I am fortunate to have been able to visit some places associated with Mary the Mother of Jesus during my travels. On a trip to Ireland my husband and I visited Knock where Mary appeared in 1879, and a few years later we were able to visit Fatima and Lourdes. We also traveled to Israel where we prayed at sites which were part of the life of Mary, described in the gospels. All of these places were uniquely inspirational and beautiful, but the place that moved me the most was where the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary in Nazareth. The exact site of the Annunciation is beneath a sizeable church, in a simple, cave-like room, a place which is far from elaborate. The other sites also inspire faith and glorify God, but the little humble room, a place reflecting the humility of Mary, impacted me greatly. The spot seemed wrapped in prayer, Mary’s and that of all who have prayed there in the centuries since. It felt as if had I entered into the intimacy of her encounter with the angel kneeling before her who explained, “Nothing is impossible for God” along with the echo of her words: “I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be it done to me according to your word.”
We celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on August 15. This feast celebrates Mary’s extraordinary entrance into Heaven: immediately after her death, Mary’s body and soul were reunited and she was taken whole into heaven. All of us will have our bodies and souls reunited and glorified at the end of time, but because Mary was pure, immaculately conceived and totally sinless, (because God had anticipated that she would freely consent to be the mother of our Lord, Jesus Christ), having lived a life of total disposal to God, she was given the honor of experiencing this body and spirit wholeness immediately, without having to wait for the Second Coming of Christ. There were witnesses to this event, and though it is not recorded in the Scriptures, it is part of what we call the Tradition of the Church. There is not a lot about Mary in the gospels, but of this we can be sure: Mary was true to her promise to the Father by caring for Jesus during His life and then by caring for His people forever after. Thus, Mary is our mother, too, a perfect mother who we can call upon at any time.
From Scripture and Tradition we learn that Mary is an excellent role model and so I suggest that we let her teach us through them.* She humbly reveals the value of listening and pondering prayerfully as we sit with her at the Annunciation. Mary teaches us to welcome angels, the message of God, and the grace of the Holy Spirit. She models humility, discernment, obedience, and openness to what we may not originally see as possibility. She models trusting in God even when we do not understand. As we travel with Mary to the hill country to serve her cousin Elizabeth, she teaches how to savor our relationships. She shows us how to respond to the gifts God gives by sharing those gifts with others in turn. As we witness the birth of Christ, we can learn from Mary how to share Jesus with ‘wayfarers’ who come into our lives, be they wealthy kings or poor shepherds, sharing especially with those who do not know exactly Who it is that they seek. When we observe her finding her ‘lost’ Son in the Temple, Mary teaches us to seek Jesus with patience especially during those times when He seems absent. She teaches perseverance in prayer, applying what Jesus said: “Seek and you shall find.” At the wedding in Cana Mary encourages that we do whatever He tells us: to be a disciple means to follow Jesus’ teaching, trusting in it. As we hold vigil with her at the Cross, we learn from Mary that although grief and pain will be part of our lives, we are never alone because Jesus remains present with us always. At Pentecost Mary shows us how to open our hearts to the joy of the Holy Spirit. And finally, as she did when she died and was assumed into Heaven, Mary teaches us to have courage in passing through death, trusting that we will indeed have everlasting life with God.
There is much to learn from so pure and loving a mother as Mary. My suggestion is to ask for the grace to work on one of her ‘lessons’ at a time. It would also be good to ask for the grace to imitate her example of humility, love, mercy, and prayerfulness. And if we feel like even that is too much, then perhaps we can imitate her by interceding for others in our prayer, asking Mary to intercede with us for our world as we do so. Let us take this time of celebrating her Assumption into Heaven as an opportunity to reflect upon Mary’s life, to ask the Lord for the grace to be more like her, and as an opportunity to say thank you for having such a Mother who wants nothing other than what is best for our world so that we might have healing and peace.
May we ask the intercession of Mary saying: “O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you!” May we take the time to reflect upon the gifts and graces we receive from God our Father so that we might be able to say: “I am the servant of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word!” And may we respond to the teaching of Jesus, Son of God and son of Mary, that we might become examples of mercy, justice, service, and love! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus!
©Michele L. Catanese
* In Scripture, the Gospels of Matthew and Luke have the most about Mary: Matthew 1&2 and Luke 1&2 cover the Infancy Narratives, which includes everything from the Annunciation to the finding of Jesus in the Temple. The wedding at Cana is in John 2. All four Gospels describe the death and resurrection of Jesus, but Mary’s presence there is best described by John. (John 19:25-27) Mary’s role at Pentecost is covered in the Acts of the Apostles chapters 1&2. And the Assumption can be read about in the Catechism of the Catholic Church which includes that which is covered in Tradition.
1. My photo taken in the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, Israel. This spot is said to be the site where the Annunciation took place, as told through Tradition.
2. Icon, The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, by Fr. William Hart McNichols. If you are interested in obtaining a copy in one of a variety of mediums, you can purchase it at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-blessed-virgin-mary-mother-of-the-church-william-hart-mcnichols.html
3. My photo, taken just outside of Auckland, New Zealand.
4. My photo, taken in Dunedin, New Zealand. This rose makes me think of Mary as the Mystical Rose, pure and beautiful.
5. Painting, part of a fresco at San Marco Convent, Florence, Italy, The Annunciation by Blessed Fra Angelico. In my opinion, this is the purest, most moving artistic rendition of so sublime an event as the angel appearing to Mary.
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Heart Speaks to Heart