Mary, the Mother of Jesus, has always been venerated under various titles by the Catholics who have a strong and filial devotion to her and she is equally held in high esteem by the Christian Churches. Growing up in India I have personally witnessed people of other faiths praying for her intercession as they implore God’s blessings on their petitions. In Quran she is presented as “an exceptionally pious woman with the highest spiritual rank among women.” She is the only woman mentioned by name in the Quran and even has a chapter named after her in the Quran.
The Gospels and the Church Tradition presents Mary as pure, holy, and perfect in carrying out the will of God. The Tradition, in doing so, not only exalts Mary but also proposes her to us as a model to be emulated in following Christ (She is seen as the first and the perfect disciple of Jesus).
Yes, Mary can inspire us, guide us, and give us hope. She is the forerunner of what we are called to be both in this life and life to come. But precisely in this lies our struggle: she, the Immaculate one, is given as a model for me who is constantly struggling with human weakness and the propensity to commit sin. She who is pure, holy, and perfect in obedience to God’s will is the one I am called to follow.
To me, who is crawling on the dust of the earth, Mary is presented as far above my reach of holiness and purity and she has become more of an ideal whom I admire in awe than one whom I can follow on this earth. I who let my ego define and determine my being and my behavior is far from “the perfect handmaid of the Lord.” This is in no way belittling the person, the greatness, and the holiness of Mary. However I am trying to understand the person of Mary who can speak to me, meet me where I am, in spite of all my weakness and struggles and inspire me to live my spiritual life to the fullest and thereby glorify God.
Without denying the various accolades that Tradition has given to Mary and the person and the life that she lived, what I am trying to do is to make her meaningful for me in my own spiritual life. For this I would like to focus on five aspects of Mary that inspire me to listen, to follow, and fulfill God’s will. In this she can be a force to be reckoned with not only for Christians but for everyone who genuinely seeks to live, act, and have their being in God.
1. Yes to God’s call over Mosaic Law
At the Annunciation the angel Gabriel tells Mary that she will conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit and bear a son who will be called Jesus: God with us. In the eventual dialogue between Mary and the angel we notice Mary’s initial resistance and even doubt as she is only engaged to Joseph and not married to him yet. Mary is equally aware of the Law of Moses that she could be stoned to death if such a thing has to happen before her marriage to Joseph (Dt 22.21). Mary is in a predicament: whether or not to abide by the Law of Moses who is held as The Law Giver and a great Prophet.
The law is superior and breaking it would be tantamount to breaking the Covenant itself. Mary chooses God’s will over following the Mosaic Law, even if this entails death for her. Mary had the courage and the conviction to transcend the Law of Moses with everything stacked against her and her life. By choosing God it appeared that she will lose everything in her life and still she took that risk. Her risk brought Jesus into the world and the world is a better place because of Jesus.
It is said that God speaks to us in our conscience. At times what God demands of us will be contrary to the traditional understanding of knowing God’s will and God’s purpose for us. In moments such as these do we have the courage to follow through with what God demands that we do?
It is tough, hard, and literally letting go of the familiar ground on which we stand. It is uncomfortable to leave our comfort zones to accept the challenge and chalk out a new path that becomes clear only as we walk the path, just trusting God alone. To me this is where Mary is a shining example who chose the risk of choosing God and face of the risk of losing everything. In choosing the will of God Mary fulfills the purpose of her life and becomes history. Examples speak louder than words. Let us look at the lives of a few people who like Mary chose to say “Yes” to God and thus had the courage to break away from what the society expected them to become and be. In choosing God they have left their remarkable influence for good.
Moses: Refused the alluring life in Pharaoh’s Palace and harkened to the call of God to be in the desert where he becomes the leader of the people of Israel.
Prophets: They listened to the voice of God and left behind their life and became the spokespersons of God.
John the Baptist: Left the Temple and chose to listen to the voice of God in the desert and becomes the one who prepared the way for Jesus.
Jesus: Refused to listen to the alluring demands of the devil in the desert and chose God’s will and thereby ushered in the Reign of God.
St. Paul: Turned away from his vocation to persecute the Christians and became one of the greatest pillars of Christianity.
St. Francis of Assisi: Refused to follow his Father’s lucrative business and chose to follow Christ and thus became a beacon of light for many.
St. Mother Theresa: Responded to the call within a call and left the Loreto convent and became the face of God for the poor and the destitute around the world.
Oscar Romero: Read the Gospel in light of the violation of human rights and became a champion for the poor of El Salvador.
Thomas Merton: Left behind an illustrious intellectual career and chose a life of silence and solitude and continues to influence many in the path of Contemplative Prayer.
Martin Luther King: Said yes to God to lead the Civil Rights Movement in a non-violent manner and he became a shining light for millions.
Abishikananda, Bede Griffths, Amalorpavadass, Anthony de Mello: Through their willingness to discern, to listen, and to follow the Holy Spirit where it blows they have showed that one can learn from Non-Christian Traditions as well.
Pope Francis: While the conservatives are tearing him apart for his views he courageously marches on to share God’s mercy and love to all.
Buddha: Left his palace to know for himself the nature of reality and today Buddhism as a Philosophy of life is embraced by millions.
Ramana Maharishi: Had the courage to leave his home at a young age and embrace Arunachala and people flock to Ramana Ashram to experience God.
J. Krishnamurthi: Had the courage to dismantle the Order of the Star in the East and dedicated his entire life to teach people that Truth is a Pathless Land.
Gandhi: Left his lawyer’s profession in South Africa and through his spirituality of Ahimsa and Satyagraha become a Mahatma.
Valan. A and Andrews R: Catholic priests whom I personally know who chose to be
“different” in being “priests” and are bringing about change and transformation in the lives of the poor.
Men and women who have left behind a lucrative career have become agents of change for good in the lives of others, especially the poor and the marginalized.
The challenge is to listen to the voice of God, to discern God’s will (my purpose in life) and to have the courage to carry out the call of God even if it means breaking away from age old traditional understanding of a particular walk of life. What God demands of us will only be for the good of others. In this Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is a shining example for us. May we follow her.
To be continued .......
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