Mary: A Model for All
Mary of the Ages
issue carries an
Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery," wrote Francis Bacon
three centuries ago. Contemporary sculptor Frederick Franck would agree.
His stunning metal statue of Mary opens to reveal the face of Christ
within her cloak. However, Mary's own face is blank. Why? "Because she
is potentially every woman, every man," says the artist. And that is
a mystery worth pondering as we prepare for the third millennium.
It is a mystery few Catholics
would have grappled with before Vatican Il (1962-65). In pre-conciliar
times we kept Mary on a pedestal, emphasizing her privileged uniqueness.
We were so busy craning our necks to look up to her that we missed out
on her presence at our side. Insisting on her singularity, we kept her
at a safe distance.
But the Fathers of Vatican
II offered new advice. Paraphrasing Lumen Gentium, they said:
"Look again. Mary is a human being who, like us, needed to be redeemed
by her Son. She is a model who goes before us, guiding our pilgrimage
of faith. She assures us that we too are capable of fidelity to God's
call." In his 1974 "Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary," Pope Paul
Vl urged Catholics to "see how Mary can be considered a mirror of the
expectations of the men and women of our time."
Far from being a timid,
submissive or passive woman, the Blessed Virgin, Paul Vl wrote, was
an "active witness of that love which builds up Christ in people's hearts."
In emulating her, we learn how to live the will of God fully and responsibly.
While sacred art deepens
the mystery, it also draws us into communion. By focusing on four dissimilar
works of Marian art, we will consider our own response to four of her
exemplary qualities: interiority, prayerfulness, trust and hope. "Looking
at art," Sister Wendy Beckett advises, "is one way of listening to God."
model of interiority
She sits on a low bench
with an open book on her lap. The halo is extraneous, an artistic convention.
Holiness is communicated through the composure of her face, the welcoming
gesture of her right hand, the slight bow toward her visitor. In Fra
Filippo Lippi's "The Annunciation," Mary is a model of interiority.
Aware of the God who dwells within, she is neither unhinged nor disconcerted
by the spectacle of a winged messenger kneeling among the flowers in
The artist has placed
a small dove slightly in front of Mary where it is connected by invisible
lines to the book (an anachronistic symbol of the word of God) and to
her womb. "Behold," says Gabriel, "you will conceive in your womb
and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus" (Lk 1:31).
Mary considers. She questions.
She decides. "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done
to me according to your word" (Lk 1:38). Jesus will be conceived in
her because she is fully prepared to receive him. Her stillness in the
garden foreshadows his silent coming in the manger. An anonymous poet
all so still,
To his mother's bower
As dew in April
That falleth on shower.
Sing of a Maiden")
Can the image of being
impregnated by the
Holy Spirit speak to men as well as to women? Surely it can, just as
images of Jesus doing "masculine" things like quelling the storm and
evicting the money changers speak to women. William J. O'Malley, S.J.,
observes that before God we are all "feminine." He adds: "God comes
to us every day, as to Our Lady, and says, 'Conceive my son in you today.'
Sadly, most of us are too busy trying to prove ourselves, to ourselves,
to do what we were made to do" (America, May 9, 1998).
Mary models for us what
we were made to do. The person who sits quietly before the Lord for
some portion of the day becomes receptive, expectant, ready to conceive
the Son. Pope John Paul Il has suggested that the time leading up to
the Great Jubilee be lived "as a new Advent" (On the Coming of the
Third Millennium, #23). By identifying with the pregnant Marythe
Advent figure par excellencewe open ourselves to what the Spirit
is saying to the Church and to us on the verge of the new millennium.
Whenever we find ourselves
slipping back into the "Mary on a pedestal" mentality, we can picture
ourselves practicing her interiority (her stillness, her presence, her
listening) and conceiving the Son for those who await his coming through
model of prayerfulness
Enshrined in a basilica,
the unusual self-portrait depicts an indigenous woman at prayer. The
world knows her as Our Lady of Guadalupe. But those who live in closer
proximity like to call her "la Morenita," the little dark one. She imprinted
this portrait on the tilma of Juan Diego in response to his bishop's
demand for a sign that would prove Mary had actually appeared to an
ordinary peasant. Thus assured, the bishop builds la Morenita's requested
basilica at the foot of Tepeyac in Mexico City. And thousands of pilgrims
come flowing in from the countryside to join her in prayer. "I am the
mother of all the inhabitants of this land," she had said.
Long before her appearance
at Tepeyac, Mary made it clear that she was a prophetic advocate for
the poor. The Latin American bishops, in their 1979 document on evangelization
at Puebla, call our attention to her forthright prayer: "In the Magnificat
she presents herself as the model for all...those who do not passively
accept the adverse circumstances of personal and social life and who
are not victims of 'alienation'...but who instead join with her in proclaiming
that God is the 'avenger of the lowly' who will, if need be, 'depose
the mighty from their thrones."'
Mary's prayer proves that
she was no passive observer of injustice, content with the given social
and economic structures. She shared Jesus' mission to "proclaim liberty
to captives" and to free the oppressed (Lk 4:18-19). Her Magnificat
challenges us to get in touch with the reality of our time, and to honestly
assess how we are embodying Christ's glad tidings to the poor.
How are we in our parish
preparations for the millennium emulating Mary's example of giving "full
expression to the longing of the poor of Yahweh" (On the Coming of
the Third Millennium, #48)? Are we praying, "The hungry he has filled
with good things" (Lk 1:53), and then going home to our overstocked
refrigerators? How are we actively lifting up the lowly? (Think: Habitat
for Humanity, Catholic Relief Services, Bread for the World, Literacy
Volunteers, your local soup kitchen or shelter for the homeless.)
Whenever we find ourselves
slipping back into the "Mary on a pedestal" mentality, we can look long
and knowingly on any depiction of Our Lady of Guadalupe. She urges us
to see ourselves in her prayerful face, and to believe in our own goodness.
model of trust
No parent of an adolescent
could encounter William Holman Hunt's painting "The Finding of the Savior
in the Temple" without uttering a sympathetic, "I've been there before."
The artist portrays Jesus as a strong-minded 12-year-old who has been
holding his own with teachers old enough to be his great-grandparents.
Mary's right arm is draped over her son's shoulder while he appears
to be restraining her left arm with his extended hand. She presses her
forehead to his in a gesture that says, "What's going on in that head
Her expression, however,
tells us what we need to know. Mary's eyes are locked on her Son'sas
they will be at Cana when he seems to refuse her intercession for the
wedding couple (Jn 2:4), at Capernaum when he appears to reject her
by asking "Who is my mother?" (Mt 12:48) and at Calvary when he "gives
her away" to John with "Woman, behold, your son" (Jn 19:26). Mary has
given her "fiat" and will bear the consequences.
"Vision," Jonathan Swift
wrote, "is the art of seeing things invisible." Mary had the vision
to trust Jesus even when he looked like a complete failure. She had
the vision to trust him when his kingdom did not materialize overnight.
She did not deny or abandon him when the powers of temple and state
aligned themselves against him.
Whenever we find ourselves
slipping back into the "Mary on a pedestal" mentality, we can return
to the Gospel stories of Mary as a young mother fleeing with husband
and child into exile, as the distraught parent of an unfathomable adolescent
and as a disciple whose faith was repeatedly tried by an unlikely Messiah.
No bright-winged angel appears on any of these occasions to reassure
her that all will be well. Like us, she has to trust and walk on in
model of hope
Her arms are lifted in
welcome, while above her a magnificent red falcon spreads its wings
in an echoing gesture. Her black braids frame a face on which astonishment,
inner strength and hope min- gle. "Lakota Annunciation," an icon by
FatherJohn Giuliani, represents Mary as a Sioux maiden in a buckskin
cape. The Holy Spirit is symbolized by the falcon, a communicator of
sacred power. The young woman and the emblematic bird radiate promise.
It is a promise we can all claim: "...and he will rule over the house
of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end" (Lk 1:33).
Emily Dickinson calls
hope "the thing with feathers." It is, however, not the sparrow struggling
against the wind. "Lakota Annunciation" wakes us to the reality of hope
as a muscular theological virtue (power) imparted by the Spirit and
manifested progressively in the life of Mary. She is a poor woman in
a downtrodden nation. Her people live under the Roman thumb. Their attempts
at rebel- lion have been squashed. Yet Mary, like Abraham before her,
believed, "hoping against hope," in God's promises. (See Romans 4:18.)
We know from Mary's experience
as well as our own that hope does not immunize us against doubt, suffering
or spiritual setbacks. Her humanity left her vulnerable to misunderstanding
Jesus' mission, enduring the stress of his conflicts with religious
authorities, bearing the devastation of his humiliating death. Can any
parent who has witnessed his or her child's violent death doubt that
the green shoots of hope in Mary's heart were trampled and nearly extinguished
at Calvary? Yet she endured. And when the early Church gathered to pray
for the Spirit's coming, she poured out that same heart in confident
Whenever we find ourselves
slipping back into the "Mary on a pedestal" mentality, we can remember
that she did not become the perfect disciple in one fell swoop at the
Annunciation. Like her son, she grew in wisdom, grace and age.
work of art
If we see ourselves as
God's works of art ("I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully
made;/Wonderful are your works"Ps 139:14), we will honor Mary
as God's masterwork. We will treasure the mystery by which she is "potentially
every woman, every man." We will emulate her interiority, her prayerfulness,
her trust, her hope. For she is an accessible model for all ages.
Hutchinson is author of Praying
the Rosary: New Reflections on the Mysteries
and many other books. She is a series editor for A Retreat With... book
series from St. Anthony Messenger Press.
Sr. Marie Therese Archambault
She is the Black
Madonna of Monserrat, to whom St. Ignatius turned at his time
of crisis. She is Our Lady of Czestochowa, whose scarred right
cheek symbolizes the suffering of the Polish people. She is
Our Lady of Guadalupe, who bore Indian features when she appeared
to Juan Diego in Mexico City. She is the Lady who has appeared
throughout the world, throughout the centuries, with messages
of hope and challenge.
Mary, the Mother
of God, is a wisdom figure who speaks to men and women of all
cultures for all time, says Sister Marie Therese Archambault,
O.S.F., who was born in Fort Yates, North Dakota, on the Standing
Rock Reservation. (It is the same reservation on which Sitting
Bull was born.)
"There are so
many viewpoints about Mary, so many responses to her," says
Sister Marie Therese, a member ot the Hunkpapa tribe of the
But however one
views her, she continues, "Mary lived her whole life pondering.
Her example calls us to take a contemplative view toward our
lives. We don't know the meaning of our lives until we begin
to find time for silence."
It was at her
own mother's knee that Sister Marie Therese first learned about
Mary as a source of consolation. Her mother was a mere child
herself, only 12, when she was separated from her parents, taken
from her Indian reservation, cut off from all her traditions
and sent off to Oregon to complete her education. It was then
and there she developed a deep devotion to the Blessed Mother,
one she passed on to her children.
Although a good
number of Indian people are not Catholic, those who accept Christian
beliefs do honor Mary, says Sister Marie Therese. To them, "Mary
is a model of help, consolation and compassion. She is a woman
who experienced the death of her Son."
In addition to
part-time teaching (Native American studies, spirituality, Scripture)
and retreats, Sister Marie Therese works with her fellow Native
Americans. In Denver, she serves as liaison between Catholic
parishes and Indian families who have left the reservation and
migrated to cities in search of new opportunities. Her focus
is on those who seek to deepen their spirituality as both Catholics
and Indians, thus enriching both traditions.
by Judy Ball
of the Ages
Almost every country has its special shrines that honor Mary and
draw crowds of the faithful in search of some comfort, a miracle,
a message from the mother of Jesus. Two of the most famous Marian
shrines are at Lourdes and Fatima. In recent years, pilgrims have
flocked to war-torn former Yugoslavia to honor Mary at Medjugorje.
Earlier this summer, more than 100,000 people marked the 200th
anniversary of a reported Marian apparition in central Vietnam
as wary Communist officials looked on.
Today, Marian shrines of another sort can be visited in cyberspace. The Marian
Web page, part of the University of Dayton's Marian Library
(http://www.udayton.edu/mary/main.html), receives more "hits"
than any other Web site at UD. Established in 1996, the Marian
Web page offers yet another way to encounter the woman who continues
to touch the world.
Whatever the age, Mary is "Our
Lady of the End Times," the university Web site reports, "a caring instrument
of the Holy Spirit who constantly intercedes for us before God. By her life,
her activities in heaven and the many reports of her reappearances today, Mary
has given the Church a message of hope and redemption."