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May Article for the RI Catholic

Sr. Patricia McCarthy, CND

In the Church year of feasts and celebrations, May is traditionally the month of Mary, perhaps because Mother’s Day is always the second Sunday of May. May is a usual time for First Communions, and recently, a return to the Crowning ceremony of the Blessed Mother.

No matter the devotion or feast, many representations of Mary are theologically incorrect or grossly sentimental. If we go by the facts, we know very little about Mary. We know she was a young Hebrew girl, betrothed to a man named Joseph when God asked her to consent to become the Mother of Jesus, the Mother of God. We know she gave birth to Jesus in Bethlehem, brought her baby to the temple for a blessing, fled to Egypt for safety under the persecution of Herod, returned to Nazareth with her family where Jesus was raised.

When Jesus was twelve years old, he was left behind in the temple to the dismay and worry of his parents. At a wedding in Cana, Mary intervened when the wine ran out and was part of Jesus’ first miracle. A few times in Jesus’ brief public life, Mary is mentioned as being in the crowd accompanying him. Then we hear nothing about Mary until the Crucifixion.

These few biblical references to a woman who changed history are indeed a humble account of her life. Yet this is all we know of the Mother of God from Scripture. To make assumptions beyond these stark accounts is to risk making Mary into a woman fitting our needs. In attempting to humanize Mary, we can falsify her. We simply do not know more than we know historically.

What we can do is learn to know Mary in relationship. The first step in a relationship with Mary could be to get her off the exquisite pedestals on which we have enthroned her for centuries. Mary was a first century Hebrew woman called by God into the greatest event in all history, the Incarnation of God in Jesus. God asked. Mary consented. Then she lived out her surrender to an impossible, improbable reality in an ordinary life among the oppressed Jewish people under Roman control in Palestine.

Mary had a unique vocation – to bring Jesus into her world. This is the essence of Mary, to be a Christ-bearer to her neighbors and family in the ordinary circumstances of her life. This is the Mary we can understand. We don’t need a beautiful sculptured image of a woman dressed in extravagant medieval robes. We need to learn what it means to hear the word of God and to act on it. We need to learn what it means to surrender everything for the love of God. We need to learn what it means to bring Christ to everyone we meet.

The vocation of every baptized Christian is the same as the vocation of Mary. Christ’s hands today are our hands. Christ’s love today is our love. Christ’s forgiveness of his enemies is our forgiveness of our enemies. Mary is with us in our lives, in our efforts to be good people in our everyday lives, to be honest and sincere, to be selfless and forgiving.

We do Mary neither service nor honor by making her into a product of our own exaggerated fantasy. Elaborate rituals, even pilgrimages in her honor are not more important than a simple act of kindness in the name of Christ. One Hail Mary prayed in faith surpasses dozens of novenas rattled off without attention.

Mary trusted God in circumstances that none of us will ever face. To be like Mary is to trust God in the situations of our own lives. Her trust bore fruit in a child. Our trust will bear fruit in Christ becoming alive among us.

Article first published by the Rhode Island Catholic.

 

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