Mary Remains The Model Of Virtue And Discipleship
The month of May is traditionally celebrated as the Month of Mary. This year, many will celebrate the 100th anniversary of Fatima, May Processions and the Crowning of Marian statues. While we worship the Holy Trinity of God the Father, Son & Holy Spirit alone, we venerate the saints. The highest honor of our veneration of the saints, however, is reserved for Mary, Mother of God. Jesus and Mary, according to long-standing Catholic teaching, are the only persons to have been without sin. Obviously, as the second person of the Holy Trinity, it is readily understandable that Jesus would be without sin. Mary was preserved from sin by the grace of God. She remains the model of virtue and discipleship.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Mary’s role in the Church is inseparable from her union with Christ and flows directly from it.” [CCC, 964] Given Jesus’ teaching on the Church as His Body, it should be readily understood that Mary is considered as both Mother of Christ and Mother of the Church. [CCC, 963] The Catechism stipulates; “What the Catholic faith believes about Mary is based on what it believes about Christ, and what it teaches about Mary illumines in turn its faith in Christ.” [CCC, 487] Not surprisingly, given her special place in the Church, Mary is invoked in the Church under various titles. Several liturgical feasts are dedicated to Mary (e.g. Mary, Mother of God; Annunciation; Visitation; Assumption; Birth of Mary; Immaculate Conception).
While many display great devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, especially through praying the rosary and various litanies, we do well to consider how her life and witness also challenge us to fully appreciate the height, width and depth of what it means to be truly Catholic. For starters, we should keep in mind that Mary was a Jewish woman who remained faithful to the religious practices and rituals of Judaism. She holds a place of high honor in Islam, being the only woman in the Quran to be mentioned by name. While some may be confused about the distinction between the Catholic notions of adoration and veneration, practically all Christians hold Mary in high regard. Thus, Mary provides a wonderful link to the documents produced by the Second Vatican Council on relations between the Catholic Church and other faith traditions, both Christian and non-Christian.
The particular Vatican II document that provides instruction and inspiration for relations between the Catholic Church and other Christian communities is the “Decree on Ecumenism” (Unitatis redintegratio), published on 21 November 1964. The “Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions” (Nostra aetate) was published on 28 October 1965. The popes since Vatican II have been personally engaged in ecumenical and interreligious efforts. Mary provides a wonderful bridge and inspiration for dialogue, encounter and collaboration in these efforts.
Of course, as both mother and wife, Mary’s example has a special role in fostering Catholic teaching on marriage, family and the sanctity of life. She exemplifies an incredible model of trust in divine grace and providence amid challenge, uncertainty, hardship and trial. Having listened with an open heart and mind to the Holy Spirit, fully embracing the God’s will, Mary remains the disciple par excellance of holiness and mission. While purity and gentleness may readily come to mind when considering the virtuous nature of Mary, the virtues of courage, humility and generosity are just as evident in her witness of faith. She exemplifies patience, understanding, accompaniment, solidarity and missionary discipleship. In essence, the perfection of every virtue can be found in her. In fact, if we allow her, Mary can provide inspiration and intercession in practically every tenet of Catholic teaching towards every aspect of living a life of faith, hope and charity.
Despite the fact that very little print in sacred scripture is dedicated to Mary, in accordance with God’s plan of salvation, she has certainly left her impression on the Church. She personifies the perfection of the Church as the sinless bride in all its mystery. We need only reflect on her witness of faith at the time of the Annunciation, her Visitation with Elizabeth, the Nativity, the flight into Egypt, the Presentation, the finding of Jesus in the Temple, the Wedding at Cana, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection and the Ascension. While traditionally believed to have been present at the time of Pentecost, Mary would not have needed to receive the Holy Spirit like the apostles since she was already filled with the Holy Spirit from the moment of the Annunciation. What an inspiration she must have been for the Apostles and the first disciples. What an inspiration she remains for us. Mary, Mother of God, Pray for Us!