The New and the Return of the New

Two Sundays for the price of one blog post! Last Sunday was Pentecost Sunday, a feast for the Church to recognize Christ’s ever new call to renewal. The Scripture readings for last Sunday present an interconnected web inaugurating a new reality. Like so much in Christianity, Pentecost has its roots in Judaism. The Jewish festival celebrates the Lord’s gift of the Torah to Moses. That is why, when the Holy Spirit descends and inspires the Apostles to speak in new tongues, Jews throughout the Diaspora recognize their own languages.

And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit
and began to speak in different tongues,
as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem.
At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd,
but they were confused
because each one heard them speaking in his own language.
They were astounded, and in amazement they asked,
“Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans?
Then how does each of us hear them in his native language?
We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites,
inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia,
Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia,
Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene,
as well as travelers from Rome,
both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs,
yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues
of the mighty acts of God. (Acts 2:4-11)

Jews and converts, the native and newly-arrived, Parthians, Romans, and Libyans—each heard his own language. What they hear the other readings illuminate: the Lord’s spirit sustains the world (Psalm 104), the Mystical Body of Christ (I Cor. 12), the spiritual foundations for new life in Christ (Galatians 6), and Christ’s promise of the Spirit—which proceeds from Him and God the Father—to the Church (John 15 & 20).

So at one level the Spirit’s presence at Pentecost recalls previous knowledge—God’s omnipresence. Yet Andrew Kim reminds us the list of nations in Acts 2 declares a new reality: that God’s other people fall within the divine vision, too. Kim:

This is the God who transforms those that society deems to be “no people” into a chosen people. This is the God of a universal covenant and a salvation so far reaching and complete that it flows through and beyond the simplistic binaries of human schemes as a great river crushing through straw or a mighty thunder overcoming a guilty silence. This is the God who is author of the human person.

The “no-people” category is a product of human limitations. In reality, there are God’s people and God’s other people, and even these two categories, I suspect, merge to form a unity the more closely one approaches the divine point of view. Admittedly, the reality of unity remains greatly obfuscated by the conditions of the world. However, this is the fault not of religion, but of sin.

St. John’s gospel indicates this as well as the new spiritual reality that is the Church. Not merely a collection of people, the Church because of and through the Spirit includes all. Therefore, the Church is made ever new because the very notion of its membership—who’s “in” and who is not—the Spirit itself remakes. This inclusivity recognizes differences instead of obliterating them. That is the gift of St. Paul’s message to the Corinthians. We are all parts of Christ’s body and we necessarily do not all do the same thing. Our gifts and talents must be brought to the Church’s service, but it stands to reason that what my colleagues accomplish might differ noticeably from what I can do. Kim’s commentary concludes the point—it is human sinfulness that prevents us from recognizing this intrinsic unity. It is already there—we just cannot yet see it fully. God already does, and thus, as John 20 indicates, the Spirit convey God’s Word to us.

Yet how might we keep this vision and Scriptural witness before us? Back in my Calvinist days I suppose I would have reiterated some vague point about divine sovereignty: God keeps in faith whom God will. Now a Catholic (since 1992!) I see a much more practical and quite frankly universal way to recall the Spirit’s inclusivity and novelty: the Rosary. Twice a week—Wednesday and Sunday—the Glorious Mysterious are recited. The third of these is…the Descent of the Holy Spirit. Following meditations on the Resurrection (there’s something new!) and the Ascension (wherein Christ leaves the earthly realm), the meditations on Pentecost lend themselves to the consideration of novelty and the Spirit’s invigorating presence. Vatican II and The New Evangelization inspired by the Council demonstrate on the macrocosmic level what the Rosary reiterates at the microcosmic: that the Spirit ever renews, and thus the hum-drum of our daily lives radiate with God’s presence. As one post-Rosary prayer beseeches, that through our Rosary meditations: “may we imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise.” Unity and the spirit of discovery provide the foundations for evangelization and charity.

This Sunday is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity Sunday. The Spirit’s persistent call to, and offering of, the new—new ways of speaking, hearing, and acting—finds wonderful expression in Christianity’s most recognizable, yet inscrutable, teaching. Yet, again, the Scriptures make this very clear. God can, has, and does speak directly to people He chooses (Deuteronomy 4:32-40). The Psalmist (#33) celebrates both those whom God chooses to be His Own as well as all creation. Through ways general and specific God’s presence and power are made known. In a reference that surely recalls Pentecost Sunday, St. Paul reminds the Romans that through adoption we in Christ’s spirit are God’s children, too (Romans 8:14-17). (Jews, Paul thus implies, remain God’s children, too, thus brushing aside any concerns about possible contradictions between Christian Trinitarianism and Jewish monotheism.)

 

Stjosemariaescriva

 

St. Josemaria Escriva built Opus Dei around the notion of “divine filiation,” i.e., how recognition that we are God’s children sparks continual conversion…and confidence. The Way #860 reads:

Before God, who is eternal, you are much more a child than, before you, the tiniest toddler.

And besides being a child, you are a child of God. — Don’t forget it.

 

Don’t forget it. This echoes Trinity Sunday’s Gospel: Matthew 28: 16-20. The disciples go to and worship Jesus, “but they doubted” Matthew records. Then:

Then Jesus approached and said to them,
“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

Don’t forget…that you are children of God…because 1) I give you an absolutely essential task; and 2) you are not alone. Thus the Church goes forth, inspired and consoled by Christ’s own spirit. Thus Pentecost continues ever anew as the Church goes about its task which, as Pentecost Sunday told us, overcomes the boundaries between them and us. We will not always succeed, but that’s why St. Josemaria reiterated his insight about divine filiation. Just like any good parent, God the Father will never ceases to love the child. It is wise as children, though, to remain close to our Father. With the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, guiding us, though, how could we do otherwise?

That the one God exists in three Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—still inspires faith while confounding the wise. And “wise” in this case could mean anyone who simply refuses to break from conventional thinking. During graduate studies in Nashville, Tennessee, one of my jobs involved unloading delivery trucks. One hard-working guy, an evangelical Protestant, captured several centuries of consternation by recounting a Bible study (on Matthew 28!) he and his wife had attended: ‘She read “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” and tells me that’s all one God. But, Jeff, when I read that same passage, that says to me three. Now how can that be?” Facing a fully-loaded truck, I took the easy way out, muttering something like “that very question has confused people for years.” That isn’t an exaggeration or a lie, but it doesn’t offer much, either. There are many resources for understanding the Trinity’s reality. However, at some point almost all attempts fall far short. The Trinity—Father, Son, and Spirit—unifies Christianity’s messianic narrative, which with Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection challenges our rationality, with the past, present, and future. The same God who chose the Jews also became human in Jesus who died and rose again and that same God’s spirit, now shaped by the Incarnation, remains with us now. Thus the Trinity offers the foundations for both theodicy (why bad things happen to good people) and ethics (how we act towards ourselves and others). The Spirit abides with us throughout. Yet grabbing this requires more than mere rational assent. St. Augustine of Canterbury’s dictum still holds true: credo ut intelligam—I believe so that I might understand. Sometimes this faith needs something traditional like the Rosary to assist the acquisition of such knowledge.

Guest blogger Jeffrey Marlett blogs at Spiritual Diabetes.

The Cenacle in Jerusalem

“Wherever I shall be, I intend to imagine myself to be together with all the creatures in the Cenacle in Jerusalem where the Apostles received the Holy Spirit. I shall remind myself to renew this desire often. As the Apostles were there with Mary, so will I be in spirit with the most beloved Mother and Jesus. As they are my special intercessors, I am confident that they will help me and all other creatures to receive the abundance of the Holy Spirit” – St. Vincent Pallotti (OOCC X, 86).

One of the signature moments of Pope Francis’ pilgrimage to the Holy Land last year was the Mass that he celebrated in the Cenacle or Upper Room in Jerusalem. Tradition holds the Cenacle as the location of the Last Supper and the place where Mary, the Apostles, and the other disciples spent time in prayer and community prior to the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. We have just celebrated this past weekend the Feast of Mary, Queen of Apostles on Saturday and Pentecost on Sunday. These celebrations invite us to dwell in the Cenacle as a place of encounter with one another and with the Holy Spirit. The Cenacle is not a place where one stays, though. We are sent forth out into the world that needs to encounter Jesus Christ, a world in need of transformation. Pope Francis in his homily in the Cenacle reminds us of this mission of which all of us are called to be a part:

“From here the Church goes forth, impelled by the life-giving breath of the Spirit. Gathered in prayer with the Mother of Jesus, the Church lives in constant expectation of a renewed outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Send forth your Spirit, Lord, and renew the face of the earth (cf. Ps 104:30)!”

Reflecting on the Cenacle, St. Vincent Pallotti came to believe that all are called to take up the mission of Jesus Christ and live as apostles, sent forth to preach the Good News and bring healing to a broken and suffering world.

We are not alone in this task. Mary, Queen of Apostles intercedes for us, witnesses discipleship of Christ for us, and gives us a mother’s care. The Holy Spirit permeates all that we do and calls us back to the Cenacle, to the table of the Lord in the Eucharist, to worship and fellowship with the community of faith, in order to be sent forth once again. Instituted in the Cenacle of Jerusalem, the Eucharist sustains us, nourishes us, and moves us out into the world “glorifying the Lord” by our lives (“Dismissal”, Roman Missal).

Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C., is Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center and teaches for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

Pentecost and the Human Person

I had nearly completed a reflection for you on this Pentecost Sunday. I really did; with accompanying artwork and everything. And then I read something…

In a recent issue of a particular religious periodical, to which I know at least a few believing and practicing Catholics still contribute, Dr. Peter Steinfels has an article entitled “Contraception and Honesty.” Amid all of the discussion surrounding the recent synod on the family, one issue – he insists – is being noticeably omitted by the synod Fathers. This issue, of course, is the Church’s magisterial teaching on the inherent illicitness of the use of artificial contraception. Without delving into the specifics of this article, it should be acknowledged that Dr. Steinfels rightly puts his finger on a topic which everyone is dancing around, i.e., that the vast majority of people who self-identify as Catholic in Europe and North America reject the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception. Further, he is also correct to point out that this is a problem.

Rather than embark on a full-blown crusade against the remainder of Dr. Steinfel’s piece, which would no doubt be seen as just another salvo lobbed by a soldier in the myopic and unproductive “culture war,” I would prefer to go even deeper into the issue which he raises. At the risk of belaboring the obvious, there has been a dramatic shift in the mores and morals of Western culture in the past seventy years or so; although this transition began long prior and was witnessed, inter alia, by Pope Pius XI in Casti connubi (1930). To my mind, at the root of these concerns about marriage, re-marriage, “same-sex marriage,” artificial contraception, etc. is not sex, but anthropology. The real question is: Who do we, as Christians, understand the human person to be?

If we consult the current cultural code in search for an answer to this question then our response will be simple: The human person is whomever I want him to be. In a piece written in 2011, Fr. Robert Imbelli – drawing upon the language of Robert Jay Lifton – described the contemporary image of the human person as “the protean self.” This phrase communicates an understanding of the human person as a “self without a center, blending effortlessly into the most disparate situations and bound by no ultimate and lasting commitments.” In short, the “protean self” possesses no real and concrete substance – to use an Aristotelean phrase. He simply exists. He is “free” to become whomever circumstances dictate him to be, whomever he conceives himself to be, whomever he wills himself to be.

The Christian response to the question of human identity ought to be very different.

Today’s Gospel reading is commonly referred to as “John’s Pentecost” (Jn 20:19-23). Most of us are probably more familiar with the Lucan account of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13), but John too describes the coming of the Spirit upon the disciples of Jesus. Rather than have the disciples gathered in an upper room in Jerusalem after Christ has ascended, John has the resurrected Jesus personally communicate the gift of the Spirit to his followers. “[Jesus] said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed [enephusesen] on them and said to them, ‘Receive the holy Spirit [pneuma]’” (Jn 20:21-22). What makes this Pentecost account unique is St. John’s stress on the intimate connection between the Father, the Son, the Spirit, and the Church. We are called by the Son, in the name of the Father and by the working of the Spirit, into communion with our Triune God; and to share this communion with others (mission). The Son has “infused us with the Spirit” for this end. The connection is so intimate, so personal, that the disciple of Christ inhales the very “breath of God.” For the Christian, this is who the human person is: the one capable of participating in the divine life of God. And since this is the identity of the human person, our fundamental ethical question should always be: Does a particular action or disposition draw me closer or move me farther away from this divine communion for which I was made?

Anthony Coleman teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

My Soul Proclaims!

It is May, the month of mothers and Mary. This weekend I am sharing reflections of Mary’s prayer, the Magnificat, with a small group of women at a retreat house in NH

The many translations and interpretations of the Magnificat can really break open and Visitationexpand the depth, scope, and meaning of this beautiful prayer that is sung, chanted, or read every evening in the liturgy of the hours.

Sometimes it can fall into the category of a “pretty” hymn or song, inspiring music without regard for the words; sometimes it can become routine words without reflection. It can become so familiar that we stop hearing the prayer, the blessings, the challenge, the grace, and the mercy witnessed to and passed on in its context and text.

I invite you to take some time today to sit with these rich words placed in the mouth of Mary in the Gospel of Luke (1:46-55). Note how they tell the story of our salvation history; compare this translation to others you know or have seen or to interpretations you have heard in song. Reflect on God’s goodness to you, your humble state, God’s repeated acts of mercy throughout time, the justice of God as revealed through Jesus Christ and the covenant renewed of God’s presence and mercy to be with us always.

My soul glorifies the Lord

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.

From now on all generations will call me blessed,

for the Mighty One has done great things for me —

holy is his name.

His mercy extends to those who fear him,

from generation to generation.

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;

he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.

He has brought down rulers from their thrones

but has lifted up the humble.

He has filled the hungry with good things

but has sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel,

remembering to be merciful

to Abraham and his descendants forever,

just as he promised our ancestors.


(New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan House, 1984. Print.)

Sr. Kelly Connors, pm, teaches Canon Law for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (Jn 15.13)

“A servant of God cannot know how much patience and humility he has within himself as long as he is content. When the time comes, however, when those who should make him content do the opposite, he has as much patience and humility as he has at that time and no more” (Francis of Assisi Admonition 13).

This admonition of St. Francis reflects on Matthew 5.9, but it could just as well be a reflection on our gospel for this Sunday. Like the first century followers of Jesus (despite the impression you might have had from Hollywood movies), we in the United States are rarely asked literally to die for our friends or our community. The Johannine literature recognizes that and offers an interpretation of a daily death for our friends, long before the desert and monastic traditions developed their own understandings and practices.

Though the Farewell Discourse (John 13-17) is complex and repetitious, its goal is clear: to show how Jesus provides the foundation for the new community. The foot-washing as footwashingprophetic action provides the paradigmatic for the discourse. Jesus lays aside his garment for the menial task of washing his followers’ feet, as he will soon lay aside his life (13:4; cf. 10:17 in the Good Shepherd discourse). The double washings discussed of feet (13: 6, 8) and entire body (13: 9-10) refer to the cleansing of sin by baptism (the entire body) and the future need for the daily self-sacrifice required in community, as provided for by the actions of Jesus. Illustration completed, Jesus then takes back up his garment/life (13:12; 10:17) to speak to the disciples in the narrative as a prefiguring of the resurrection; to the Johannine community near the end of the first century, he speaks as he always addressed them, as the resurrected Lord present with them who enables love of one another.

The work of patience and humility, or better, the spiritual character that makes them possible, is a daily conversion of laying aside the false self or the “old self” (see Eph 4.22-24), that seeks happiness in success, esteem, money, power, and other temporary satisfactions of infantile needs. What Francis points us to, however, is the blessedness of those moments when the false self raises its head and we fail, those God-given glimpses into how much we still need to release to make room for God. As Thomas Keating reminds us, ‎”Nothing is more helpful to reduce pride than the actual experience of self-knowledge. If we are discouraged by it, we have misunderstood its meaning” (Invitation to Love).

Pamela Hedrick teaches Sacred Scripture for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

Water, water, everywhere. What will you drink?

When you really think about it, water is life. Our bodies are made up of over 50% water, and we must stay hydrated in order to live. The human person can go some three weeks without food, but after three days we’ll die from lack of water. As of this writing California is facing one of its worst droughts, devastating crops and the economy. Water is life: it cleanses, refreshes, and helps us grow food. Water is beautiful, whether in the form of a snowy mountain, the rush of Niagara Falls, or in the soft morning dew of the spring.

Water can also be destructive. Torrential rains can bring mudslides and flooding, potentially resulting in the loss of homes, and even lives. Too much water causes havoc in the home – from a flooded basement to an overflowing toilet. Water can cause illness, as some of us may have experienced during overseas travel. In some places water is simply not usable for anything or anyone.

Woman at the WellWater is power. This is nowhere more evident than in Jesus’ encounter with the Woman at Jacob’s Well. The midday sun is scorching, and when a lone woman comes to the well to draw water, Jesus asks her for a drink. The encounter between Jesus and the Woman is one of the most fascinating in Scripture, and while a reflection on their exchange could fill pages, we’ll just focus on the water. We learn through their conversation that the Woman comes to this well with a past – and with a present that leads her there at the worst possible time, (when the sun is hottest) to avoid association with the other women of the village. This woman is stuck – in sin, isolation, and a pattern of behavior that keeps her from social, emotional and spiritual growth.

As far as she knows, Jesus is completely unaware of her situation. After all, He’s a “random stranger” whom she finds unexpectedly sitting at the well. His request seems simple enough – “Give me a drink” – if not somewhat inappropriate. A man speaking to a woman who is alone, and whom he doesn’t know, was improper, and could have been dangerous. Yet a simple question from a mysterious stranger leads the Woman to realize that the stranger isn’t really thirsty for water at all. This man is thirsting for her, though not in the same way as her previous husbands or current paramour. This man thirsts for her. He wants to flood her heart with mercy and love, destroy her sin and self-doubt, and refresh her spirit so that she can thirst for others. The Woman’s thirst will be for them to know the healing, cleansing power of the water “welling up to eternal life.” (Jn 4:14).

The power and force of Jesus’ love is symbolized in the water He offers the Woman. The water she’s been drinking lacks freshness and contains impurities that affect its palatability and effectiveness. It “gets the job done,” (quenches thirst, washes the body and cooks food), but it’s never quite good enough. Nothing is as clean as it could be, and the Woman’s lips and throat become parched again. Jesus wants her to cease being simply satisfied, and instead become sanctified. In the end, Jesus’ encounter with the Woman at the well is a proposal. He asks her to leave behind those things in her life that will “just do,” and invites her to open her heart to a flood of love and joy that will enlighten and transform.

Tradition names the Woman at the well Photini – the one who “saw the light” in her Jesus Chaliceencounter with the Christ. On the fifth Sunday of Easter, Eastern Catholics and Orthodox Christians remember Photini, both as the wary, suffering and isolated sinner; and as the woman who is reborn and called by a new name. It’s good for us to look to Photini because each one of us is her. We are met by Jesus at the well too. Our jars are filled with suffering, anger, illness, loss, and any number of difficulties we carry at the moment. These jars are dirty and porous, inadequate for what we need. The well we often slip away to when no one else is around is Sin, and the water we draw seems to “do the job,” but just barely, and only temporarily. This water dehydrates us, sickens us, and dulls our palates. We carry our old, inadequate jars and draw the stagnant water because we’ve ignored Jesus’ proposal, or we can’t bring ourselves to believe He’s truly inviting us. Sometimes we say “yes” to Him, but later revert back to old patterns and old jars. Sometimes we don’t even show up to the well at all.

But Jesus is there. He’s always there at the well of our hearts, waiting. Will you accept a drink from Him?

 

When the Samaritan Woman came to the well with faith, she beheld you, O Water of Wisdom. She is famed in song, for she drank deeply and inherited the kingdom from on high. Kontakion for the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman

Ann Koshute teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

 

Finding Her Voice…Do Whatever He Tells You.

After the ferocious winter many of us have weathered, the arrival of Spring and this brilliant month of May has beckoned us outside to dig in the dirt, plant some new flowers, and blow the leaves away while thanking them for keeping the bushes and shrubs warm and protected through the dark, cold days of Winter. In the midst of this and as I gaze up at the glorious blueness of the sky, I find myself in a kind of reverie, remembering the blessings of my Faith and how much I love Our Lady, the Mother of God. It is a joy to remember that May is traditionally dedicated to her.

The first decade of my life was the beautiful Marian Era. To say that Mary, the Mother of God, was a constant presence would not be overstating my experience.   I was welcomed into this world the same year as the proclamation of the Assumption by His Holiness Pope Pius XII (Munificentissimus Deus). How profoundly appropriate to proclaim this mystery of faith on the feast of All Saints, November 1, 1950! Then, just a few years later, we observed the celebration of the centenary of the Immaculate Conception (Ineffabilis Deus) proclaimed by His Holiness Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1854. As proud Americans, we claim Our Lady as our particular patron under her title of The Immaculate Conception and celebrate that partonal feast as a national Holy Day of Obligation on December 8th. Our Lady has been so much a part of my education and spiritual development. I was baptized at Our Lady of Peace; educated by the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in elementary school at Our Lady of Charity School; and  high school from Notre Dame High which was proudly lead by the Sisters of Notre Dame.

There are so many reminders and observances that give our faith and its practice a special Marian sensibility. Some mistakenly believe that we Catholics are the only ones who revere and honor her. Although there may be a particular affection that we Roman Catholics demonstrate, we surely are not the only ones who love and honor her. Many Christian denominations do honor her and Moslems do as well. She is honored in the Holy Qur’an as the mother of the great prophet, Jesus.

While the so-called golden age of Marian Devotion may be a distant memory from my youth, there are happy signs of a renewal of Marian Devotion. Parishes, schools, RCIA programs, and religious education programs are encouraging May Processions, Novena Devotions, Marian art, Miraculous Medals, and of course, The Rosary.  His Holiness Pope Saint John Paul II introduced the Luminous Mysteries in October of 2002, and helped many to rediscover this precious contemplative devotion. October is traditionally dedicated to the Most Holy Rosary and the feast of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary is celebrated on October 7th.

Some of the most magnificent architecture bears her name, for example the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. Our own national basilica in Washington, D.C. is dedicated to her under title of The Immaculate Conception.  Even in the secular arena, we find her. No woman has had nearly the number of Time magazine covers. The first one was December 25, 1938 and the latest one on March 21, 2005. There are many, many postage stamps that honor her…(for sports fans, I don’t know if a “Hail Mary” pass or the “Immaculate Reception” counts) .

Finally, Mary, the Theotokos, the Mother of Jesus, is the recipient of so many titles that there are Litanies that list and celebrate her names. She must have been a powerful presence in the course of her earthly life. After all, she is such a presence in our faith, our spirituality now. One might expect that a person like that would have been a powerful speaker and while she may have been, her voice is curiously silent in Sacred Scripture. Surveying the New Testament we find her speaking only seven times, and some of those are different Gospels quoting the same words, while others are really Mary quoting the Old Testament (the Magnificat is Hannah’s Song of Praise).  I am reminded of the old expression that “Actions speak louder than words”. One can be heard without words.

The last time we hear her voice in Scripture is at the Wedding Feast of Cana when she turns to the wine steward and says, “Do whatever He tells you”. She always directs us to her son. She always tells us to follow him. For us Catholics, it is our joy to be directed by her to Jesus…Ad Jesu per Mariam (to Jesus though Mary).

Madonna of the StreetImages of Mary in sculpture, paintings, tapestries abound. I offer you two of my favorites that represent two distinct frames of reference in Marian Theology and they partner similar frames in Christology. The first is Our Lady of the Streets. She is so young and while quite ordinary, she is beautiful. She may be at prayer while she holds her sleeping child.   She repents a parallel to Christology from Below or Antiochene Christology which highlights Jesus’ Human Nature.

The second is the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. She is other worldly looking and provides a kind of throne for an alert older Jesus who is regal and who may in fact be speaking to an angel. This image depicts the Christology from Above or Alexandrian Christology which highlights Jesus’ Divine Nature. Marian Theologians argue that Marian Art should always show her OLPHwith the Son. Artists don’t always agree and certainly have produced some beautiful art in spite of the disagreement. The Bishops at the Second Vatican Council had their own version of this conversation when they had some difficulty deciding whether Mary should be treated in her own document or placed within the context of another. Of course, famously, the grace-filled compromise was to present her in Chapter VIII of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) promulgated by His Holiness Pope Paul VI on November 21, 1965. This, I suggest, places her within the very heart of the Church. The title of the chapter expresses this so beautifully, “The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God in the mystery of Christ and the Church”.

I wish you a beautiful May, a happy Mothers’ Day and I close with the words of the oldest known prayer to Mary, The Sub Tuum.

We fly to thy patronage, O Holy Mother of God, despise not our petitions in our necessities and deliver us from all dangers, all Glorious and ever Blessed Virgin.

Susan O’Hara teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.