This work week begins with our September 8 liturgical celebration of the birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We may echo the words of her divine Son in the Gospel of John (18:37) and apply them to His Mother: the Virgin Mary came into the world to bear witness to the Truth, to Jesus Christ. All who are on the side of truth listen to His voice—this is Mary’s directive to us, also: “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5).
The Virgin Mary and her prophetic mission really resonate with today’s September 10 readings. The first reading from 1 Corinthians begins with St. Paul’s reference to virgins and ends with his assertion that “the world in its present form is passing away.” The Virgin Mary’s detachment from worldly attractions, and her focus on “what is above” (Colossians 3:1-2)—on embracing God’s will (Luke 1:38)—underscore the transiency of this world. Today’s Responsorial Psalm, drawing from Psalm 45, addresses the “king’s daughter.” The high Christological tone is obvious: the king above kings is God, and His God has anointed Him (45:7-8). The name of the king’s daughter will be renowned through all generations (45:18): Mary’s Magnificat alludes to this—“from now on all generations shall call me blessed” (Luke 1:48).
The Blessed Virgin certainly embodies the teaching of Jesus in His Sermon on the Plain, imparted through the Gospel reading according to St. Luke. Jesus tells us, “Blessed are you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours.” Mary is blessed by being poor—materially poor, yes (e.g., Luke 2:24, offering the poor person’s sacrifice), but more importantly, spiritually poor, or humble. She demonstrated her humility so profoundly by embracing God’s will in all things, including accepting the humbling, humiliating, and devastating circumstances that befell her.
Mary of Nazareth had to place her newborn Son in a manger because there was no room for the Holy Family in the inn. She lived in the Nazarene community in which citizens—some of whom Mary probably knew quite well—rejected her only Son and disdained Him enough to try to hurl Him down the brow of the hill upon which Nazareth was built. (Luke 4:29). Not too long afterward, the leaders of His own people delivered Him to betrayal, torture, and execution. Mary was there. She felt His pain and shared in His rejection.
The Virgin Mary fulfilled Simeon’s prophecy: “And a sword shall pierce your own soul, too” (Luke 2:35). Simeon seems to prophesy about Mary in continuity with and in partial fulfillment of Zechariah 12:10: “And I will pour out on the House of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. And they shall look upon me, whom they have pierced; and they shall mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a first-born son.” [This is my own translation from Biblical Hebrew into English. Notice, from the Hebrew translation, the identity of the object pronoun—“they shall look upon me”! Many translations change the pronoun from first masculine singular to third masculine singular.] As Jesus, the first-born and prophesied Shepherd (Zechariah 13:7-9) is struck and pierced by the sword/lance as a sign of contradiction, so too Mary’s soul is pierced by the sword, metaphorically. Her pain, in union with her Son, is emotional and spiritual.
In the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus tells us, “Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude and insult you…on account of the Son of Man…your reward will be great in heaven!” The Blessed Virgin exemplifies this blessed and exalted one of whom Jesus speaks. Her fidelity and obedience to God’s will in her life is our standard for authentic discipleship and prophetic witness. With the Virgin Mary’s example and powerful intercession for divine grace, we may be light in darkness, love in a world gone cold, setting the earth ablaze by the love of Christ!
Mark Koehne teaches moral theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.