During these times when many of us are concerned about where we might be headed it would be easy to think we are the first people to have been in a dilemma over the world situation. It would be short-sighted to think so, however, because both good and evil powers have been around throughout history. We have never been alone because God has always sent help through inspired spiritual leaders which culminated in sending His Son, but continues through the holy ones who imitate Jesus and spread His message. The Bible teaches that the most important leadership is that which we are offered from Heaven. In addition to the wisdom contained in the Old Testament, the way taught by Jesus Christ was handed down by four evangelists who each emphasized different parts of the message, tailoring their writing to the needs of the group for which they wrote. In the end, it all boils down to the same thing: God loves all people and desires that we would be with Him in Heaven forever, and therefore He sent His Son to us to save us from the power of sin and death. In order for God’s Kingdom to come to fruition, however, He needs people willing to work with Him toward this end. The most holy among these is the Virgin Mary, Mother of Love, Mother of Mercy, Mother of Jesus Christ.
The celebration of the Feast of the Assumption of Mary (August 15) brings to mind Luke’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles because he wrote about Mary more than any other evangelist, though the information about her may still seem sparse to us. It is good to want more about her: that can lead to meditating upon what has been recorded so that we can allow the Spirit to help us to know Mary better. In the writings of Luke there are a number of important themes, all of which are interconnected. One of these is how Jesus was inclusive of all people, in particular the most marginalized and outcast among them. This group included women, especially the widowed without children (considered as the poorest of the poor), the ill, disabled, possessed, (all fallaciously considered somehow ‘cursed’ by God), the poor, and foreigners, (deemed as those outside the law and therefore unclean). Luke also focused on the power of the Holy Spirit who would guide us after Jesus died and rose. All of this was tied together in Luke’s focus on Mary, the mother of Jesus, without whom there would have been no birth of Jesus, the Son of God, and subsequently there would have been no birth of the Church.
Luke was very intentional about making sure we understand the importance of Mary’s role in salvation history and in the virtues she models for us. She was full of grace which means that her soul was filled with gifts from the Holy Spirit and therefore in her there was no room for sin. She had been conceived without sin because God had anticipated her participation in His plan. It makes sense for us to understand that in being filled with Jesus during her pregnancy and then being with Him throughout His life, she would have known what His way was about. But as Jesus’ mother, she was also His teacher. In other words, that which was important to Jesus in His teaching would have been affected by her, and she by Him. So it is not a stretch to say that the theme Luke highlighted from Jesus’ teaching about being inclusive of the marginalized and outcast was something important to her also. She was the first disciple of Jesus, following His way through her prayer, pondering all that God was doing, long before He was born.
In the Acts of the Apostles Luke tells us that after Jesus ascended, Mary, the apostles, and some other disciples gathered in the Upper Room to pray as He had instructed. Luke stated that there were about 120 people gathered in the space, yet he only identified the eleven remaining apostles and Mary by name. That tells us that Mary was central to the group, given great respect. Also, if we read Acts 1 carefully we will notice that Mary was with the 120 when Peter began the process of selecting the new 12th apostle. Her discernment and intercessory prayer must have been essential to the apostles, and perhaps they even asked her to share her thoughts on the selection. It is not a surprise then to see that at Pentecost Mary was at the center of the community of men and women, praying, deeply immersed in doing the will of God to bring the Holy Spirit down upon them so that the Church might come to birth and the newly empowered believers would go forth into the world to share the Good News.
After the Pentecost event we hear nothing more of Mary in Scripture, though Tradition has it that in the care of John the apostle she lived in Ephesus before returning to Jerusalem where she subsequently died and was assumed into Heaven. We do not know exactly how many years were contained in that span, but we know she spent her time interceding for the church by consulting the Holy Spirit in prayer, serving those who labored for her Son. Because of all she had done in the greatest of humility and having borne much suffering, God gave Mary the great gift of reuniting her body and soul at the moment of her death. Tradition attests to Christians who witnessed this event. Though God made her Queen of Heaven, Mary does not simply sit on a throne and watch life in the cosmos evolve or devolve. Rather she is most humble, doing as she has always done: she intercedes for the fate of the world, for the homeless, the marginalized, those who are considered foreigners, the suffering, the poor, and that the hearts of evildoers would be changed. She aligned her will with God’s throughout her life and though now Queen, she continues to serve Him with great love. God has sent her into the world many times, allowing her to appear in order to give messages of warning or guidance, desiring to save us from the dangers of evil. Therefore, turning to her for help is imperative, and perhaps now more than ever. Mary, like Jesus, desires for us to receive the mercy and love of God and to save us from the effects of evil.
As stated earlier, Luke emphasized the connection Jesus made between the outcasts and the work of the Holy Spirit: it is the little ones (the humble) who are most open to the Spirit working within them. God offers the power of grace to everyone, but is especially sensitive to the marginalized and the powerless. We learn from Mary to ponder and to intercede in prayer, but we do not stop there. We also learn to let her be our role model, imitating her desire to serve the powerless and the voiceless with the mercy and compassion taught by Jesus. She calls us to prayer and to action, therefore we need to respond. This is what it means to be Christians, disciples of Jesus: we cannot wait for someone else to do it, but rather we must realize that God needs us as His hands and feet to continue the work of building the Kingdom now, in our present generation. If we do not know how to proceed we can ask Mary to intercede for us that we may have the gifts of discernment and wisdom especially when choices are difficult. We can pray for the gift of perseverance, along with an enlivening of the gifts of faith, hope, and love which we received at our baptism. And then we can go about the task of being a presence of compassion and mercy by doing little things with great love, returning to the Gospel for advice and guidance.
Rather than allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed by the volume of needs in the world or by the sense of being powerless over the forces of evil surrounding us, we need to remain clear that we are not alone on this journey of faith. We have the Father’s presence, the love and mercy of Jesus, and the grace of the Holy Spirit. We also have a perfect mother, Mary, who will continue to intercede for us that we might be protected from evil, persevere through any suffering we might endure, have the desire to meet God in the reflection which comes with prayer, and have the courage to act with love and mercy no matter how small or large the gesture. We need not fear, but let us not become complacent either. Let us remember that the promises of God are always fulfilled. Christ will return, and until then He has left us His Spirit to guide and empower us. He has also entrusted us to the care of Mary. We are indeed blessed.
May we ask for Mary’s intercession that we would be empowered, cleansed, healed, guided, and protected from the powers which seem rampant in the world! May we accept the gift of the Holy Spirit by working alongside Mary, praying for our world and then acting upon our prayer! May we take the time to ponder prayerfully along with Mary, that we may be filled with discernment and wisdom in our words and deeds! May our eyes be open to the beauty of God’s Kingdom so that we may value what we have been given in our relationships, in the gift of nature, in faith, and in mercy! And may we work together as one community, one Body of Christ, in building the Kingdom, ever hopeful and trusting in the power and mercy of Jesus Christ! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
Note: Next entry: August 29
The first photo is one of mine, taken from high atop a hill, at the Hohensalzburg Castle, in Salzburg, Austria. You can see the Cathedral and also the Salzach River which divides the city into the old city and the new city. I chose this photo because it seemed to encompass the old and the new, from the 11th century castle where the photo was taken to the modern parts of Salzburg. Since there is a lot of history contained in this photo, and there is the flow of the river, it seemed to symbolize much of what is contained in the text in the first paragraph.
Second is a painting of the Annunciation by Bl. Fra Angelico. I chose this because I think the artist truly captured the purity of Mary in this work. Though the angel has knelt acknowledging that she is full of grace, her folded hands speak of her humility, a sign of the very grace the angel is acknowledging. Her heart already has room for Jesus and for the many who He would entrust to her care.
The third image is a painting of Pentecost by Duccio di Buoninsegna. Mary is in the center of the apostles, interceding as all are filled with the Holy Spirit. While there are many beautiful renditions of Pentecost, I chose this one because the halos of Mary and the eleven apostles in the painting seem to be joined as one; just as the community was one in the Spirit, the artist seems to have captured the unity by connecting them in this way.
Fourth is an icon called She Who Reigns. Atop the icon, we see the Creator, God the Father, appearing as Michelangelo’s God the Father creating the world. The Spirit is painted as the Shekinah, the cloud of protection. Mary is not simply sitting idle while God is working around her: she is in the midst of it all, just as at Pentecost. Mary is interceding, working with her Son who stands on her lap. He is blessing the world, which is depicted as a golden orb, praying over it, simultaneously pointing to the Father and Spirit, but also upward to His mother, as if to affirm her wisdom and that He has heard her prayers of intercession for us. Notice that her hand is on the globe also. This seems to be because she is working with Jesus and has a tender love for all God has created, too. The straight line formed by Jesus and Mary, upwards to the Spirit and the Father shows a unity of love, intention, and mercy. I think this icon is needed now more than ever because she is one who protects through her prayer.
For the fascinating story behind this icon you can go to: http://www.serfes.org/royal/miracle4.htm
Click here for She Who Reigns: http://fineartamerica.com/featured/she-who-reigns-276-william-hart-mcnichols.html
Next is one of my own photos taken in Pollone, Italy, in the house of the Frassati family. The shoes are those worn by Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. I chose this photo because Pier Giorgio was a man of action, inspired by his faith and the Holy Spirit to put that faith into action. He worked for the poor and for justice. He became the hands and feet of Christ.
Last is another of my photos, a stained glass window taken in the Salesian church in Turin, Italy. (St. John Bosco and St. Dominic Savio are entombed there.) I chose it because I love the beautiful colors in this symbol of Mary. The letters A and M are superimposed: Ave Maria (Hail Mary). The sword which runs through the letters represents the sword which Simeon said would pierce her heart. (Luke 2:22-38, specifically verse 34.) The crown symbolizes that she is Queen of Heaven.
Heart Speaks to Heart