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Mary, model of faith

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Mary Mother of God
Mary was immediately responsive to the word of the Lord. Image taken from Catholic Daily Reflections, My Catholic Life!

‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?’ (John 2:4) 

It is certainly jarring to hear those words spoken by Our Lord to Our Lady—it seems rather rude at first. 

I know many people who visibly wince whenever the ‘Wedding at Cana’ is the Gospel of the day. 

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I know of a priest in South Australia who claims those words as the most memorable in the New Testament, though I think that might have more to do with his own personal experience of them. 

Apparently when that priest was 14 years old he went to Mass and was rather struck by the response of Jesus to his mother. 

Upon returning home, his own mother, peering around the door of the fridge, turned to him and said, “We’ve run out of milk; go down to the shops and get some more.” 

This 14-year-old fledging preacher struck a pose and declaimed, “Woman! What concern is that to you and to me?” 

He had to duck rather quickly as the empty milk bottle came flying through the air at his head. 

As May is a month traditionally dedicated to Marian devotion, I thought now might be an appropriate time to consider this querulous quip of Our Lord and its possible significance. 

And the deeper meaning behind those words is revealed by a closer examination of the broader sweep of scripture. 

Who, after all, is the first person in the Bible to be designated by the title, ‘woman’? 

Eve, obviously. (Genesis 2:22-23) 

Yet the most memorable characteristic of the first woman is that she disbelieved the word of the Lord, listened to the serpent and succumbed to temptation, leading—ultimately—to the fall of all mankind. 

This is to be contrasted with the Blessed Virgin Mary. 

Mary was immediately responsive to the word of the Lord when it was addressed to her by the angel, leading—ultimately—to the redemption of all mankind. 

Throughout the centuries, this contrast has often been creatively expressed though art. 

Eve is often depicted as grasping and reaching; preferring her own will to that of God. 

Mary Mother of God - The catholic weekly

By contrast the Blessed Virgin, the handmaid of the Lord, is often painted in a posture of openness and acceptance; ready to respond to grace, wherever it may lead her. 

As put most beautifully by St Anselm, ‘God is the Father of all created things and Mary is the mother of all that has been recreated. God begot him through whom all things were made and Mary gave birth to him though whom all things are saved.’ 

In speaking to his own mother as ‘woman’ Christ is in fact openly acknowledging her as the fullest expression of womanhood, as the one whose openness to the grace of God has helped rectify the rejection of that grace by Eve. 

In calling her ‘woman’ on the occasion of his first public miracle Jesus is acknowledging his own mother as the mother of all who are re-born in him, an acknowledgement that will be made even more explicit at the end of his earthly life when—at the foot of the cross—he commends us all to the Blessed Virgin with the words, ‘Here is your mother.’ (John 19:27) 

It is true that as Christians we have but one divine exemplar: the one from whom we derive out name—Christ. 

Yet, employing an image developed by the Dominican Antonin-Gilbert Sertillanges, we can envisage how the Blessed Virgin too functions as a model for us. 

If we were aboard a boat making its way across the ocean on a crystal-clear night, we would see not only one field of stars, but two: those shining from above would be perfectly reflected by the still sea below. 

And so it is with Mary—she is a perfect mirror of the light of Christ. 

And that is why the Blessed Virgin is our true model of faith, not Jesus. 

Jesus cannot be the subject of Christian faith because He is its object. 

Nowhere in the New Testament is faith attributed to Jesus. 

Jesus is the ‘founder and perfecter of faith’ (Hebrews 12:2), the one on whom our faith depends from beginning to end. 

But he is not one of the believers. 

Faith is a relation between God and man as person to person, but Jesus is God and man in the same person. 

He cannot relate to the Father through faith because he relates to him through nature. 

Thus our model of faith is his Blessed Mother, Mary. 

An icon of Mary by Fr Abdo Badwi.

As put so succinctly by Capuchin Fr Raniero Cantalamessa, Mary is, “the first member of the church in order of time and importance.” 

Along with St Irenaeus we can gratefully say: “The knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by Mary’s obedience, what the virgin Eve bound through her unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosed by her faith.” 

Those words written in the second century continue to exemplify how worthy of devotion the Blessed Virgin remains in our own day and age. 

Mary is the exemplary woman whose responsiveness to the word of God and to the action of grace earned her the title of ‘Woman’ from her own Son. 

Mary is the Mother of Church and thus the mother of all who are brothers and sisters in Christ. 

Mary is the Lady who guides us on our way of faith; the Star of the Sea and mirror of her Divine Son. 

As we conclude this month of May let us be ever mindful that, while Christ is our Redeemer, He did not appear on this earth at the age of thirty. 

Mary, our model in the faith, had to say ‘Yes’ to the incarnation before Christ could say ‘Yes’ to the crucifixion. 

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