Wednesday, August 14, 2013

St. Mary & the Power of Presence

When we consider St. Mary, mother of Our Lord, we find many things that enrich our own faith. The stories of the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity, the Meeting in the Temple…these all are celebrated by the Church as great Feasts of faith, mysteries of God’s intervention for our salvation. But what of St. Mary herself? How may our own life journey be enriched by her story, her witness?

August 15 is the traditional date when the Church commemorates St. Mary’s repose—her “falling asleep in the Lord,” as the New Testament calls it. It is, for us, a very important feast day, not just a quaint custom. It is a celebration of the fullness of her life, not only her passing from this earth.

St. Mary is the icon of humanity’s personal involvement in the work of bringing about reconciliation with God. She is also an image of how we are being led to do that work in our own day and place.

St. Mary’s life reveals not an institution with objectives and goals: she is a human being with a love for God and a yearning to do his will. She responds to God’s call by giving what she has to offer: her own self. Unlike a complex bureaucratic system that tries to make itself important—thus justifying its existence—she simply says to God: “behold, the handmaid of the Lord.”

The role of Christ’s Body (the Church) in our day and place is much more akin to St. Mary’s manner of living than it is to the large, politicized institution we often see in the news. We are being called by God to serve with an inner simplicity, not seeking recognition or importance, but given the joy of communion with God’s love and presence in the midst of our struggles and efforts.

When we read of the Blessed Virgin in the Sacred Scriptures, we see her staying very close to her son. This paints a picture of our vocation as followers of the Master: rather than getting caught up in the anger and competition surrounding us, we are to keep our gaze firmly fixed on Christ who is Love Incarnate. In so doing, we join St. Mary in pointing to Christ, source of all enduring peace. Only by this will we be able to serve others patiently and in God’s strength and direction, rather than by our own feeble energies.

The icons of the Mother of God almost always show her in direct relationship to Christ, often holding him as an infant (or, in the icon of her Repose, Christ holding her swaddled soul). The point is both beautiful and essential: We are saved by being present to Christ, and the greatest gift we have for others is Christ’s presence in and through ourselves. That is part of what we celebrate on St. Mary’s Day, and it is part-and-parcel of the Christian life each day from now until the end of the ages.

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