Mary – Model for Our Pilgrimage of Faith

Bringing Mary Out Of Eclipse


Untitled-1Stamp issued by Italy, for the 1983 Holy YearIt is no exaggeration to say that Marian devotion suffered a diminution during the last quarter of the twentieth century. Some blame the Second Vatican Council; others hold theologians at fault. And yet no council has ever spoken so beautifully of Mary as does Lumen Gentium, nos. 52-69. Prominent theologians such as Karl Rahner, Schillebeeckx, and even the non-Catholic Max Thurian have written exquisitely on Mary. Bishops’ conferences have issued pastoral letters on Mary, such as the American Bishops’ beautiful letter, Behold Your Mother.

The eclipse perhaps came as an overreaction to excesses that at times existed in some Marian devotions; the eclipse also may have come because our attention was focused on other essential aspects of our Christian, ecclesial life.

But Mary is so integral a part of the fabric of our faith that she cannot remain in eclipse. In fact, in Argentina, Cardinal Primatesta, in a conference to members of the Council of the Congregation, went on at great length to emphasize that it is Marian devotion that has preserved the Christian faith of the Latin American people over the centuries. This great gift cannot remain in eclipse.


Mary, Our Mother


In proclaiming 1983 the Holy Year of the Redemption, Pope John Paul II wanted to put dramatically before our eyes and our hearts this life-giving reality that is Mary, Mother of Christ, Mother of the Church; your mother and mine. We are not dealing with pious images or metaphors nor with devotional projections; we are dealing with a reality present to us. Do we recognize this presence? Is it vital for us?

Permit me to use an analogy to help me get my point across. Walk outside and look up into the air. Do you hear music or voices and see images? Of course not. And yet that seemingly clear air is full of sounds and images. And yet all you need is a radio or TV and clock in order to capture them. You hear the music and the voices, you see the pictures. All you need is the proper instrument, properly tuned and with a power source.

Untitled-2Pope St. John Paul II
in his earlier years
It is the same thing with the presence of God, the Lord, the Spirit – and yes, of Mary. They are real presences. But unless we have our minds and hearts empowered by the Spirit, attuned in faith, then there is no way that we can be aware of these presences; no way that we can respond to them; no way that we can be touched and transformed by them.

Many of us need a polishing-up of our Marian devotion, to enter more deeply into the richness and profound meaning of a Marian spirituality.

As John Paul’s 1987 encyclical Redemptoris Mater suggests, it is a question of seeing Mary as part of our “life of faith.” Mary is the prototype for our own stance before God and the world. Mary has led and continues to lead the way on our pilgrimage of faith. Recognizing that and actively drawing strength from that reality is one way of insuring that Mary will no longer live in a sort of eclipse.

This is not the place for a treatise on the fundamentals of a Marian theology. I simply encourage you all to give Redemptoris Mater a prayerful, meditative reading. The encyclical, plus chapter VIII in Lumen Gentium, gives an excellent summary of Mariology. I simply want to point out some aspects of Mary that can touch our life of faith – points that may be light and food for our own journey.


Mary: Model for Our Pilgrimage of Faith


A recurring phrase in the pope’s encyclical is Mary’s place in the “pilgrimage of faith” (6,14,25, and 26 especially). The whole image of the pilgrimage of faith is a dynamic one capturing the movement, the evolution, the story of a people, of individuals.

Untitled-3The Theotokos (God-bearer) FrescoWhat is this “pilgrimage of faith” that the Church has lived out through space and time in her individual members? The pope says that its essential character is interior, a “question of a pilgrimage through faith, by the ‘power of the Risen Lord,’ a pilgrimage in the Holy Spirit” (Redemptoris Mater, 25).

The essential element of this interior pilgrimage is the response that each person gives to the encounter with the Holy Spirit. The faith-response of yes – of fiat, a total obedience of faith to the Spirit inviting into God’s plan – creates a receptive space for the conception and birthing of Jesus. This pilgrimage of faith is of crucial importance not only because of what it accomplishes in the individual, but more because of what is accomplished through the individual: making Christ present in the world.

And Mary, in a unique and special way, is present to and part of this ongoing pilgrimage. “Mary is present, as the one who is ‘blessed because she believed,’ as the one who advanced on the pilgrimage of faith, sharing unlike any other creature in the mystery of Christ. . . . Among all believers she is like a ‘mirror’ in which are reflected in the most profound and limpid way ‘the mighty works of God’” (Redemptoris Mater, 25). Mary is the prototype and model for all faith-pilgrims. And what can we learn when we look at her response? We discover that “to believe means ‘to abandon oneself’ to the truth of the word of the living God . . . accepting fully and with a ready heart everything that is decreed in the divine plan . . . a complete openness to the person of Christ, to his whole work, to his whole mission” (Redemptoris Mater, 14,39).

Untitled-4A portion of an icon of Mary and Jesus at the Marriage Feast of CanaThis total acceptance, this total giving of oneself to God’s plan, is evident throughout Mary’s life: in the fiat of the annunciation moment, in the journey to Bethlehem and the birth in such humble surroundings, in the flight to Egypt, in the “ponderings in her heart” during the early years, in the intercession at Cana, in the years of remaining in the background during the preaching, teaching, and healing and on the fringe of the crowds adulating or condemning, at the foot of the cross, and then in the midst of the apostles for the empowering on Pentecost. Certainly it is not difficult to see in Mary the total gift of her person to serving the saving plan of the Father.

Unique? Yes, Mary is. And yet we share in the same call, the same mission. As the American bishops stated in their pastoral letter: “Mary conceived in her womb. First came Mary’s faith, then her motherhood. Faith is the key. . . . All who truly follow Christ become ’mothers’ of Christ, for by their faith they bring him to birth” (Behold Your Mother, 71). This radical response of faith, as Cardinal Ratzinger effectively stated in his homily at St. Mary Major’s on June 10, 1987, shows that Mary is “above all the sign of the fecundity of faith in history.” The fecundity of faith is that it brought forth Life itself, which is Jesus. Jesus is God’s supreme entrance into history. It is in Jesus that God once and for all puts history on the road of salvation, of liberation, of completion. Jesus is the ever-present Life that transforms history. What better way, therefore, to (deepen our faith) than to look at Mary, the supreme example and model of the power of faith to bring Jesus into the world?

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