Friday, May 25, 2012

The Woman's Touch

This Saturday, the day before Pentecost, the Pauline Family celebrates Mother’s Day. It’s the feast of Mary, the Queen of Apostles, and I’ve asked some Pauline Faithways readers to join me in sharing with you something of our relationship with Mary. (You can read about who they are at the end of the article.) We’d welcome hearing from you, too.

The feast—solemnity, really—of the Queen of Apostles: What a great preparation for the coming of the Spirit, the “birthday of the Church”! Picture it: Following the command of Jesus, the Apostles and over a hundred other disciples gather in their favorite hiding place, not out of fear this time, but in “prayer, along with some women and Mary the mother of Jesus and his brothers” (Acts 1:14). They’re waiting for the Spirit whom Jesus had promised to send, to fill them with life, joy, and enthusiasm in sharing the Gospel.

Mary is Queen of this little group as it prepares to give Jesus to the world—which is what an apostle does. No one had given him to others before her, and no one, not even the Spirit-filled Apostles, would give him with as much love and wisdom as she did. Still, they and all apostles after them would see in her a flesh-and-blood example of the Christian apostolate that Jesus taught them, modeled for them, and commissioned them to follow, even if she never preached a homily, held a conference, or worked a single miracle. This title sums up the purpose of her life: All of her privileges, including her greatest—Mother of God—served this end. Mary bore Jesus to give him away.

You’ve heard from me. Now let’s hear from people who, in practical or poetic ways, tell us who Mary is for them:

What image comes to mind when you think of Mary? Mother? Sister? Friend? Mentor?

Sarah: Mary's image to me is definitely that of a mother. When I teach about the musical settings of Renaissance Marian antiphons, I stress the importance of studying Mary regardless of one’s religion, because she is “everyone’s mother.”

Pat: Mary’s image, for me, is of an understanding mother who wishes nothing but the best for her son. She is always supportive, and yet reproachful in a “motherly” way—i.e., honestly and with much love.

Jeff: The image that usually comes to mind when I think of Mary [is]
the Queen of Apostles. She is seen holding the infant Jesus, but in a way where she is presenting him to the world. She could hold him close and safe and keep him to herself, but when God asked her to participate in his plan of Salvation, she said, “Yes!”

Mary is a perfect model of love, because she was willing to endure the pain of allowing her Son to suffer, because she wants what is best for all men, women, and children, not just her own Son. How awesomely humiliating to know that God the Father and Mary love me so much they are willing to watch Jesus tortured and killed for me.

I also tend to view Mary in a maternal scarf or veil and dress, rather than a crown and royal robes. I love that she is Queen of heaven and earth, but her role as Mother of Jesus, as Mother of us all, touches me the most. 

I am reminded of a quote by Blessed Father Alberione (which I can only paraphrase at the moment): How can we realize the awesome good news of the Truth of the Gospel and not want to share it with the world? That is Mary, Queen of Apostles, to me.

Frank: My primary image for Mary has always been mother. Being a true mother encompasses the other roles of sister, friend, and mentor. The other image that I identify with Mary is water. I am blessed to live near the ocean and I usually pray to Mary while I run along the ocean. Water communicates all the powerful qualities of Mary: flexibility (working and flowing around obstacles), relentlessness (powerful pounding of waves to reach its destination—the shore), magnanimity (flowing over retaining walls), deep calm (the deepest part of the ocean remains calm even in a storm) and healing (salt water is the best way to disinfect wounds).

How often do you pray to Mary? Do you have a favorite prayer or song?

Me: Many Catholics pray most naturally when they attend Mass. That’s how it is with Pat, for instance. He describes his prayer to Mary as “personal,” yet he’s not at all deterred by the public setting of the Liturgy, where the individual and community can pray in harmony, and where devotion is most authentic as it points to Christ and his salvation. Mary would like that. She would also like the way others, like Jeff who prays the Rosary “while driving to or from work,” fill their moments with prayer, probably as she did herself.

Still others, of course, bond with Mary privately, with unique insight:

Frank: I pray the Rosary as part of an early morning meditation and run along the ocean. I run in silence and then it leads to praying the Rosary. I love praying the Rosary while I am running, because it reminds me that love and prayer are active and not passive activities.

When I meditate on the scenes of Jesus life, I am reminded that Mary is also powerfully present in the scenes in my life. By meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary, I grow increasingly aware that Mary has a role in allowing God to consecrate the mysteries in my life.

Sarah: Being raised Protestant, I was not taught to pray to Mary, and I don’t. However I do think of/consider her often. My favorite song—again thinking of a teacher’s perspective—is an American spiritual, “Mary, What You Gonna Call Your Pretty Little Baby?” because of its mournful tone. I link Mary, Mother of Jesus, to the sorrow of the African on U.S. soil—an enslaved woman considering naming a baby born under painful circumstances, or naming a baby that may be taken from her one day, or naming a baby that she’ll be unable to protect if “master” beats it. Mother Mary would totally understand firsthand this anguish like no other mother.

If Mary were alive today—a neighbor, perhaps, or a co-worker or relative—what would be her greatest personal gift to the relationship she has with you? What would she appreciate most in you?

Frank: What I love most about Mary in our relationship is her sense of urgency and her offer of unconditional love even in the most difficult situations. In the Gospels, Mary always acts decisively: rushing to help Elizabeth in her pregnancy or mandating Jesus to change water into wine at the marriage of Cana. I notice that people turn to Mary in the most difficult of circumstances. In 2008 my wife and I lost a daughter two days after a premature birth. While I was holding my daughter for one last time, I remember my wife and friends praying the Hail Mary in their native Brazilian Portuguese. The prayer reminded me that Mary’s love (like the ocean) will break through the fiercest walls of grief.
What I also love about Mary is that she sees the best in me. When I am tempted to wallow in my own failures or shortcomings, Mary will kiss my cheeks and lips like a cool rain. She reminds that nothing can disconnect me from my identity as a proud child of God.

Pat: Mary would be an utterly honest and amazingly accepting friend/neighbor to men/women of good will. She would support me as a father who tries to influence his children’s Christian lives.

Sarah: I would seek her out for authentic, appropriate maternal care, even though I am now an adult. She would seem as the elder wise woman, who models for me how to grow old, how to mentor community. I would hope she would appreciate most in me my emulation of her compassion toward others.

Jeff: If Mary were alive on earth now, I picture her helping unwed mothers and young women in crisis pregnancies prepare for the awesome gift of life God has created within them. I could see her washing and cooking and cleaning and helping with all the motherly tasks she performed for Jesus when he was a boy. When she speaks, I hear her talking about her Son, Jesus, the Divine Master, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. All around her would be filled with joy, because to know Mary is to know Jesus. That is her purpose, and that is what brings her joy!

What contribution do you think she would make to the society she would be part of and to the Church? How would she, as St. Paul says, live justly and devoutly in this age, as she awaits her savior Jesus Christ?

Me: Without making her into our own image and likeness—very hard to avoid!—we tend to at least see in her the best of what we want for our society, our Church, and ourselves. As Frank observes below, Mary “cannot be understood apart from our history.”

Pat: I think Mary would happily accept her role in today’s society as living against what consumes us today: greed, immorality, the emptiness that comes from pursuing only temporal things. She would serve to remind us that this life is only fleeting!

Sarah: For me, Mary would model a devout and just life by serving her family, community, and Church without seeking earthly affirmation of being correct/right on political or social grounds. She would model stability in this polarized society, by resisting the urge to be pulled into ridiculously emotional “absolutes” about things we really can't be sure of.

Frank: I think it’s important to remember that Mary lived during one of the most tumultuous periods in human history. The political, religious, cultural, and social fissures were staggering, and I imagine that it would have made a deep impression upon the heart and mind of Mary. She cannot be understood apart from her history and she cannot be understood apart from our history. My favorite portrayal of Mary is by Caravaggio, The Madonna of Loreto or Madonna of the Pilgrims. What I love about this painting is that Mary is depicted with soiled feet. She has walked the difficult path of the pilgrims who are praying to her. Mary is immersed in the world.  She does not operate apart from the world. When problems, issues, and questions are thorny, Mary is most present. This is a powerful message to the world and is a reminder of the spirit of Vatican II, as we prepare to commemorate its 50th anniversary.

Do you want to share anything else about her or about your relationship with her?

Pat: Mary loved her only Son, and accepted his mission. I think of how Mary must have felt watching her Son die on the cross, her agony. I think of Jesus looking down from the cross and seeing his mother weeping, and knowing there was nothing he could do to console her—and also seeing that among his followers, it was his mother only who was with him until the end. She is such a wonderful example of total support and love for our children.

Sarah: I think that the complexities of Mary—both as a person and as her role in Christianity—offer rich insights for those of any faith who would take time to study her through the ages.

Frank: I see Mary as a powerful woman and advocate and not passive and quiet. I would imagine that Mary’s personality was similar to that of Mother Teresa. After I read her journal and letters (Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light), I was struck by how tenacious she was in establishing the Missionaries of Charity (another example of the ocean at work!) I would imagine that Mary had to exercise that same relentless approach in helping to establish the first Christian communities.

I believe that Mary is the most powerful symbol for our day. Like the world of the first century, our world is being torn apart by violence and division. Mary’s daily “yes” to enter our chaos is a reminder of the daily “yes” that we all need to embrace. I see Mary as the mother of healing. I imagine her bringing healing to the divisions within our Church and the world. Mary will always have soiled feet because she knows that the fruition of love is found in the complex, and sometimes maddening, matrix of our humanity.

Frank DeVito, is a husband and a father of two from Lynn, MA. He goes by the intriguing descriptive of “Catholic wisdom teacher” and is the founder and president of FENIX, INC. 

Patrick Hitchcock, married and the father of two teens, is the ever-busy and ever-upbeat president of Hitchcock Rosenfield Investment Group in San Francisco, CA. In today’s economy, “upbeat” says something, especially when you’re successful and honest.

Jeff Mathews, M.D., is a gastroenterologist from St. Louis, MO, and a Pauline Cooperator, a lay person associated with the Pauline Family—which just might explain how he knows Blessed James Alberione better than most.

Sarah Schmalenberger teaches music history at the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, MN. She is married to David. Oh, by the way, she happens to be my cousin.

1 comment:

  1. What an excellent recording of this spiritual! I am now searching for recordings of the Spelman Women's Choir - to play in class of course!


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