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Mary Across the Books of the Bible

Here is a succinct and potent reflection from Stephen Beale at https://catholicexchange.com about the wedding feast of Cana (today’s Gospel). These are points that you have heard from me before because they are so illuminating vis-à-vis this passage and the continuity of Scripture.

May you know the peace of Christ,

Fr Greg

When it comes to Mary in the Gospels, John 2:4 is a real head-scratcher.

It’s the wedding at Cana and the wine has run out. When Mary informs Jesus, here is the startling reply: Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.

It doesn’t sound like any way to talk to your mother, let alone any ‘woman’ for that matter. But many interpreters, including many evangelical Protestants, take this verse on face value, concluding it is some kind of rebuke. One well-respected evangelical scholar, D.A. Carson, takes it this way, suggesting that Jesus is putting some distance between Himself and Mary and signaling that He starts His ministry on His initiative alone.

Mary is mediator at Cana

Not only does this reading grate against the Church’s teaching on Mary, it also is completely at odds with the context. There are two glaring facts that argue for another reading. First, Mary does not shrink back as if chastised. Instead, she boldly charges off to the servants telling them to do whatever Jesus tells them. Not only is this not the behavior of someone who has just been chastised but it indicates that Mary expected Jesus to take action: she took his statement as a positive response to her request.

Was Mary right?

Well, we next see Jesus changing water into wine. This confirms her reaction.

Far from diminishing the stature of Mary, this confirms her role as a mediator and intercessor on our behalf with Christ…

Mary’s intercessory role is further confirmed in the very beginning of the Cana account. As John Paul II notes, Jesus’ appears to have been invited to the wedding by virtue of his association with Mary. Indeed, Jesus and his disciples are listed as guests after Mary. It is through Mary that Jesus comes to us. As radical as this may sound, it is simply a working out of the truth of the Incarnation itself.

And this is not just some random moment of John’s gospel. It is the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

And there’s more.

Mary: from Cana to the Cross

The word that at first blush seems derogatory—woman—turns out to be steeped in meaning.

Our first clue comes in the second sentence, in which Jesus mentions that His ‘hour’ has not come. To the uninitiated reader, Jesus’ reference to timing might seem to reinforce the anti-Marian interpretation: Now is not really a good time. But ‘hour’ in the gospel of John, when not referring to a specific hour of the day (such as the “tenth hour” in John 1:39), is always a symbolic reference to Jesus’ death and hidden exaltation on the cross (His ‘last hour’ if you will).

The word ‘hour’ thus connects this moment—this beginning of His public life—to its climax on the Cross. Now, Mary’s intercession takes on even greater significance: it sets off the chain of events that lead right to the Cross. In John 19, we see Mary at the foot of the Cross—she has not receded into the background. She has not decreased as Christ as increased because she is not in competition with her son (as Catholic scholar Matthew Levering well notes in his new book Mary’s Bodily Assumption). Instead, at the foot of the cross, Mary’s connection with Christ’s saving work is confirmed.

And, at the crucifixion, Jesus happens to again address her as ‘woman’—this time in the context of making provisions for her to stay with the Beloved Disciple. (By the way, this tender moment further argues against taking ‘woman’ to be a derogatory term.) This reminds us again of Mary’s intercessory role at Cana. And it reminds us of this role at a crucially important moment.

Mary as the new Eve

But why is Mary addressed as ‘woman’ in the first place? Besides linking Cana to the cross, what does this form of address itself mean?

John Paul II notes that the word ‘woman’ recalls the prophecy in Genesis 3:15, in which Eve is described in similarly anonymous language: I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; They will strike at your head, while you strike at their heel.

Mary as Woman

To call Mary ‘woman,’ then alludes back to this passage, which is sometimes called the protoevangelium—or proto-gospel—because it looks forward to Christ. As John Paul II notes, “By his redemptive death Jesus Christ conquers the evil of sin and death at its very roots.” But, as Genesis 3:15 makes clear, this cosmic drama between Christ and Satan also involves another person involved: ‘woman.’ In addressing Mary in this way, then, Christ is confirming her universal role is this conflict between heaven and hell.

Suffice it to say, in terms of Marian theology, this connection to Genesis 3:15 is enormously important. The typological connection between Mary as the new Eve has bearing upon just about every Marian teaching of the Church.

To take just one example, consider the Immaculate Conception, the dogma that Mary was spared the stain of original sin. How does her status as the new Eve figure into the picture here? As strange as it sounds, it is a biblical fact that Adam, Eve, and Mary are the only three human beings ever to have been born without original sin. Remember, original sin came after the first sin of Adam and Eve. Just as Eve was without the stain original sin, so also was Mary, thanks to the pre-emptive intervention of Christ.

Do not delay

I was away last week making my annual retreat and was praying for you and your families. Please enjoy the following reflection on today’s Gospel (Luke 1) from Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, at saltandlighttv.org.

May you know the peace of Christ,

Fr Greg

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There are two aspects of today’s Visitation scene to consider. The first is that any element of personal agenda of Mary and Elizabeth is put aside. Both had good reason to be very preoccupied with their pregnancies and all that new life brings. Both women had a right to focus on themselves for a while as they made new and radical adjustments to their daily lives.

Mary reaches out to her kinswoman to help her and also to be helped by her. These two great biblical women consoled each other, shared their stories, and gave each other the gift of themselves in the midst of the new life that they must have experienced: Elizabeth after her long years of barrenness and now sudden pregnancy, and Mary, after her meeting with the heavenly messenger, and her “irregular” marriage situation and pregnancy.

The second point to consider is Mary’s quick response and movement. Luke tells us that she undertook “in haste” the long and perilous trek from Nazareth to a village in the hill country of Judea. She knew clearly what she wanted and did not allow anyone or anything to stop her.

In his commentary on Luke’s Gospel, St. Ambrose of Milan describes this haste with a difficult Latin phrase, “nescit tarda molimina Spiritus Sancti gratia,” which could mean: “the grace of the Holy Spirit does not know delayed efforts,” or “delayed efforts are foreign to the grace of the Holy Spirit.” Mary’s free choice to move forward and outward reflects a decision taken deep within her heart followed by immediate action.

Procrastination

How many things exist in our lives that we dreamed of doing, should have done, and never did — letters that should have been written, dreams that should have been realized, gratitude that was not expressed, affection never shown, words that should have been spoken, etc.? Postponements and delays weigh heavily upon us, wear us down and discourage us. They gnaw away at us. How true St. Ambrose described Mary’s haste: The Spirit completely possessed the Virgin Daughter of Nazareth and compelled her to act.

The story of the Visitation teaches us an important lesson: When Christ is growing inside of us, we will be led to people, places and situations that we never dreamed of. We will bear words of consolation and hope that are not our own. In the very act of consoling others, we will be consoled. We will be at peace, recollected, because we know that however insignificant our life and issues seem to be, from them Christ is forming himself.

The women of today’s Gospel show us that it is possible to move beyond our own little, personal agendas and engage in authentic ministry and service in the Church. Ministry and service are not simply doing things for others. Authentic Christian ministers and servants allow themselves to serve and be served, taught, cared for, consoled and loved. Such moments liberate us and enable us to sing Magnificat along the journey, and celebrate the great things that God does for us and His people.

Consider these words of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1910-1997):

“In the mystery of the Annunciation and the Visitation, Mary is the very model of the life we should lead. First of all, she welcomed Jesus in her existence; then, she shared what she had received. Every time we receive Holy Communion, Jesus the Word becomes flesh in our life — gift of God who is at one and the same time beautiful, kind, unique.

“Thus, the first Eucharist was such: Mary’s offering of her Son in her, in whom he had set up the first altar. Mary, the only one who could affirm with absolute confidence, ‘this is my body,’ from that first moment offered her own body, her strength, all her being, to form the Body of Christ.”

 

“Bellezza” (“Beauty”) by an Italian religious sister

…God looked upon a woman and loved her,

And he who loves even before looking at the face

Seeks the beauty that lies in the heart.

God looked upon a woman who was from the race

Of the little ones without name,

Those that live far away from palaces.

Those who work in kitchens,

Those who come from the numbers of the humble and the forgotten,

Those that never open their mouths and who are accustomed to poverty.

God looked upon her and found her to be beautiful,

And this woman was joined to him as if she were his beloved — For life and for death.

From now on all generations will call her blessed.

God looked upon a woman. Her name was Mary.

…and if you looked upon her Lord, it is because on Our earth filled with women and men, you found such beauty.

Mary, Mother of God

Rosary
     Having Mom with us
Mary
    Perfect daughter of the Father
    Perfect mother of the Son
    Perfect spouse of the Spirit
To Jesus through Mary

Part II: 12 Things to Know and Share about the Assumption of Mary

Here is part two of “The Assumption of Mary: 12 Things to Know and Share” from ncregister.com. May this coincide with Bishop Campbell’s homily last Sunday to deepen our understanding of and belief in Mary’s Assumption. And thus, may we more fully honor her.

May you know the peace of Christ,

Fr Greg

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7) How did the recognition of Mary’s Assumption develop in the East?

John Paul II noted:

There was a long period of growing reflection on Mary’s destiny in the next world.

This gradually led the faithful to believe in the glorious raising of the Mother of Jesus, in body and soul, and to the institution in the East of the liturgical feasts of the Dormition [“falling asleep”—i.e., death] and Assumption of Mary.

8) How did Pius XII prepare for the definition of the Assumption?

John Paul II noted:

In May 1946, with the Encyclical Deiparae Virginis Mariae, Pius XII called for a broad consultation, inquiring among the Bishops and, through them, among the clergy and the People of God as to the possibility and opportuneness of defining the bodily assumption of Mary as a dogma of faith.

The result was extremely positive: only six answers out of 1,181 showed any reservations about the revealed character of this truth.

9) What Scriptural basis is there for the teaching?

John Paul II noted:

Although the New Testament does not explicitly affirm Mary’s Assumption, it offers a basis for it because it strongly emphasized the Blessed Virgin’s perfect union with Jesus’ destiny.

This union, which is manifested, from the time of the Savior’s miraculous conception, in the Mother’s participation in her Son’s mission and especially in her association with his redemptive sacrifice, cannot fail to require a continuation after death.

Perfectly united with the life and saving work of Jesus, Mary shares his heavenly destiny in body and soul.

There are, thus, passages in Scripture that resonate with the Assumption, even though they do not spell it out.

10) What are some specific Old Testament passages?

Pope Pius XII pointed to several passages that have been legitimately used in a “rather free” manner to explain belief in the Assumption (meaning: these passages resonate with it in various ways, but they don’t provide explicit proof):

Often there are theologians and preachers who, following in the footsteps of the holy Fathers, have been rather free in their use of events and expressions taken from Sacred Scripture to explain their belief in the Assumption.

Thus, to mention only a few of the texts rather frequently cited in this fashion, some have employed the words of the psalmist:

“Arise, O Lord, into your resting place: you and the ark, which you have sanctified” (Ps. 131:8);

and have looked upon the Ark of the Covenant, built of incorruptible wood and placed in the Lord’s temple, as a type of the most pure body of the Virgin Mary, preserved and exempt from all the corruption of the tomb and raised up to such glory in heaven.

Treating of this subject, they also describe her as the Queen entering triumphantly into the royal halls of heaven and sitting at the right hand of the divine Redeemer (Ps. 44:10-14ff).

Likewise, they mention the Spouse of the Canticles “that goes up by the desert, as a pillar of smoke of aromatical spices, of myrrh and frankincense” to be crowned (Song 3:6; cf. also 4:8, 6:9).

These are proposed as depicting that heavenly Queen and heavenly Spouse who has been lifted up to the courts of heaven with the divine Bridegroom [Munificentissimus Deus 26].

11) What are some specific New Testament passages?

Pius XII continued:

Moreover, the scholastic Doctors have recognized the Assumption of the Virgin Mother of God as something signified, not only in various figures of the Old Testament, but also in that woman clothed with the sun whom John the Apostle contemplated on the Island of Patmos (Rev. 12:1ff).

Similarly, they have given special attention to these words of the New Testament: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you, blessed are you among women”(Luke 1:28), since they saw, in the mystery of the Assumption, the fulfillment of that most perfect grace granted to the Blessed Virgin and the special blessing that countered the curse of Eve [Munificentissimus Deus 27].

12) How can we apply this teaching to our everyday lives?

According to Pope Benedict XVI:

By contemplating Mary in heavenly glory, we understand that the earth is not the definitive homeland for us either, and that if we live with our gaze fixed on eternal goods we will one-day share in this same glory and the earth will become more beautiful.

Consequently, we must not lose our serenity and peace even amid the thousands of daily difficulties. The luminous sign of Our Lady taken up into Heaven shines out even more brightly when sad shadows of suffering and violence seem to loom on the horizon.

We may be sure of it: from on high, Mary follows our footsteps with gentle concern, dispels the gloom in moments of darkness and distress, reassures us with her motherly hand.

Supported by awareness of this, let us continue confidently on our path of Christian commitment wherever Providence may lead us. Let us forge ahead in our lives under Mary’s guidance [General Audience, August 16, 2006].

FAQs About the Assumption of Mary

I have another list from ncregister.com to help us celebrate the feast of the patroness this Tuesday, August 15. After last week’s “Ten things…about the Transfiguration”, below is the part one of “The Assumption of Mary: 12 Things to Know and Share”. Next week will be part two. May each of us more fully honor our Lady by deepening our understanding of and belief in her Assumption.

May you know the peace of Christ,

Fr Greg

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1) What is the Assumption of Mary?

The Assumption of Mary is the teaching that:

The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory [Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus 44].

2) What level of authority does this teaching have?

This teaching was infallibly defined by Pope Pius XII on November 1, 1950 in the bull Munificentissimus Deus (Latin, “Most Bountiful God”).

As Pius XII explained, this is “a divinely revealed dogma” (ibid.).

This means that it is a dogma in the proper sense. It is thus a matter of faith that has been divinely revealed by God and that has been infallibly proposed by the Magisterium of the Church as such.

3) Does that mean it is an “ex cathedra” statement and that we have to believe it?

Yes. Since it is a dogma defined by the pope (rather than by an ecumenical council, for example), it is also an “ex cathedra” statement (one delivered “from the chair” of Peter).

Because it is infallibly defined, it calls for the definitive assent of the faithful.

Pope John Paul II explained:

The definition of the dogma, in conformity with the universal faith of the People of God, definitively excludes every doubt and calls for the express assent of all Christians [General Audience, July 2, 1997].

Note that all infallibly defined teachings are things we are obliged to believe, even if they aren’t defined “ex cathedra” (by the pope acting on his own).

The bishops of the world teaching in union with the pope (either in an ecumenical council or otherwise) can also infallibly define matters, but these aren’t called “ex cathedra” since that term refers specifically to the exercise of the pope’s authority as the successor of St. Peter. (It’s Peter’s cathedra or “chair” that symbolizes the pope’s authority.)

4) Does the dogma require us to believe that Mary died?

It is the common teaching that Mary did die. In his work, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Ludwig Ott lists this teaching as sententia communior (Latin, “the more common opinion”).

Although it is the common understanding of that Mary did die, and although her death is referred to in some of the sources Pius XII cited in Munificentissimus Deus, he deliberately refrained from defining this as a truth of the faith.

John Paul II noted:

On 1 November 1950, in defining the dogma of the Assumption, Pius XII avoided using the term “resurrection” and did not take a position on the question of the Blessed Virgin’s death as a truth of faith.

The Bull Munificentissimus Deus limits itself to affirming the elevation of Mary’s body to heavenly glory, declaring this truth a “divinely revealed dogma.”

5) Why should Mary die if she was free from Original Sin and its stain?

Being free of Original Sin and its stain is not the same thing as being in a glorified, deathless condition.

Jesus was also free of Original Sin and its stain, but he could—and did—die.

Expressing a common view among theologians, Ludwig Ott writes:

For Mary, death, in consequence of her freedom from original sin and from personal sin, was not a consequence of punishment of sin.

However, it seems fitting that Mary’s body, which was by nature mortal, should be, in conformity with that of her Divine Son, subject to the general law of death.

6) What are the earliest surviving references to Mary’s Assumption?

John Paul II noted:

The first trace of belief in the Virgin’s Assumption can be found in the apocryphal accounts entitled Transitus Mariae [Latin, “The Crossing Over of Mary”], whose origin dates to the second and third centuries.

These are popular and sometimes romanticized depictions, which in this case, however, pick up an intuition of faith on the part of God’s People.

The Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God

**Note: The following is taken from the Office of Readings (Liturgy of the Hours)

From a letter by Saint Athanasius, bishop The Word took our nature from Mary

The Apostle tells us: The Word took to himself the sons of Abraham, and so had to be like his brothers in all things. He had then to take a body like ours. This explains the fact of Mary’s presence: she is to provide him with a body of his own, to be offered for our sake. Scripture records her giving birth, and says: She wrapped him in swaddling clothes. Her breasts, which fed him, were called blessed. Sacrifice was offered because the child was her firstborn. Gabriel used careful and prudent language when he announced his birth. He did not speak of “what will be born in you” to avoid the impression that a body would be introduced into her womb from outside; he spoke of “what will be born from you” so that we might know by faith that her child originated within her and from her.

By taking our nature and offering it in sacrifice, the Word was to destroy it completely and then invest it with his own nature, and so prompt the Apostle to say: This corruptible body must be put on incorruption; this mortal body must put on immortality.

This was not done in outward show only, as some have imagined. This is not so. Our Savior truly became man, and from this has followed the salvation of man as a whole. Our Savior is in no way fictitious, nor does it apply to the body. The salvation of the whole man, that is, of soul and body, has really been achieved in the Word himself.

What was born of Mary was, therefore, human by nature, in accordance with the inspired Scriptures, and the body of the Lord was a true body: It was a true body because it was the same as ours. Mary, you see, is our sister, for we are all born from Adam.

The words of Saint John: The Word was made flesh, bear the same meaning, as we may see from a similar turn of phrase in Saint Paul: Christ was made a curse for our sake. Man’s body has acquired something great through its communion and union with the Word. From being mortal it has been made immortal; though it was a living body it has become a spiritual one; though it was made from the earth it has passed through the gates of heaven.

Even when the Word takes a body from Mary, the Trinity remains a Trinity, with neither increase nor decrease. It is forever perfect. In the Trinity, we acknowledge one Godhead, and thus one God, the Father of the Word, is proclaimed in the Church.

Wishing you and your family a fruitful and blessed New Year.

Christ is born!

Fr Greg

Bless the mothers

Happy Mother’s Day to all of our mothers, grandmothers, and godmothers! Without our mothers and fathers, we wouldn’t be here. Motherhood is the most important work in the world. It’s not just because mothers give us life; it’s because they give us love. Without our mothers, we wouldn’t have life or be the people we are. Mothers give us life and give us love. While the love of our fathers is very important for many reasons, mothers love us in a way that no one else can. The bond between a mother and child is the strongest bond on earth. We have a special love for our mothers because we have a special bond with them that begins in their wombs. This is why abortion is so painful to mothers, especially: it kills the child with whom they have already bonded. Mother Teresa called it the “greatest poverty”.

The bond between a mother and child is the strongest bond on earth. We see this with each of our three mothers: our own mother, the Blessed Mother, and Holy Mother Church. Our own mothers give us natural life. It is through our mothers and fathers that we have life in the first place. Thank God they were open to life! Our mothers have said yes to life and have said yes to love. They have nurtured us, formed us, and loved us to be the people we are today. They continue to live out the strongest bond on earth; a mother’s work is never done. They consistently want what’s best for us and continually give their life for us. They want us to have life and to have it abundantly.

While our mothers bring us natural life, our Blessed Mother has brought us supernatural life in her Son, Jesus Christ. Thank God Mary and Joseph were open to life! Mary said yes to God and to life and love her whole life. She is the example to all mothers because she always said yes to God as a mother. She always trusted that He would take care of Jesus and lead him to what was best for him. With God’s help, she formed Jesus in his human nature to be the man He became. He has become our Savior through Mary. Everything we have in Christ is through his mother, Mary. It is through her ‘yes’ that we have a Savior.

We experience supernatural life in Christ through Holy Mother Church. As Pope John Paul II taught us, “the Church as Mother gives birth to, educates, and builds up the Christian family”. We are a Christian family and the Church is our mother. Just like our mothers and the Blessed Mother, Mother Church truly wants what’s best for us. She gives birth to our supernatural life in Christ in Baptism and nourishes it through all of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. She educates us about the Word of God and the new commandment of love. She builds up our life in Christ through the love She shows us on a daily basis. It is because of Mother Church that we know about Jesus Christ in the first place and have the opportunity to enter into His love.

Let us thank God for our mothers, the Blessed Mother, and Holy Mother Church. We thank Him for the life he has given us through them. We thank Him that they have said yes to life and to love. Through our mothers, may we have life and have it abundantly. Through them, may each one of us receive God’s love and receive it abundantly.

May you know the peace of the risen Christ,

Fr Greg

Feast of the Holy Family

Feast of the Holy family – “The love of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph”

Former life

Love of holy family
God
Each other
Righteousness

Love in our families
God
Each other
Righteousness

Christ – center of family life / love