All About Mary

Traditionally, the Catholic Church has called May “Mary’s month.” Many parishes have May processions and May crownings in which freshly picked flowers from spring gardens are placed at st100_0107(rev 0)atues of the Blessed Mother, and she is crowned with a wreath of flowers. Some people plant a “Mary garden” which features plants that are mentioned in the bible. The most obvious association of the month of May and Mary is, of course, the celebration of Mother’s Day. On this day as we honor all mothers, we honor also Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church.

Christ Bearers

This month, because of where we find ourselves in the 50 day celebration of the Easter season, we have one more way to celebrate the Marian character of our faith. As the church moves toward the celebration of the feast of Pentecost, our readings from the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel are full of the first accounts of the Apostles telling the amazing story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. The apostles are stepping up and giving shape to the small community of believers that will become the church. Here, we find Mary as well. When she could have so easily returned to Nazareth to live quietly after Jesus’ return to his Father, Mary stays with the Apostles. We see her practice a spiritual motherhood – comforting, nurturing and praying for the mission Jesus has entrusted to his followers. Just as she fulfilled the mission God entrusted to her, bearing his Son to the world, she nurtures the apostles and followers of Jesus’ mission to bear the Risen Christ to the world. The mission of the apostles becomes our mission. As Pope Francis likes to say, all the baptized are missionary disciples.

Missionary Disciples

We are most like Mary in that we, too, are called to bear Christ to the world. How? In the same way we see the Apostles doing it in this month’s Gospel readings. We have opportunities to share our love for Our Lord. If faith makes all the difference in our lives, how do we share that? Could our story be a source of good news for a friend or family member or colleague? The missionary impulse that comes alive in Jesus’ followers is one of hospitality. Like Mary, who after receiving her mission from God, went immediately to help her cousin Elizabeth, the Apostles immediately began inviting others into the life of the community, to be of service, to welcome all who were searching for an experience of God, of love and of fellowship.

Mary with ApostlesFor us followers of Jesus, in the very noisy world of the 21st century, trying to make sense of a complicated world and complicated lives, perhaps the most inviting aspect of Jesus’ life and of the practice of Mary and the apostles is that of prayer. When we read that Mary “pondered all these things in her heart”, and that Mary and the apostles gathering in the upper room to “wait” for the coming of the Spirit, they were, in reality, praying and contemplating the meaning Jesus’ life for them and their lives.


Contemplative Missionaries

Mary and the apostles knew the need for silence, for thinking deeply, for learning to trust in God’s plan. What we followers learn is that God’s plan unfolds in our lives and in the life of the church. God’s plan for our lives does not arrive in a text message or in 140 characters. Like the Mary garden, it grows, at first hidden, then fledgling, but with God’s gift of sun and rain and gardeners plants, grows deep roots and gorgeous bright flowers and fruits! Cultivating faith is like cultivating a garden. Faith needs prayer, sacraments, community, and wise teachers to grow deep roots and flower.

This month, cultivate the garden you’ve been given to plant seeds of faith and bear Christ to the world.

Susan Timoney is the Assistant Secretary for Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns for the Archdiocese of Washington and teaches spirituality for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

Standing by Christ

On the afternoon of March 13, 2013, during a long break in a class I was teaching, students watched, on the “edge of their seats,” the live, televised papal election of Cardinal Bergoglio, presented as “Pope Francis.”   They cheered and screamed exuberantly. In the excitement of the moment, I reminded them that, when the world views him more critically—when the pope’s preaching and living the Gospel evokes anger and hatred among those “of the world”—then they must continue passionately supporting and encouraging our Holy Father. Not so easy, though, when popular culture castigates the Church’s stance “in truth” as an outmoded and bigoted vestige of dark ages in humanity’s past.

We may view Pope Francis’s exceptional popularity—a huge boost for Catholic counter-culture and waning Church attendance—as a timely but provisional blessing from God. As we know, popularity comes and goes. Jesus’ sobering words clarify our focus on realistic discipleship: “…because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you…If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:19-20)

Today, we celebrate Palm Sunday, on which we recount Jesus’ final entry into Jerusalem during his earthly ministry. Just prior to this entry, descending the MoPalmunt of Olives toward Jerusalem, Jesus’ multitude of disciples accompany and receive him. They lay down cloaks and leafy branches on the road before him and proclaim Jesus of Nazareth the “son of David,” the “king.” This alludes to and fulfills Psalm 118:25-27: “Lord [actually, YHWH], grant salvation! [in Hebrew, Hosanna!]…Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord…The Lord is God and has given us light. Join in procession with leafy branches…!” Jesus’ extolled, messianic procession also fulfills prophecy in Zechariah 9:9 and alludes to Isaiah 40:9 and 62:11. Concerning Jesus’ approach toward Jerusalem, the intertextuality between each Gospel and the Old Testament is significant and intricate in messianic contour.

Jesus’ peak of popularity, and the renown proper to him as the true Messiah and world Redeemer, are quite transitory. Shortly following his climactic reception on Palm Sunday (as we call it), the religious leaders of Jerusalem—at risk of suffering the fate of the unrepentant sinners of Zion, of those consumed among unquenchable flames (Isaiah 1:27-31)—falsely arrest, torture, and crucify the Christ.

Jesus, undaunted by the esteem of men or their status (Matthew 22:16, John 5:41), boldly speaks the truth: “…for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37). Jesus’ mission of testifying to the truth corresponds to his identity, Truth itself (John 14:6). If our discipleship of Christ is genuine, we must be faithful to his word. Can we withstand the pressure to conform to “the world?” By what we say and do, and even at times by our silence or act of omission, do we fail to courageously, faithfully embrace all of Jesus’ teachings? Out of fear of social reprisal, do we slight duty and devotion to Sunday Eucharist and holy days of obligation, patience and kindness toward all, chastity and the sanctity of real marriage, material solidarity with the poor, etc.? When we conform to our fallen nature, we deny our divine image, as well as Jesus, the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). In our denial, we are saying about the Christ, in effect, “I do not know this man!”

In contrast, by the amazing grace God lavishly bestows on us, along with our freely-chosen resolve, we each can stand by Christ in courage, saying, “I can do all things through him who empowers me” (Philippians 4:13).

Mark Koehne teaches moral theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.