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The Disciple Contemplates the Mother (Part One) | Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis | An excerpt from The Way of the Disciple

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Part One | Part Two

Because a Christian disciple is above all a Christ-bearer, there exists a deep and indispensable relationship between Jesus' disciples and the Mother of Emmanuel. By an ineffable design of his grace, God has appointed us to be the visible manifestation of Jesus Christ in the world, the visibility of him who is the Son common to the living God and the humble Virgin of Nazareth. It was she who first made him visible among us, this Virgin whose childbearing, in Isaiah's promise, is inseparable from her Son's labor to "save his people from their sins".[1] We, too, should carefully take to heart the angel's words to Joseph: "Do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit."[2]

Now, this communion with the Mother of Jesus, far from being an eccentric and misguided departure from the purity of the Gospel, is precisely that to which the Lord Jesus is calling us if we would follow him perfectly.

When in Luke 11:28 Jesus proclaims the great beatitude: "Blessed . . . are those who hear the word of God and keep it", surely he intends a great deal more than simply the observance of specific commandments. For the "Word of God", used in the singular and in such a solemn proclamation, must refer above all to Jesus himself as eternal Son of the Father, especially in the context of an anonymous woman declaring Mary's womb to be blessed for having borne him as Savior. Likewise, the Greek word [phulassontes] in this same context conveys much more than simply "observing" or "keeping": indeed, its full range of associations extends to "defending", "cherishing", "fostering' safeguarding", all meanings directly relevant to the conception, bearing, and rearing of a child.

"To keep the Word of God", as Jesus enjoins, cannot at bottom mean anything other than allowing the Holy Spirit to implant the Son of the Father in the womb of our Souls, and then for us to give birth to this Word into the world in union with Mary, the historical Mother of Jesus and the perennial Mother of the Church. The kerygmatic birth of Jesus into the world from the womb of the apostles' faith cannot be a substantially different birth from the historical one that took place in Bethlehem, for there is only one Christ Jesus. The "keeping of the Word of God" in this sense is in full harmony both with the Father's proclamation at the Transfiguration ("This is my beloved Son ... ; listen to him"[3]) and with Mary's advice to the guests at Cana ("Do whatever he tells you!"[4]).

Both the Father and the Mother point to the incarnate Word with love and pleasure. The Holy Spirit conceives him in us, and the Word, bent on redeeming us, points to himself as revelation of the Father. Mary is the purely human form of the divine will to save.

To be a Christian and a disciple, then, means becoming Christ-bearers in the world in the most radical and literal sense. However, such a visible presence and communication of the total Jesus through us cannot occur without our being in constant communion with both the Father and the Mother of Jesus, the two origins of his divine and human life. The Holy Spirit cannot accomplish the fullness of redemption in us, cannot effect the conception of the Son of the Most High within us–and we cannot become another Mary, the Christian vocation in a nutshell – unless we seek the company of her through whom and in whom he is permanently present, not only among the choirs of angels in union with his Father and their Spirit, but also visibly and humanly in his Church and within the landscape of this world, so wretched yet so graced.

"Every one who believes that Jesus is the Christ is a child of God, and every one who loves the parent loves the child."[5] This is the descending order of love in John: If you love the parent, you must also love the child, which here refers both to Jesus himself and to those begotten by faith in his messiahship, Must we not also hold this order of love with regard to Jesus' human Mother? If we love Jesus as Son of the only Father, can we avoid, without a grave breach of all decency, loving his only Mother? We love Jesus for the sake of the Father, and we love Mary for the sake of Jesus and the Father, and thus our love for her is not based on whim or mere sentiment, but on the firm foundation of God's own trinitarian Being and of the economy of redemption he has wrought.

"Going into the house [the Magi] saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him."[6] It is impossible to find Jesus in isolation from the two essential communities to which he belongs by his nature as incarnate Word. In his divinity we cannot embrace him apart from the community of the Holy Trinity; and in his humanity we cannot approach him apart from the family through which he enters our race and shares our human condition to the full. "What God has joined together, let no man put asunder."[7]

As the Magi find him "with Mary his mother", they "fall down and worship him". Note well two things here: first, that they worship only Jesus, but, at the same time, that in bowing down in adoration before him they must necessarily incline with reverence in the direction of the Virgin Mother who is holding him out to them and to the world. Thus, worship of Jesus is inseparable from deep reverence for the Mother by whose obedient faith he has come into the world and made himself available for our own adoration. Mary's faith has thus made it possible for us to adore God incarnate!

We surrender our whole being in worship to him alone and, through him, to the Father. But, in so doing, we render an homage of deep gratitude and love to her who first believed and, through her faith, has made our finding of Jesus possible. Nor is this finding of Jesus with his Mother limited only to his babyhood, when he physically had to be held and presented to the world by his Mother's arms. His dependency on his Mother is a sign of the manner of humiliation and weakness whereby the Word has chosen to redeem us, and this kenotic existence persists all through his work of redemption and into our own spiritual lives today. Therefore, we must never forget that, since all the works of his divine love become efficacious through the means of his human body, emotions, will, intellect, and Heart, consequently the Mother who gave him the gift of her humanity is also continuously present in his every work even when she is invisible to us.

Especially at the moment when he sheds all his blood on the Cross, we must remember that this very blood has no other source than his Mother's body. His Father gave him the will to die for us, but Mary gave him the body and the blood to perfect and consummate the sacrifice. Mary alone gave Jesus the blood with which to drown man's sin!

We must meditate deeply on the mystery of natural human motherhood, femininity, and childhood in order to develop on that basis the full understanding of how God chose to redeem us. And a major part of that mystery is the manner in which a child–and this Child most especially, since he has no human father!–derives all its being from its mother. Is it not striking indeed that both in Genesis 3:15-16, when God promises a Redeemer who would "bruise" the head of the serpent, and in Revelation 12:9, when the "ancient serpent" is finally thrown down to earth, it is a woman and a mother who plays an essential role alongside the central activity of the male Child, both as his individual Mother and as Mother of the race of his followers?

How could these two towering moments in the history of revelation–immediately after the Fall and immediately after the final victory over Satan–be divorced from the Incarnation, Golgotha, and Pentecost, pivotal events all three where the Woman Mother is likewise indispensably present? How, after contemplating all of this, could anyone say that Mary is in no way different from any of the rest of the redeemed?

Such an assertion would appear to be a grave violation, not only of orthodox Catholic teaching, but of explicitly revealed scriptural truth. Denying Mary a divinely decreed uniqueness in the work of redemption surely must result in a very skewed and prejudiced theology. Often it would seem that persons holding such an opinion are primarily motivated by an implicit but unrelenting anti-Catholic polemic, ingrained in generations of Protestant believers since the sixteenth century; but with a paradoxical result: that the defeat of a paramount Catholic dogma should be more important than accepting the full truth of revelation.

The Child's dependency on his. Mother, of course, does not contradict what is equally true: that a child grows to maturity and becomes in many ways independent of his parents. However, because we are here dealing with the conception of a Child as a result of divine initiative, and with the corresponding response of faith by a Woman, it would seem that the forces radiating from Mary's first act of faith must extend outward, not only to the actual birth and early nurturing of Jesus, but indeed to his whole subsequent existence, including the events of the Resurrection and of the Savior's present reign in glory.

A conception out of pure power and goodness on God's part, and pure faith and sinlessness on the Mother's part, must surely produce a great deal more than simply a nine-month pregnancy and physical birth! Indeed, it is the beginning of the Body of the Church, the dawn of the Kingdom of God on earth and in heaven. Mary's act of faith and love, as the indispensable condition for the redemption, urgently concerns and involves each of those who have ever or will ever believe and become followers of her Son.

"A voice came out of the cloud, 'This is my beloved Son; listen to him.'"[8] "His Mother said to the servant, 'Do whatever he tells you."[9] Both the heavenly Father and the earthly Mother do one thing only: point to their common Son, Jesus, and command us to obey his word. Thus, the so-called "mediation" of the Blessed Virgin Mary can be properly understood only in terms of her unceasing response to and active cooperation with that coming to her of the Holy Spirit that resulted in the Incarnation. Saint Paul's "until Christ be formed within you" [10] cannot occur without her mediation. For, if she was necessary for the historical Incarnation, the source of all redemption, how is she to be less necessary for Christ's coming to us by the interior grace of regeneration?

Part 2 of "The Disciple Contemplates the Mother"


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