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.