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The Disciple Contemplates the Mother (Part 2) | Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis | An excerpt from The Way of the Disciple

Part Two | Part One

The mystical application to us of the reality of the redemption must correspond in every way to the historical coming of the Son of God and Mary, for it was precisely for this, TO BE BORN IN US, that he came. And does it not contradict the divine economy and will that he should become incarnate in us without the cooperation of the Mother, when her active response to God was a necessity for the historical Incarnation? Can we give our individual and ecclesial fiat to God's invitation while totally divorcing ourselves from her on whom God himself paradoxically chose to depend in order to become one of us? Would such an option not be trying to undo the redemptive wisdom of God because we think we have found a wholly uncluttered, more direct, "purer", and 'more divine" way, like the Gnostics of all ages?

Why, out of an alleged zeal for safeguarding the uniqueness and all-sufficiency of God's redeeming action, would one want to confine God, after his work of redemption on earth, to a splendid isolation and solitariness he did not have before or during the historical process of salvation? He ceaselessly engaged patriarchs, kings, prophets, and all manner of insignificant people like ourselves to collaborate with him in mankind's salvation. Above all "in the fullness of time", he involved a whole cast of characters in the drama of redemption-from John the Baptist, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Simeon, Anna, the Magi, the shepherd, and Joseph to the apostles and disciples and holy women of his entourage. Each of these had a special and irreplaceable part to play in helping to communicate God's grace to man. -

God, it would appear from Sacred Scripture, chose to redeem us, not out of a radical divine solitariness, but by involving many persons as collaborators with his divine purpose. This is perhaps most clearly illustrated when John the Baptist objects out of humility and a recognition of who Jesus is to Jesus' own request that John baptize him: "John would have prevented him, saying, 'I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?"'

But to this perfectly logical theological objection Jesus responds paradoxically: "Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness."[11] Does not this emphatic for us not contain the whole divine and human synergy God envisioned for our redemption-that sinners should cooperate in their own process of being redeemed?

If all of this is true–if God, that is, chose to redeem us by appointing many collaborators in his mission-what shall we say of the Mother, the obedient Virgin full of grace made by God in his providence to be the sheer and perfect ground out of which would grow the flower of our redemption, the fruit that would nourish us unto life everlasting? Shall we say that she was an "instrument" or "means" momentarily needed to carry out an ulterior divine design but left behind after she had served her function?

To say this would be to misunderstand completely the nature of motherhood in general and of this motherhood in particular, since the parent-child relationship can never be reduced to mere passing "functionality", and it would be unworthy of God in the extreme merely to use and then discard a person. No: God knew what he was doing when he chose to save us by sending his Son among us as a man, by selecting and preparing a Woman who would bestow her humanity on his eternal Son just as he was the sole source of his divinity. If Mary had ceased playing an active and essential role in our redemption the moment she had conceived and given birth, we would have to expect that Christ's humanity at some point again detached itself from his divinity, having been "united" to it only functionally, as a temporary arrangement.

But this Gnostic enormity undermines and subverts the sacred indissolubility of the Incarnation. The logical paradox of "Mary, Mother of God", solemnly proclaimed at the Council of Ephesus in A.D. 431, when the Council Fathers reaffirmed what the Church had believed from the beginning, is of one piece with the other two fundamental paradoxes without which there can be no Christian faith: Jesus Christ, two natures in one Divine Person; and the Blessed Trinity, three Persons yet one God. The mystery of the Holy Theotokos underlies the whole mystery of our redemption-from the Son's conception in her womb by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit to our own conception in the womb of the Marian Church, "until Christ be fully formed in us".

If Mary is once "Mother of God", can she ever stop being that? Or can she continue being that without our feeling tremendous gratitude and love for her who thus is the Bearer of our beloved Redeemer?

A major aspect of the mystery of the Incarnation is that, starting from the central doctrine of Christ's true, full, and irreversible humanization, we may then infer a number of important truths that need not be explicitly spelled out in Scripture, since they are really contained within the fullness of the already revealed central Mystery of Christ. For instance, the normality of Jesus' hidden life and childhood: by their nearly total silence concerning this part of Jesus' earthly life, the Gospels are in fact telling us that Jesus lived a very ordinary human life for nearly thirty years, almost the whole of his earthly existence.

Something similar may be said about his relationships. Scripture nowhere calls Mary explicitly either "Lady" or "Queen", titles which the Catholic tradition has joyfully ascribed to her since very ancient times. But Scripture is full of allusions to queens who are mothers of kings, and Scripture also tells us that Mary is the Mother of Christ who is eternal King of the ages. Therefore, if Mary is the Mother of our Lord (Dominus), then she is truly "our Lady" (Domina), and if Christ is King, then she, too, must be Queen, for this is required by the very nature of these biblical titles, which are relational in nature. What are we to call the mother of a king if not the "queen mother", and what would be the point of calling Jesus a king at all if, although he very much has a mother, we oddly want to limit the implications of that title by applying it only in one direction, that is, by stressing the fact that a king has subjects who must obey and serve him, but not as well that he has a mother to whom he owes his human life and who stands by his side, always supporting him and loving him in all his works and decrees?

And Christ does not disdain so to share his lordship and kingship, because he did not disdain to lay aside even his divine glory in order to share our nature. if he had, he would not have become man in the first place and entered this necessary nexus of relationships. Christ is not a sealed eternal capsule fallen to earth ready-made from heaven. Christ is the seed of the Word planted by the Father in the womb of Mary, that fertile earth that gave nourishment and growth to the seed of the Word, that we may eventually eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Cross.
When the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons, And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!' So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir.... So, brethren, we are not children of the slave [Hagar, but also Eve, the "mother of all the living"] but of the free woman [Sara, but above all Mary, the "woman" at the head of the text].[12] Twice in Luke (1:38 and 48) Mary calls herself the maidservant, the handmaid, the slave of the Lord. To be the Lord's slave is the essence of Mary's being a freeborn woman, in keeping with her Son's manner of reigning as King by serving. The Mother of the King who is a suffering servant reigns, like her Son, by serving as the sorrowful Mother: "And Simeon ... said to Mary his Mother: 'Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising Of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also)." [13] When and where, we may ask, will this momentous prophecy be fulfilled? Surely at the foot of the Cross, at the crucial hour when every disciple becomes Mary's son, by the will of her Son, and she becomes the Mother of all believers.[14]

We Christians are indeed "children of the promise" made to Mary: "You will conceive ... and bear a son.... Of his kingdom there will be no end. . . . And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord." [15] Mary's deepest identity as perfect believer, in the infancy narrative in Luke, should be seen in connection with the explicit mention at the beginning of Acts, after the Resurrection, at the other end of the work of redemption, of her presence among those who believed. [16] The Holy Spirit who descends upon the whole Body of the Church at Pentecost, with Mary present, had first descended upon her singly at the Annunciation. Thus, Mary is the living archetype, the living link, historically and mystically, between the mystery of the Incarnation arid the mystery of Pentecost.

In giving her fiat at the outset of the work of redemption, she is both accepting God's gift of redemption for herself and prefiguring-and hence making possible-the act of faith of the whole Church still to come.

Now, if being God's servant is the very essence of Mary's identity as first among believers and as Mother of the Church, is this servant, the Mother of the King and hence herself Queen by divine appointment, going to be left with nothing to do in the Kingdom of Heaven? Mary, an idle heavenly Queen? Or is she not rather going to spend her eternity of bliss interceding for her children, having learned such fidelity toward mankind from the eternal Father himself? Indeed, for as long as there is one soul to be redeemed on earth, Mary will spend herself saying to Jesus what she said to him at Cana, "They have no wine", and to us, "Do whatever he tells you."[17]

In the parable of the talents we hear the Lord speak thus to the good servant: "Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master."[18] Since the parable is clearly a portrayal of the final judgment and the Kingdom of Heaven, we are surely to think that the "I will set you over much" must refer, at least in part, to the work of loving intercession that the saints in heaven will engage in as part of their life of eternal praise. For, how could they become separated by divine bliss from the continuing work of the divine mercy on earth? And, if this is true of all the blessed in heaven, is it not A the more true of the good and faithful Servant of the Magnificat, she who is also the Queen of Heaven because she is the Mother of the Savior and King?

Surely it was this keen awareness of Mary's exalted character in God's sight, and of her queenly mediation before her Son, the King of Heaven and earth, that made a humble Elizabeth exclaim with loud and wondering exultation: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?[19] Should not our inmost heart, too, leap up for joy whenever we feel the approach of the Mother of our Lord, since we know that she never comes to us alone, without bringing into our lives Jesus, the blessed fruit of her womb, who is as inseparable from her as she is from him? There is nothing that Mary does without its being undertaken under the impulse of the original and ever-active grace that filled her from the beginning, the grace that drove her with haste into the hill country of Judah to help her cousin. In this passage Luke has marvelously portrayed for A time the fundamental role in humanity of Mary as Christ-Bearer and ready intercessor, who comes to our aid even without our bidding.

Just as we say that love, grace, and spiritual realities in general increase by being given away, so, too, may we say something similar about Christ's sole, unique, and all-sufficient mediation before the Father: The more it is participated in, the more brightly and richly does it shine in its effects. For Christ's work of redemption, his suffering, and his Cross from the outset were meant to be shared. He exhorts us to take up our cross and follow him, to watch with him as he watches in torment, to go after him so that he will make us fishers of men. He affirms that whoever listens to us is really listening to him, that he sends us out as the Father had sent him out, that he loved us and so gave himself up for us so that we, too, ought to love one another as he has loved us. . . "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me":[20] such is Saint Paul's unsurpassable summary of our participation in the work of redemption.

What is all of this, what indeed is the life of prayer, if not the practical form of our own redemption as a result of our participating in Christ's saving work? To begrudge the saints, and above all Blessed Mary, the intercessory and mediating role assigned to them by God himself in his election of them would be like looking at love, truth, and goodness as if they were material realities that must not be divided lest we end up with less and less of them.

But Love wants to be imitated and participated in. And our love wants to be united with our Beloved. And so–in and with and through the power of Jesus and at his invitation–we are to do what we see Jesus himself doing: working, suffering, praying, interceding, dying, and rising for the life of the world. It is for this that Christ came to involve us in his saving work. And the first one to believe and, thus, cooperate with him efficaciously in his work is the all-pure and all-loving Mary, Mother of Emmanuel "God-with-us".


[1] Mt 1:21.
[2] Mt 1:20.
[3] Mt 17:5.
[4] Jn 2:5.
[5] 1 Jn 5:1.
[6] Mt 2:11.
[7] Mt 19:6 = Gen 1:27.
[8] Mk 9:7.
[9] Jn 2: 5.
[10] Gal 4:19.
[11] Mt 3:14-15.
[12] Gal 4:4-7, 31; emphasis mine.
[13] Lk 2:34-35; emphasis mine.
[14] Cf. Jn 19:25-27.
[15] Lk 1:31, 33, 45.
[16] Cf. Acts 1:14.
[17] Jn 2:3, 5.
[18] Mt 25:21.
[19] Lk 1:42.
[20] Gal 2:20.

Related IgnatiusInsight.com articles:

The Medieval Mary | The Introduction to Mary in the Middle Ages | by Luigi Gambero
Immaculate Mary, Matchless in Grace | John Saward
Assumed Into Mother's Arms | Carl E. Olson

Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis received his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and Theology from Emory University.. His areas of interest include liturgy and liturgical texts, Georg Trakl's poetry, the Gospel of Matthew, French and German poetry of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Greek and Roman classics, and Dante. He is the author of Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word, a two-volume commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, Love's Sacred Order: The Four Loves Revisited, and The Way of the Disciple. He has also translated numerous works for Ignatius Press, including several books by Hans Urs von Balthasar.

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