This article first appeared in The Summit liturgical journal in August 2010 and has been republished with permission.
Melbourne Catholic20 September 2023
Christian Bergmann20 September 2023