Talk about a jampacked weekend. Saturday we are celebrating the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, and then right back to church on Sunday to celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord. I would like to use this reflection to focus on Mary, and what a model of faith she is for all of us.
The Solemnity of Mary, from the church in Canada’s point of view, carries a great deal of importance as it is one of only two holy days of obligation in the entire year (the other one being Christmas). When I was growing up, there was a tremendous devotion to Mary in our household. Most every evening we would gather as a family and say the rosary shortly after supper. I can remember how inconvenient this was as it was almost always at a time when friends would be knocking at the door to see if one of the seven of us could come out to play. Looking back, the Pope could have been at the door, and he would have had to wait until we finished the rosary.
In the room where we would say the rosary there was a statue of Mary elevated on a shelf with candles lit around it while we were praying. I can remember that the statue had Mary with her eyes cast toward the ground and looking meek and mild. This is the image of Mary that I (and I suspect many others) grew up with. In my later years I have come to believe that if that is our only image of Mary, then we are really selling her short. I recently had the opportunity to put together a presentation on Mary for an R.C.I.A. meeting and it ended up being quite the eye opener for me. First, I was able to find an image of what Mary probably would have looked like as a teenage girl in first century Palestine. Quite different from any image I had seen before. But more important, Mary was anything but a shrinking violet, as the downcast eyes on the statue might suggest. As we hear in the account of the Visitation, Mary didn’t just blindly accept the mission being placed in front of her by the Angel Gabriel. She had questions, and good ones too.
Also, think of the tremendous responsibility of not just giving birth to the messiah but raising him through childhood and adolescence trying to prepare him for what will be the most important mission anyone has ever carried out. And at the end of her son’s life, just as she did not flee when being presented with this mission all those years ago, she did not flee when the going got really tough. Witnessing the death of your own son is something no parent ever wants to live through, yet there she was, front and center, watching the whole ordeal play out. I also have come to believe that even though we don’t hear a lot about Mary in the Acts of the Apostles and other stories of the early church, she was the glue that kept those disciples together until they could develop the gifts they would need to bring this news to the rest of the world. Mary was as strong a woman as there has ever been. To imply that she was anything less not only does her a great disservice, but flies in the face of what Scripture tells us about her. That is why Mary continues to be someone we can look to when we are trying to navigate our own faith journey.
This is the first weekend of the new year, so I would like to take this opportunity to wish all of you a joyous and blessed 2022.