First, a very happy and blessed New Year to all! May 2017 be filled with health and happiness, grace and peace, for you and your loved ones.
And with the beginning of the New Year comes our “Year with Mary, our Mother,” a special time of devotion for Mary, the Mother of God. In announcing this spiritual initiative, I expressed my hope that “In this year, the Diocese of Providence will renew its devotion to Mary, the Mother of God, and that we will strive anew to imitate her virtues, and to seek her grace and protection in our lives.”
The “virtues of Mary” – let’s reflect on those and what they mean for us.
First is Mary’s faith, the foundation of all the others. Mary was raised in a devout Jewish family, and from the time she was a child, God had a privileged place in her life. It was Mary’s faith, her personal knowledge and friendship with the Lord, that enabled her to respond quickly and positively to the angel’s announcement that she had been chosen to play this unique role in salvation history, to be the Mother of God!
Do you have a personal friendship with God? Does He play a leading role in your daily life, influencing your thoughts, words and actions every day? Do you share your faith with others, proudly and confidently?
The second virtue we consider is Mary’s ability to trust. When Mary accepted the invitation to become the Mother of the Savior, she couldn’t possibly have understood all that would mean for her; that she would stand back in wonder to watch her Son’s growing fame, his teaching, ministry and miracles; that it would lead her ultimately to the foot of the Cross. And yet, without knowing the future, Mary said “yes” to God, trusting that He would be with her, would love her and would take care of her, regardless of what came her way.
In our earthly journey we often have moments when we commit ourselves to an uncertain future, for example, when we get married, or enter the seminary, or take on a new job. When we approach those thresholds, do we trust in God’s care as Mary did?
Next is Mary’s virtue of sanctity. “Full of grace . . . is Mary’s most beautiful name, the name God himself gave to her,” Pope Benedict has written. And it also points to Mary’s lifelong sanctity, her sinlessness. We believe that Mary was preserved from Original Sin and that she remained sinless throughout her life. This was a special privilege granted to her because she was chosen to be the Mother of God.
As children of Adam and Eve, you and I are not preserved from Original Sin, and we certainly aren’t sinless during our lives. And yet, as children of God and disciples of Christ we are called to avoid occasions of sin, fight temptations, and repent of our sins when we do fall. Mary’s holiness challenges us to keep going, to do better all the time.
We should also strive to imitate Mary’s purity. When we speak of Mary’s purity, we refer first, to the fact that she remained a virgin before, during and after the birth of Christ, that she was a pure vessel who carried the Son of God in her womb. But it also points to Mary’s “purity of heart,” that she was free of anything, any desires, ambitions or schemes that were incompatible with God’s grace.
In an age saturated and corrupted by sins of the flesh, purity is such an essential virtue to cultivate, as counter-cultural as it is. How many souls have been tarnished, how many lives broken by the sins of pornography, adultery, fornication and a promiscuous lifestyle! “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,” Jesus taught us.
Next, in her Visitation to her cousin Elizabeth, Mary demonstrated an awareness of the practical needs of others and a charitable spirit. She hurried to Elizabeth not out of curiosity, nor for an opportunity to socialize, but so that she could assist her in her time of need. Mary knew that the love of others was an expression of her faith and love for God.
To honor Mary let’s strive to be more charitable and compassionate. Are we aware of the personal and spiritual needs of others? Do we practice little acts of kindness? Are we generous in supporting charitable programs, especially in the Church? Are we willing to forgive those who have offended us?
And finally, in imitating the virtues of Mary we should emphasize the centrality of Christ in her life. Mary was destined, from the beginning of time, to be the Mother of the Savior, and when in the fullness of time the Word became flesh and Jesus was born, all that she had and all that she did was devoted to her son and his divine mission. Her existence was fulfilled in his. As St. John Paul II said so beautifully, “No one has ever devoted himself to the contemplation of the face of Christ as faithfully as Mary.”
And that summarizes the ultimate goal of this “Year with Mary our Mother” – to grow closer to Christ. As Catholics, our devotion to Mary does not end there; it always leads to Jesus. Mary is the sign post, but not the final destination. If we look at her, she will point to Jesus and say, “Do whatever He tells you.” And therein lies the road to salvation.