THE PRESENCE OF MARY
Joseph F. MibelliSeptember 1995
Objective:To present a brief analysis of the participation and meaning of the Blessed Virgin Mary in our Christian life.
Note:The study of matters of the faith is clouded by a veil of mystery. The Word of God, throughout the scriptures, is not presented to us in a totally clear manner. We must study the Scriptures from end to end and we must rely on our faith, with guidance from the same Holy Spirit that inspired the writers of the Scriptures, to slowly develop a good understanding. It cannot be otherwise, for to demand absolute and unequivocal interpretations is equivalent to asking for a miracle so that we may believe. It is with this in mind that we must analyze the few facts and the myriad of "hints" that pertain to Mary.
Part OneThe Salvation Plan
When God our Father, in his infinite wisdom, devised a salvation plan for mankind, He could have used His infinite power to erase our sins just as we could resolve many matters with the stroke of a pen. This is our interpretation as mere mortals, taking the easy path, whereas God's plan involved His own Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, whose mandate was to take onto Himself the burden of our sins. So, our Lord could have appeared as a pilgrim from a distant land, but God's plan went deeper than that, the Savior was to be part of a family. Our Lord could have appeared as a young child, as a distant relative or perhaps as an orphan and adopted by Joseph and Mary. This, however would also have been too simple a scenario for the importance of salvation. God's plan for salvation required that the redeemer would have to come from within the same people that sinned against God: He would have to be born. He would have to take the form of a mortal.
Part TwoThe presence of Mary
The first significance of the way in which our Lord Jesus Christ made His appearance among us is the value given to the family. He could have appeared fully grown and with full knowledge and wisdom. Instead, He was born of a woman and had to be nurtured and loved and cared for as He grew just like any one of us. We do not need any studies to come to the conclusion that the family, as in Father, Mother and Children, is the proper environment for the development of a child, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Other environments can also provide the needs of a child, but they all have to emulate the absolute standard which is the family in order to be successful.
The ten commandments carry a significant and direct reference to the family: The first three commandments refer to God, the last six refer to our neighbor and the fourth one refers to our parents (Honor Father and Mother). It is interesting then, to note that the fourth commandment is the one that unites the first three with the last six. The significance is that without our respect to our parents, which originates in the family life, we cannot expect to be able to learn to love our neighbor, and if we do not love our neighbor then we do not love God.
The importance of the family resides in that it is the place where all values are first learned: The difference between good and bad and the respect for others. Today, more than ever, we can easily trace the breakdown of society as a result of the weakening of the family, or the absence of family life altogether. A great number of our children reach adulthood with little or no values to guide their actions. Values must be presented at an early age in order for them to be firmly implanted in the individual by the time adult age is reached. Schools and other institutions can provide some of these values, but the "political correctness" of our present time discourages or simply excludes the values that have a religious base. Moral values, at the root of decision making in many of our actions, must have an absolute divine reference, for earthly values are relative, not far reaching and subject to change.
We do not need any studies either, to determine that the mother plays the most important role in the family because of the development of the child. Besides the basic physical needs that she provides, the mother is also the first source of love, and with it, the source of the first teachings, the first examples, the first admonitions, the first encouragements. The mother is especially gifted for such a task. It is a God given feature, but so are the other "mothers" in nature. In the animal world the mother also cares for her young with the same dedication. So what is so special about the human mother? The difference is that as humans we have a body and a soul. The mother brings up not just a body but a person.
When God, in his salvation plan, determined that the Savior would be born of a woman, He raised the woman to a level not known before. In biblical times, the woman was merely needed to produce and care for offspring. Her importance as a person was secondary, as it still is today in many societies. Not anymore. By His birth from a woman, our Lord put motherhood at a divine level.
God gave us the capability to generate new life, but life is divine in origin and in destination; we are co-operators in God's plan. Our responsibility is to follow His instructions, and perhaps the most important of those instructions is to care for His creation. The children that we bring into this world are God's most precious creations. We show our love for God by the way in which we love others and the best example of this love is in the love of the mother for her children.
So, what kind of a woman would be fitting to be the Mother of the Lord? A woman of high ranking, a woman of great skills? God's plan always astonishes those that study matters of the faith simply from a logical, purely academic and earthly based point of view. The Lord was born from a simple woman, from a town not well regarded, in conditions definitely not in accordance with the importance that we would associate with someone that we would call our savior, our king.
Mary may have been a simple woman, but to God she was a very important person. The message from the Angel Gabriel confirms this: "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you", and later "...you have found favor with God" (Luke 1:28-30). Is there any doubt about the importance of Mary? Mary was indeed simple and may not have understood immediately the impact of what was said to her, so when the angel said "You will be with child ..." (Luke 1:31) she replied "How can this be ..." (Luke 1:34). But, Mary was a faithful and devout woman so when the angel said "The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the son of God." (Luke 1:35), her reply was "I am the Lord's servant ... May it be to me as you have said." (Luke 1:38). Is there any doubt about Mary's faith and obedience?
Part ThreeThe importance of Mary
If the participation of Mary in God's plan for our salvation is seen merely as being the mother of Jesus, we loose a significant amount of the values that she represents.
The importance of Mary can be traced from the Genesis, when God said to the serpent "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers, he will crush your head, and you will strike at his heel." (Gen 3:15). Here, the reference to the woman and her offspring gives the first clue of the eventual appearance of the Redeemer. "The woman" is the reference to Mary and "her offspring" is the reference to our Lord Jesus Christ. The serpent is the representation of the Devil and his temptations that attempt to take us away from God, and our Lord is the only one that can crush the Devil because He is the one that was sent to erase our mistakes and in that way reconcile us with our God.
Mary is considered as the new Eve, the one who came to compensate for the error of the original Eve, and our Lord Jesus Christ is the new Adam, who came to totally cancel the original sin of our first parents. The parallel between Eve and Mary is very notable because of the contrast. Eve allowed the serpent to convince her to disobey God's commandment of not to eat from the forbidden fruit. Here the temptation took the form of something innocent and needed (food) to cover up the real sin of pride and ambition. The serpent told them "God knows very well that when you eat the fruit of that tree you will know what is good and what is bad and that then you will be like God." (Gen 3:5).
Mary, on the contrary, gave a great example of humility and obedience. She did not ask for time to think over what the angel Gabriel said to her. She did not ask what she would receive in return. Mary showed her importance when she said "... I am the Lord's servant ... May it be to me as you have said." (Luke 1:38). This example of obedience and humility did not remain at the Annunciation.
Mary continued giving this example throughout her earthly life. Mary never retreated in spite of the many hard times that she endured. Events that would have turned even the strongest faith into doubt. When Jesus was presented in the temple, Simeon said "... a sword will pierce your own soul too." (Luke 2:35). Later, when Jesus was a twelve year old child and he remained in the temple in Jerusalem, Mary received another sign that the son that she so much cared form would eventually leave the home to work on His (celestial) Father mandate (Luke 2:41-52). Finally, at the foot of the cross, Mary revealed one more time her dedication as a mother, to stay with her son when nearly everybody had abandoned him.
Mary's function did not stop after giving birth and caring for the infant Jesus. He remained with her for thirty years, growing and learning. Mary's function did not stop either, the moment that our Lord left the house to start on his heavenly mandate, or when He died on the Cross. Rather, her presence took a higher meaning.
Mary was at the foot of the cross with the apostle John when our Lord Jesus Christ said to her "... Woman, there is your son" (John 19:26). By these short words, Mary was made our mother. Then, as our spiritual mother, Mary cares for us with the same dedication that she devoted to her son, our Lord.
As our mother, she is ready to hear our petitions and elevate them to her son. And just as it happened in Cana, our Lord will respond to her requests. So, what does Mary tells us when we pray to her? The same thing that she said to those at the wedding in Cana "... do whatever he tells you." (John 2:5). This is perhaps the pivotal point of Mary's presence: we ask her and she responds by telling us to follow the teachings of her son. Mary leads us to Jesus, who in turn leads us to God the Father..
Mary is very important, but she does not take our Lord's place. Mary is not the focal point of our spiritual life, Jesus is. But, Mary is instrumental in bringing us to Him and reminding us of His teachings. Mary's mission is to care for us just as she cared for her son; All we have to do is ask. But, when we ask we have to realize that the reply will always be the same "... do whatever he (Jesus) tells you."
Throughout the centuries, Mary has appeared in many different places, in many different times and to many different people, but the message is always the same: Peace in the world. Love and respect God. Listen and put in practice the teachings of her son, our Lord.
The presence of Mary is an undeniable fact, it is not a subject of debate, it is not a matter of simple belief. As the Mother of our Lord, her presence is as real and as that of her own Son. We pray to Mary, our heavenly mother. She replies reminding us that we must follow our Lord's teachings. There is no other way...