A Woman Wrapped in Silence – A Consideration of a Brief Remark in Pope Benedict’s New Book

Along with many of you, I am reading Pope Benedict’s latest book, volume 3 of Jesus of Nazareth, on the infancy narratives. I was very moved at a very brief reflection that he made on Mary, as the Angel Gabriel left her. His remarks consider on her faith in a very touching manner. I must say that I have always been moved by the faith of the Blessed Mother and intrigued too, for she is a woman wrapped in silence. The Pope’s words capture both her faith and the mystery of her.

Here is what the Pope says:

I consider it important to focus also on the final sentence of Luke’s Annunciation narrative: “And the angel departed from her” (Luke 1:38). The great hour of Mary’s encounter with God’s messenger–in which her whole life is changed–comes to an end, and she remains there alone, with a task that truly surpasses all human capacity. There are no angels standing around her. She must continue along the path that leads to many dark moments–from Joseph’s dismay at her pregnancy, to the moment when Jesus is said to be out of his mind (cf. Mark 3:21; John 10:20) right up to the night of the cross.

How often in these situations must Mary have returned inwardly to the hour when God’s angel had spoken to her, pondering afresh the greeting: “Rejoice, full of grace!” And the consoling words: “Do not be afraid!” The angel departs; her mission remains, and with it matures her inner closeness to God,  a closeness that in her heart she is able to see and touch. (Jesus of Nazareth, The Infancy Narratives, Kindle edition (loc 488-501))

I am moved by this picture of Mary there all alone, perhaps wondering how it would all unfold, and if what she just heard was real and an accurate memory. The angel depart, and there she is, all alone (yet never alone).

I would like to say by background, that I have at times read accounts of Mary’s life that placed her in such rarefied air that I could no longer relate to her. I vaguely remember reading some accounts of various visionaries, a few of whom said that Mary did not even have to do housework, for the angels swept the house but, did dishes and so forth. Some other accounts spoke of how she had detailed knowledge of everything that would take place in her life and in that of Jesus. I even recall one purported visionary as writing that Mary had extensive theological discussions with Jesus, even while he was still an infant.

I do not remember who all these alleged visionaries were, by name or even if any of them were approved visionaries. And yet it was common in the early 1980s for quite a large number of books to be published containing the utterances of various visionaries.

Such utterances often left me cold and made me feel distant from our Blessed Mother. They also did not seem to comport with the Scriptures which present mother Mary is a woman of great faith, but a woman who, like all of us, had to walk by faith, not by perfect site. She wonders at Gabriel’s greeting, is troubled and does not understand how it will all work out (cf Luke 1:29).

Yet she presses on and we next see her having made haste to the Hill country, now rejoicing in ecstatic praise with her cousin: My spirit rejoices in God my savior! She still does not know how it will all work out, but though not knowing what the future holds, she is content to know the One who hold the future. It is enough for now.

Years later when she finds Jesus in the Temple after agonized days of searching for the “missing” Jesus, she does not fully understand his explanation (Luke 2:48-50), but must, and does ponder these things within her heart (Luke 2:51).

At the wedding feast at Cana, Jesus seems almost to rebuke his mother. And though the text leaves many of the personal details out, there must have been something of the look only a mother can give her son. By now, her understanding of her son had surely deepened. She had known him, and pondered and reflected in her hearts of him for over 30 years now. She simply looks at him, he looks at her, as a look only the two would have known. But something passed between them, a look of understanding. Whatever it was remains wrapped in silence, none of our business, something only she and her Son could know. But what ever it was,  she turns, and with confidence, knowing it will be well handled, she simply says to the stewards, “Do whatever he tells you.” (Jn 2:5)

Of the three years to follow, we know very little. We know she is not far off. We see her in Mark 3:31 as she asks after Jesus, seemingly concerned that others are saying “He is beside himself!”

And we find her gently, and supportively present at the foot of the cross. Now, at length, the sword which Simeon had prophesied (Lk 2:35) was thrust through her heart. Some thirty years before, she could only marvel, and wonder what Simeon’s words meant that her child was destined for the fall and the rise of many in Israel and that a sword would pierce her own heart (Luke 2:33). But in the years that followed her faith had surely deepened, and now, here she was, at the foot of the cross. It was her darkest hour, but surely all those years of pondering and reflecting on these things in her heart now sustained her.

Yes, Mother Mary is a woman wrapped in silence. We know so little, for she is reflective, quiet, saying little, silently standing by, silently supportive in Jesus publicly ministry, and now, again silently,  at the foot of the cross.

Yes this is the Mary, the mother that I know. A woman of faith, but a woman like you and me. And, as the Pope suggests, she is a woman who had to make a journey of faith, not necessarily knowing how everything would work out. Not with the omniscience that some visionaries ascribe to her. She knew what the angel said, but it seems clear she did not know how it would all come to pass. She like us, walked with faith, not with earthly sight.

She is the perfect disciple, the woman of faith, the one who presses on, not know all, but pondering and reflecting everything in her heart.

14 Replies to “A Woman Wrapped in Silence – A Consideration of a Brief Remark in Pope Benedict’s New Book”

  1. As an adult daugther who now has with her older sister, experience the reverse of the roles, from being a the child being cared for by my mother to now with my older sister having become the “mothers” to an aging mother with health issues the Blessed Mother has become more dear to me during these difficult days. I love and honor the fact that Mary is also my spiritual mother. 🙂

  2. A favorite Bible passage of Mary is the one of her, with the disciples, who were gathered together in that upper room, when the Holy Spirit was sent to them. Mary was there at the birth of the Church with the first believers on that first Pentecost day.

    1. Oh! In time we will comprehend that our dear Mother was not merely there with them. She was the first believer and the most ardent believer. Her Divine Spouse was descending yet again unto her. The disciples were there with her, not she with them. As Mediatrix of All Graces, the Holy Spirit was centered upon her and focused through her (my souls magnifies — magnifies, like a ray of light through a lens — the Lord) on His way to them. Had Mary been the sole human ever created, God would have been entirely satisfied because His love would have been perfectly, losslessly requited by her, completing the loop back unto Himself with — again, ponder this — no loss of ardor. True love. For you are beautiful, and have dove’s eyes. You are a rose without thorn. There is so much we do not understand about her. Even what we do understand, we do not see the astonishing degree involved. In his black starvation pit St. Kolbe finally breathed out something to the effect of O Immaculata, who are you…what are you?

  3. I always think of the miracle at the Wedding Feast of Cana as an example of intercessory prayer. In the same way, I thought it was ok to imagine Mary holding the Infant Jesus and speaking to Him on our behalf. I suppose the fault with that concept is that Jesus in heaven with Mary isn’t a baby any longer. Mary pray for us.

  4. Ah! Mama Mary! The epitome of what a woman should be! The Legion of Mary pray ‘Who is she that cometh forth as a morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun and terrible as an army set in battle array.’ She fought for me to come back as I left the Catholic Church, ‘so that – the battle of life over – our Legion may reassemble, without the loss of any one, in the Kingdom of THY Love and Glory.’ Amen!!!

  5. At Fatima it is so quiet even in the middle of a city. You feel the presence of eternity and a painful awareness of your sins. At night during the Rosary procession there are hundreds of people singing the Ave and praying but it is surrounded by silence.

    At Lourdes there also a silence but it is one of hope and serenity. There is so much peace and hope in the Rosary there but still it is surrounded by silence. I went late on night to the Grotto. You can stand there for hours wrapped in that hope and it seems like a minute.

    Silent support of her Loving Son.

  6. Once I wondered how the people at the crucifixion didn’t know that Jesus had been born in Bethelem…then, St. Joseph was the thought,..and in order to arrive at the fourth joyful mystery, without going Judea,St. Joseph moved his family on the water, but river or sea? So I posed it as a trivia question, the three answers were “It doesn’t matter how they travelled.. the next answer involved the ”out of Egypt’ saying .and the third was a ‘no response’, [total silence]. Sorry to bother you with this.

  7. This by far was my favorite scene from ‘Passion of the Christ’. The relationship between Our Lord and Our Lady must have been so beautiful and mysterious. No one knows Him like she does and when we draw close to her she just naturally leads us to Him. “Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners. Now and at the hour of our death, Amen.”

  8. I must admit that from the pulpit there was an ‘aside remark’ about the ‘sea’ which at the time, I took as an answer. Thanks.

  9. Msgr., there’s no image at the beginning of your posting. …Thank you for all of your teachings. God bless you.

  10. I was struck by the portrayal in The Passion of the Christ, suggesting that Mary and Jesus had an almost symbiotic relationship, that they were able to communicate without speaking out loud or even being in the same room. I suppose once you have carried the Word within you, He forever speaks to you.

    God does speak to us all, even if usually as the voice of conscience, but most times it would seem to be in a whisper, as it was with Elijah in the cave. But with Mary, having just been filled with the Holy Spirit (assuming that it happened during the Annunciation, the moment she said Fiat), although the angel had just departed, perhaps the conversation with God continued, not in a whisper, but a full voice.

    As for the rest, what did she know and when did she know it? Scripture does not say, but I think it reasonable that Jesus would have at least warned her, “Mother, it is time.” After all, it was her flesh that was crucified.

  11. I was a little surprised to read your evocative thoughts on the “woman wrapped in silence” but didn’t mention the beautiful book-length poem of the same name published in 1941 by John W. Lynch. I can highly recommend it to all!

    1. Hey, you inspired me to crack open Jane Schaberg’s book – The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene. I am about half way thougrh and wow am I ever getting a different perspective than the one I got a few years ago. Perhaps I have matured a bit. What I am sensing is that she was alot more than the Da Vinci Code romance which so many women have glommed onto. She is much more than a lover of Jesus. Very interesting. I had dismissed xanity, but women searching the texts and finding other ways of seeing it is fascinating.

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