‘Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart’ (Lk. 2:19, 51).
Aging agitates me. Docility flows not peaceably from unexpected aches of body and soul: costly medical procedures unthinkable a decade ago, fretting over regrettable decisions, weaknesses (lack of virtual acumen and business sense) that worsen, and daily reminders to not expect of the creature what he cannot give.
Can I like Mary ‘treasure up all these things’ and somehow spin gold from straw? As physicality fades, can a child’s wonder increase? Can this ragged heart grow more tender, less taut, as ’21 becomes ’22, and so on?
Mary helps me. To become like her, I must welcome her gift. That gift, more than anything else, is the Church. I write this at 6am, prepping for Mass in my local parish. I race here daily on a wing and a prayer, charging up dark streets at twice the speed limit for a place of holy peace (having robbed my fellow motorists of theirs!) For Word. For Bread of Life Himself.
The silence of the sanctuary, everlasting arms that surround me there, the help she gives from heaven to be still and know that her Son reigns, reminds me that the Church IS Marian. The original Christ-bearer, Mother of God, she is the exemplar of this place—a holy expansive womb, feminine space set apart for the nourishment of sinners seeking sainthood.
As the Jesus-bearer, Mary is our first Church; she still figures in big to what the Church can be now. ‘At once virgin and mother, Mary is the symbol and the most perfect realization of the Church…by receiving the Word of God in faith, the Church becomes herself a mother…she brings forth sons, authored by the Holy Spirit and born of God, to a new and immortal life. She herself is a virgin, who keeps in its entirety and purity the faith she pledged to her spouse’ (CCC#507).
To receive this Word like seed in the deep heart so that it flourishes, to make good my pledge in sun and shower—for this I need Church and her living symbol of Mary. To paraphrase Henri De Lubac: How can I honor Father without Mother?
Ok, ok you say: ‘I’m not Catholic, I see things differently.’ But I invite you to weigh the import of this feminine witness and symbolic catalyst for our gathering in Jesus’ name. I invite you to consider your need in the clamor of life—noisy divides out there, fragile former divides within--for a safe often silent place where you can meet your Bridegroom. Perhaps we need help from His friends, especially His Mom. They live in heaven, not to compete with Him but to pray that we allow nothing to get in the way of Him! For this we need an uncluttered Church.
Increasingly, I need the spacious grace of the sanctuary to distill that treasure from the dross of life. Mary’s witness is the template and the gentle workplace where this most likely occurs for me.
Maybe that’s why the Catholic Church starts each year with the Feast of Mary, Mother of God. It is more than a nod to the decision of the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. to ascribe that title to her, in contrast to Nestorius who claimed that Mary mothered only the man Jesus. In splitting Jesus in two parts (God and man) and Mary from the divine Son, Nestorius mocked the Incarnation.
But this feast means more than doctrine. It is an invitation to a treasured womb designed to enfold us quietly where the Word can deepen in us. ‘That is why the Church needs the Marian mystery. That is why she is a Marian mystery. There can be fruitfulness in the Church, only when she has this character, when she becomes holy soil for the Word.’ (Joseph Ratzinger)