“I BELIEVE IN JESUS CHRIST BORN OF THE VIRGIN MARY”
A detailed study at great length can be done on every word of this article of faith. Volumes and volumes have been (and can be) written on Jesus Christ and on the Blessed Virgin Mary. As we celebrate the year of Mercy I choose to reflect on the ‘Virgin Mary’ of the above-mentioned article of faith. Without entering into the scholastic and academic discussions about the virginity of Mary or about the Virgin Birth of Christ , the reflections here are focused on Mary’s ‘Faith Journey’, or as the Vatican Documents put it, (on) the ‘Pilgrimage of faith’ of the Virgin Mother of Jesus Christ. The culmination of this journey is that the Virgin Mother becomes ‘Mother of Mercy.’
In the mystery of Incarnation, We believe that Jesus Christ, a ‘heavenly reality’, and the Virgin Mary, a ‘chosen creature-an earthly reality,’ or the ‘above’ and the ‘below’ or the ‘divine’ and the ‘human’ meet or encounter; and in the words of Pope St.John Paul II, the ‘Eternal’ and the ‘Temporal’ come together as the eternal enters into Time in order to accomplish a ‘unique mission’, the kind of which had never taken place before, nor would ever take place again. What is that which has brought about the Mystery of the Incarnation? This mystery (the best proof of God’s love for men; an event in which the human history entered the fullness of time and which “constitutes the superabundant fulfillment of the promise made by God to man after…that first sin whose effects oppress the whole earthly history of man” ) is such that it can lend to more and more meaningful reflection and responses for the ages to come. The purpose of this reflection is to look for more insights for our lives in the (indispensable) role of the Virgin Mary in the ‘Mystery of Incarnation.’ In the words of Pope John Paul II “…the mystery of the Word made flesh enables us to glimpse the mystery of the divine motherhood and …contemplation of the Mother of God brings us to a more profound understanding of the mystery of the Incarnation.”
It is not difficult to understand that the ‘self-emptying journey’ of the eternal Logos ‘as a new Adam in absolute obedience’ begins with Mary’s ‘YES’, said in absolute obedience. Similarly her role as a Virgin-Mother gets a special beginning with the Conception of ‘the Messiah’, “the beginning of the visible mission of the Son” in her. It is not extra-ordinary to be a virgin but to be(come) a ‘Virgin Mother’ is absolutely unique and nay “a privilege for Mary.” Her faith, and hence her Virgin Motherhood, get a special meaning with the beginning of the Mystery of Incarnation. The self-emptying dimension of that incomprehensible and inscrutable love of the Father, with its special moment of realization in history in the Mystery of the Incarnation, initiates its demand in the mystery of the Virgin Motherhood of Mary. It leads her and makes her walk the road of self- (emptying) denial in absolute obedience and thus making her become more and more merciful as the Heavenly Father. It is the eternal Logos (‘divine’) which gets its beginning as a ‘human’ in Mary, that sets the mission of Mary, as a ‘Virgin Mother’ in faith, into operation. The Mystery of the Incarnation has its twin dimensions: one in the Eternal Logos and the other in the Virgin Mary. The ‘Above’ and the ‘below’ meet; the ‘above’ enters into the ‘below,’ initiating an explosion as it were in the ‘below’ making it broad enough to accommodate the ‘Above’, and with it the entire creation. As death begins with birth so also with the event of the Mystery of Incarnation, the mystery of the ‘Cross-Event’ comes into existence. The Mission of being a ‘Virgin Mother’ in absolute self-surrendering faith is inseparably intertwined with the mission of the mystery of the ‘Cross-Event.’ We know that Jesus who is born in (liberating) poverty would culminate it at Calvary on the Cross, which “…in a sense is the final word of His messianic message and mission.” The cross-event that begins at the manger in Bethlehem would culminate on Calvary in Jerusalem. Mary, who began her ‘mission of Faith’ and ‘the life of a Virgin Mother’ in an obscure corner of Nazareth, would culminate it openly, on the ‘mountain-top’, in Jerusalem.
The divine Logos took the route of ‘the unfathomable love of self-emptying’ in humility and in obedience to such an extent that it became and took the form of human in everything except sin from Mary, who in turn had to respond with a similar degree of self-emptying love so that the eternal and infinite SON could find a fitting receptacle in her. As a Virgin Mother she received the eternal Logos in the name of all, and gave it a recognizable and visible human form in the name of all and it is one of the effects and causes of the Mission of the ‘Virgin-Motherhood-event.’ In the Virgin Mother Mary, all the ‘created reality’ finds a fitting representation in the event of the Mystery of the Incarnation. Her call to this mission and her acceptance of the same in faith, begin to develop in a special way with the Incarnation.
Another occasion when she is led to see the demand of her faith and the mission of her Virgin-Motherhood may be seen in the temple when Simeon took the child Jesus in his arms and prophesied. She was told of a sword that would pierce her heart (see Lk 2:22-38), and she began to experience already the impact of it when, with Joseph, she had to flee to Egypt with the child in the middle of night ( see Matt 2:1315) for safety. Again, when he was found in the temple after three days of anxious search, he answered her in such a way that she, unable to understand him, simply treasured in her heart all that he said and did ( see Lk 2:41-51). The event of marriage at Cana (“though the motive is Christological, the mother of Jesus does have an important role in the events that lead up to the miracle” ) becomes yet another moment where and when we see the inescapable role of her faith and virgin motherhood. It is as if she is called upon to bring about (as good as giving birth to) a different moment in the life of Jesus; as if she is leading her reluctant son to his mission. Her mission and life of faith contribute “in a significant way… to that ‘beginning of the miracles’ which reveal the messianic power of her Son.” At Cana Mary appears as believing in Jesus. Her Faith evokes his first miracle and helps to kindle the faith of the disciples. In the ‘Cana- event’ “a new kind of Motherhood of Mary according to the spirit” is manifested. In the words of Pope Paul II “If John’s description of the event at Cana presents Mary’s caring Motherhood at the beginning of Christ’s Messianic activity, another passage from the same Gospel confirms this motherhood in the salvific economy of grace at its crowning moment, namely when Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, his Paschal Mystery, is accomplished (Jn 19:25-27).”
The life of the Blessed Virgin Mary is inseparably related to the reality of the ‘cross-event’ from the beginning. We know that the ‘Cross-event’ is the culmination of her journey in faith as the Virgin Mother of God. She is always portrayed (in the traditional paintings) standing near the cross. The Cross, which has existed from time immemorial as a yoke with its negative tone and background, (see 1Cor 1:18-25.) received a new beginning and meaning (as a sign of salvation and liberation) with the ‘Jesus-event’, and in this journey of transformation, the indispensable and the undeniable contribution of the faith-journey of the Virgin Mother Mary cannot be undermined. In this mission of transforming the traditional negative and oppressive yoke into a positive and liberating cross, the ‘event of Mary’ goes hand in hand with the ‘event of Jesus.’ We know that “all of Mariology has to be explained Christologically, and it is this which renders the true grandeur of Mary” and again “only in the mystery of Christ, is her mystery fully made clear.” However, in the given economy of salvation, it would not be inaccurate to say that without the ‘Mary-Event’ (expression is mine) there could not have been a ‘Jesus-Event’ though, as shown above, the ‘Mary-Event’ receives its importance and meaning from ‘Jesus-Event.’ Not only did Mary walk the way of the cross with Jesus but also she had her own way of the cross. Jesus, who is the Way to the Father, walked the way of the cross. His way of the cross began with the Incarnation as he condescended to become a man like us in everything except sin, when Mary said ‘Amen’ to the invitation or the call of the Heavenly Father through the angel Gabriel. Seen from this perspective, it can be said that the way of the cross of Jesus started in the womb of Mary and ended in the tomb of Gethsemane.
Reflection on the Paschal Mystery reveals that the way of the cross for Mary began even before that of Jesus. Mary’s ‘Fiat’ initiated her own way of the cross, which throws light on that of her son. Her ‘yes’ led to the consequences of her own people doubting her. Whatever she did at that moment, becomes an enduring model for all who seek the God-experience. When challenged to prove his claims by coming down from the cross, the crucified and suffering Jesus responded by surrendering himself with trust and confidence to the Father, and it was in that incomparable, inscrutable trust and surrender his reality was vindicated, and at least one of the Centurions saw the truth about him (cfr. Mark 15, 39). In the same way, at the challenging moment of others’ doubts, Mary trusted and threw herself completely ‘into the arms of the absolute’, and in that contemplative silence of trust and surrender her reality was vindicated and at least one of them, i.e. Joseph, saw the truth (cfr. Matt 1, 18-24). When the time came for him to be born, Mary found a place in a manger outside the hustle and bustle of the town (cfr. Luke 2, 7) of Bethlehem, just like when the time came for him to die, the soldiers found a place to crucify him outside the hustle and bustle of the city (cfr. Hebrews 13, 12) of Jerusalem. The presence of Mary, and especially the dimension of her motherhood, underlined those two decisive poles of Jesus’ mission, Bethlehem, the point of initiation and Jerusalem, the place of culmination. As mentioned earlier, Mary had to get up and flee by night for the safety of the child Jesus (cfr. Matt 2, 14), just like Jesus, who, as it were, fled to the garden of Gethsemane by night, (cfr. John 13, 30) desiring to escape if that was not against the Will of the Father. She suffered the loss of human support when she faced the death of Joseph, her husband, and, again, when Jesus her only Son, said goodbye to her when he departed from her on his mission. Often she heard about the dangers that her son faced during his mission (cfr. Mark 3, 21). At the end she walked along with her Son who carried the cross towards the summit of Calvary, not only helping him to carry it on his shoulder, but also she herself carrying it in her heart and soul. The path that she trod was a perfect way of the cross.
She who had carried Jesus in her womb and went through the mountains of Judea to help Elizabeth in her need, now helped her son Jesus to carry the cross through the mountain of Calvary, to help the entire creation with its redemption. She who had stood holding him in her hands while offering him in the temple so that the old Simeon could experience the salvation ‘prepared’ by the Lord (cfr. Luke 2, 30-31), now stood near the cross holding him, as it were, on the cross, so that all could experience the salvation that God the Father had prepared for the entire creation. She who had heard Simeon’s prophecy about the sword piercing her heart (cfr. Luke 2, 35), now stood near the cross seeing her son’s heart being pierced and, in turn, it was her heart that was pierced. She who had stood near her son asking him to begin his mission and to come to the rescue of those faced with a serious problem at the wedding of Cana (cfr. John 2, 1-10), now stood near the cross helping her son to accomplish his mission of redeeming the entire creation. She who had said ‘yes’ to the invitation of God during the Incarnation (cfr. Luke 1,38), now reached the culmination near the cross when she heard the echo of her ‘yes’ in the final and decisive ‘yes’ of her son when he said: “Into your hands I commend my Spirit” (Luke 23, 46).
At last Jesus said: “It is finished” (John 19, 30). Other than the literal meaning, the symbolic implications of this Johannine statement can be explored. One of its implied meanings can be seen in ‘the finishing’ of the reign of sin, (cfr. Rom 5, 21). Its implication can also be extended to mean the ‘finishing of’ or the ‘end of’ the oppressive yoke or negative cross; to mean the end of the ‘sinful or negative suffering’ and the end of the rule of all the negativities (cfr. Rom 5, 3; 1Cor 1, 22-25; 2Thes 1, 5; 2Tim 2, 3; Heb 2, 10). It could also mean that the persecutors had reached the culmination of their entire ability and possibility to persecute by exhausting all that they had in store. They could do nothing more for all that was humanly possible was done to Jesus, and in his passion “human suffering had reached its culmination.” Hence for the persecutors also it was all over and ‘finished’. It was as if Mary too was participating in that statement of Jesus, as if she too was saying that her mission was also accomplished. Yes! She finished offering all that she had. She offered her virginity when she said the initial ‘yes.’ In the course of time she offered Joseph, her spouse, when death separated him from her. Still further, she offered Jesus her only son when he had to depart from her because of his mission. By standing near her crucified son she reached the point of culmination at Calvary, a point after which there was no more of the mountain of Calvary; a point after which Calvary itself ‘ended’ or ‘finished.’ It is indeed a point at which it can be said of Calvary that ‘it is finished’, for after that point the mountain itself ended. So also Mary’s way of the cross reached its culmination. Mary’s mission to offer her total self reached its final point. She who began to offer everything of herself from the very beginning had finally offered her last possession, her only son, totally. With that final and culminating offering, she had offered everything. She could now make the saying of her son her own, and say along with him: ‘Yes! It is finished’ i.e. there was nothing more left on her side as far her mission of offering was concerned. Her offering was total from every point of view, and the mission of her ‘faith’ and ‘virgin-motherhood’ reached its zenith. Mary, who treasured, in contemplative silence, everything in her heart, continued and reached the summit of this contemplation at the foot of the cross.
She, who had begun offering herself in the service of His mission with her ‘fiat’ as a virgin-mother, reached the summit of it, as shown above, at Calvary. On the mountain of Moriah, Abraham was tested and asked to offer his son Isaac. Abraham stood the test and the result was that his son was spared, and instead of him, Abraham offered a ram and thanked ‘Yahweh’ who ‘provides’ for saving his only son (cfr. Gen 22, 1-19). A similarity can be seen in Mary and Jesus too. As Abraham walked with his son who carried ‘the wood of the burnt offering,’ on his shoulder, Mary too walked with her Son who carried the wood – the cross - on his shoulder. But the difference was that, in the case of Abraham, the father knew the reason for going up and the son did not know. But in the case of Mary and Jesus, both knew. In the episode of Abraham, God remained hidden, testing Abraham, but in the case of Mary, ‘God made man’ walked with her not for a test, but for accomplishment. In the former, neither of them knew the outcome, but in the latter, both Jesus and Mary knew (in faith) the result. Mary stood on the summit of Calvary near the cross offering her only son. Abraham’s son was given back to him. But to Mary a beloved disciple was given as her son (cfr. John 19, 25-27). But in reality what was promised to Abraham, was then realized at Calvary when Mary received the beloved disciple as her son. From that moment she became the woman of the New Testament; that is the new Eve of the new age, and the Mother of all. Through the beloved disciple she became the beloved mother of all. Where Jesus, her son, taking upon himself all the suffering of others, fulfilled the prophecy of the suffering servant of Yahweh, then Mary too by going through and participating in all the suffering of her son, became a suffering woman par excellence, the ‘Lady of sorrows’ or the ‘sorrowful Mother.’ But we know that Jesus brought forth new meaning or new dimension to the negative suffering on the cross, hence the mother of sorrows who stands near the Cross also becomes mother of hope, ‘Mater Spei,’ a mother capable of giving new positive dimension to the old negative oppressive and meaningless suffering. The negative suffering that entered the world through the old Adam and the old Eve, became positive in the new Eve, Mary, and in her son Jesus, the new Adam through whom the “suffering itself has been redeemed.” Eve gave birth to negativity and Mary the new Eve, gave birth to positive nature. She stood so close to the cross, not only participating in the ‘cross-event’, but also offering it for the salvation of all.
Mary, so close to the cross, is a challenge to all, especially to every Christian. We know that Christian faith exists because of the Paschal Mystery. It exists as a result of and in the service of the same Paschal Mystery (1Cor 15, 12-15). Just as Mary and Jesus are inseparable, and in the given economy of salvation, one cannot be thought of without the other, so also all Christians are closely related to Mary, the Mother of all believers. She is not only a mother par excellence but also a model par excellence for all, especially for priests. She who walked the way of the cross, and she who helped her son walk the same way, clearly can also be found on the (same) way of the cross. She who comes across in the New Testament as one, who offers everything, can also be found in a life of offering and self-giving. We see that the beloved disciple became her beloved son at the foot of the cross, a reality with symbolic overtones. All of us can become her beloved sons, daughters and children, precisely (and even only) at the foot of the cross. It may appear difficult and challenging but once we are on the Way, our Blessed Mother Mary is going to be there, walking with us, helping us and participating in our life struggle. In the words of Fulton Sheen, she “is there making it lighter, making it sweeter, making it hers.” It is indeed futile to look for a ‘short cut.’ The entire way requires to be trodden. The full cup has to be accepted, and the initial baptism that we have received and the gift of faith that we have been blessed and also entrusted with, have to be lived and brought to accomplishment at a Calvary of our respective mission and responsibilities. The suffering is no more only negative or only evil. It can, because of the paschal Mystery, now become a moment of grace and salvific; It is not absurd but meaningful because there will be resurrection after death. Mary is ‘Virgin Mother’ because of the cross, with the cross and in the service of the cross. It is meaningless, nay foolish indeed, to look for her anywhere else except on the way of… and close to the cross. Indeed she is closest to those who really hang on the cross. In other words we become her beloved children to the extent we associate with the cross. May our beloved Mother help us to understand this and enable us to take steps in the right direction.
Once again I would like to highlight some of the outstanding characteristics of the ‘Marga’ that our blessed Mother took for her pilgrim ‘Way’ in order to live her mission. We have shown that the ‘way’ that she trod was indeed a ‘Way of the Cross.’ The one who was born of her though was in the form of God…emptied himself and took the form of a slave, humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (cfr. Phi 2:6-11). The eternal Logos, in the process of becoming a self-emptying and obedient son, elicited from his Mother the same qualities. She too was obedient, obedient until she reached the summit of Calvary. She too emptied herself for the sake of others, all that she had until she had nothing more to give up as shown above. She underwent all that her son had to undergo, indeed the cost of her faith and the call to live the unique and ideal virgin-motherhood.
We know she believed, and with faith she undertook the mission entrusted to her. In faith she accepted the invitation given to her and she said ‘Amen’. In faith she obeyed, and in faith she received, in faith she gave flesh and blood; nurtured and gave it for the salvation of all. Her life of obedience was a life of sacrifice and self-emptying, to the fullest measure. She believed and lived her belief till the end, and that is why she is called ‘Blessed among all women.’ From one angle it may be said that she participated in her divine son’s mission, and from other angle it may be said that Jesus received from Mary, his mother, all that he had acquired and lived as an incarnate Son, and that is why she is also addressed as the ‘Mother of her Creator.’ She who was the mother was also the first perfect disciple and vice versa. It is said that it is the deepest void which is always accompanied with the greatest fullness. Just as she received with her first ‘fiat’ Jesus, and participated in his mission of being and becoming the Way, the Light, the Bread, and the life of the Father, so also she has again in silence said ‘Amen’ in the continued mission of making the ‘beloved disciple’ her son, and through him all of us. This call is indeed a blessing which can make one a ‘beloved disciple’ and also a ‘Blessed mother.’ But in this blessing there is also a unique duty. In this year of Mercy it is desirable that we recognize this blessing and this duty. It may be worthwhile to conclude these reflections with the words of St.Augustine: “His Mother carried him in her womb, may we carry him in our hearts. The Virgin became pregnant with the Incarnation of Christ, May our hearts become pregnant with faith in Christ; She brought forth a Saviour, may our Souls bring forth salvation and praise. May our souls be not sterile but fertile for God.”