This week, I had the privilege of being invited to Macquarie University to speak about Our Lady.
It was perfect timing; we are in May, the month of Mary, and we celebrate Mothers’ Day this weekend. Plus, it was a welcome change to the last time I was there.
On the most recent occasion I was at Macquarie Uni to address the students, I was talking about same-sex marriage. I was greeted by protesters with megaphones and security and police who were there to keep me safe.
So, this talk should have been easier to prepare, but it wasn’t really. Funnily enough, preparing to speak to a hostile audience about a controversial topic seemed a lot simpler.
I’m not sure why, exactly. Maybe it was because I can comfortably point to my background as a lawyer or as the Communications Director for the Coalition for Marriage as the basis of my authority to speak publicly about topics like marriage.
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Maybe too it was because I don’t feel like I have the same “authority” to speak about Our Lady. After all, it didn’t seem that the topic was connected in any way with religious freedom or euthanasia or one of the other “culture war” issues that I usually address in my talks and writings.
But in preparing for the talk which focused on Our Lady’s perfection, I realised very quickly that in all of the ways Our Lady models perfection to us, and particularly to women, she models perfection as a “warrior” as well.
Indeed, the first mention of Our Lady in Sacred Scripture foreshadows her fighting spirit. In Genesis 3, we hear God say: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” The very first thing that God says about Mary is that she will be an adversary of the devil himself.
God not only promises that there will be enmity between Mary and the devil, but also between children of Mary and children of Satan. From the very beginning, it was set up that those of us who claim Mary as our mother would have to contend with those who claim Satan as their father.
Far from being a “warm and fuzzy” topic not related to some of the big battles facing the Church and the world today, Our Lady is at the centre of these struggles, as our model for responding to them. Our Lady teaches us how to be fighters in a culture that is increasingly opposed to Christianity and to Catholicism in particular.
One of these that stands out, I think, is how she shows us the importance of being present to others, in joys and sorrows, in their celebrations and their fears.
We hear in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel about how Mary, on hearing of her cousin Elizabeth’s pregnancy, went in haste to see her and stayed with her for months; the two of them sharing the joy of their motherhood.
Mary is present in sorrow, culminating in her steadfast presence at the foot of the cross. She is also present in the Church when it is facing persecution, as we see on the day of Pentecost when she is in the midst of the disciples gathered in the upper room “for fear of the Jews.”
I always imagine that her presence amongst them must have provided some calm for their fears; her perfect trust in her Son would not have failed to give them at least some hope and some courage.
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Most importantly, she was unceasingly present to God in prayer.
And she continues to be present to us, her children, praying for and with us in our own joys and sorrows, our trials and our struggles. Another way to describe Our Lady’s unchanging presence in ever-changing circumstances is faithfulness.
If modelling ourselves on Mary is essential to our contending with an increasingly secular society that hates God, hates the Church, hates the truth and, to be honest, hates humanity itself, then we need to model her fidelity to Christ and the Church.
During this month dedicated to her, and particularly as we celebrate mothers – earthly and spiritual – this Sunday, let us recommit ourselves to trying to be more like Mary in every way.