A Woman Wrapped in Silence – A Meditation for the Feast of the Annunciation

In preparation for the Feast of the Annunciation I picked up Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 3 (The Infancy Narratives), by Pope Emeritus Benedict. I was very moved by a brief reflection that he made on Mary as the Angel Gabriel left her. His remarks consider her faith in a very touching manner.

I must say that I have always been moved—and intrigued—by the faith of the Blessed Mother. She is “a woman wrapped in silence,” a phrase that forms the title of an excellent book by Fr. John Lynch. The pope’s words capture both her faith and her mystery:

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 image of Mary, there all alone, perhaps wondering how it would all unfold and whether what she just experienced had really happened. The angel departs and she is alone (and yet never alone).

As background, I would like to say that I have read some 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 visionaries saying that Mary did not even have to do housework because the angels swept the house, did the dishes, and so forth. Some other accounts spoke of how she had detailed foreknowledge of everything that would take place in her life as well as in Jesus’ life. I even recall one purported visionary who wrote that Mary had extensive theological discussions with Jesus even while He was still an infant. I do not remember who these alleged visionaries were or if any of them were even approved visionaries. Yet in the early 1980s a large number of books were published containing the observations of various “visionaries.”

Such accounts 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 as a woman of great faith, but one who has to walk by faith and not by perfect sight, just as all of us do. 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, 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 in spite of that she is content to know the One who holds the future; it is enough for now.

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

At the wedding feast at Cana, Jesus seems almost to rebuke His mother. Although the text omits many of the details, there must have been something in her look, something of the look that only a mother can give to a son. By now, Mary’s understanding of her son has surely deepened; she has known Him and pondered and reflected in her heart over Him for more than thirty years. She simply looks at Him, and He at her—a look that only the two would have known. Something passed between them, a look of understanding. Whatever it was remains wrapped in silence; it’s none of our business, something that only she and her Son could know. Whatever it was, it prompts her to turn and with confidence, knowing the situation will be well-handled, says to the stewards, “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5).

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

Now we find her gently and supportively present at the foot of the Cross. The sword that Simeon had prophesied (Lk 2:35) is thrust through her heart. More than thirty years earlier she could only wonder what Simeon meant when he said that her child was destined for the fall and the rise of many in Israel and that a sword would pierce her heart (Luke 2:33). In the intervening years her faith had surely deepened; now, here she is at the foot of the Cross. It is her darkest hour, but surely all those years of pondering and reflecting on these things in her heart helps to sustain her.

Yes, Mother Mary is a woman wrapped in silence. We know so little, for she is reflective and quiet. She says little, silently standing by, silently supportive of Jesus in His public ministry. Now, again silently, she is at the foot of the Cross.

Yes, this is the Mary, this is the Mother that I know: a woman of faith but also a human being like you and me. As the Pope Benedict suggested, she is a woman who had to make a journey of faith without knowing how everything would work out, without the omniscience that some visionaries ascribe to her. She knew what the angel had said, but it seems clear that she did not know how it would all come to pass. She, like us, walked by faith and not by earthly sight.

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

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: A Woman Wrapped in Silence – A Meditation for the Feast of the Annunciation

On The Hidden Mercy of the Tilma of Guadalupe

On the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, it is a chance for us to rejoice in the great mercy of our divine Lord and our blessed Lady. I am drawn to mediate on the miraculous quality of our Lady’s eyes on the tilma.

As many of you know, recent discoveries using modern magnification and ophthalmological equipment have shown the seemingly miraculous reflection of as many as a dozen persons in her eyes. How such tiny and accurate reflections could occur in both eyes at just the angles that human stereoscopic sight requires is mysterious to say the least. Even more, there are claims from eye specialists who have had the opportunity to look into our Lady’s eyes on the tilma that they have an iridescence that make the eyes seem almost alive.

I do not propose to write an article here on all the findings and evidence. You can read more our Lady’s eyes HERE and HERE and also in the video below. Rather I propose a short and simple reflection on two merciful facts.

First that our this image demonstrates, in effect that God’s people are the “apple of Mary’s eyes.” Seen there are Juan Diego, the bishop and an assistant, an indigenous family, a woman from Africa and several others. Remarkable; in her own self-portrait, our Lady includes us. In the book of Psalms the cry goes up to God,

Wondrously show your steadfast love,
O Savior of those who seek refuge
from their adversaries at your right hand.

Keep me as the apple of your eye;
hide me in the shadow of your wings (Psalm 17:7-8
)

Deuteronomy also says of God,

He found Israel in a desert land, and in the howling waste of the wilderness; he encircled them, he cared for them, he kept them as the apple of his eye. (Dt 32:10)

And by his Grace, our Lord has often dispatched his mother to us. She finds un in difficult days, and in difficult places, speaking to us in love and sometimes in motherly warning. But, by the grace of God we are the apple of her eye too.

She came to Guadalupe at difficult time, to summon the Mexicans from the fearsome religious bondage of their ancient and often bloody religions, to Christ, their true and only Savior. The image on the tilma shows so many reflected in her eyes, reflected in love. They were the apple of her eye.

May our Lord be pleased to continue to send Mother Mary to us and remind us that we are loved and that heaven knows our struggles and is concerned for us. May none of us every forget that we are still reflected in Mary’s eyes and in the eyes of God to whom she intercedes for us. What a beautiful mercy.

And the second mercy is that images in her eyes, unknown for centuries in any detail seem to have been put there for us, who live now, to later discover. The same can be said for the Shroud of Turin. It is as if, knowing of cynical and unbelieving times where the physical sciences are almost idolized, Our Lord and our Lady left images that both speak to science and also confound it.  How were the image made? How do they have three dimensional effects and display scientific knowledge or techniques unknown in their time? 

Both the shroud and the tilma stand up to rigorous scientific investigation. The amazing truths about both images are backed up by science but also defy simple scientific or technical answers. Many of the “imponderable” mysteries were largely unknown in previous eras without photographic and scientific procedures and techniques. It is almost as if they were hidden there, waiting for us.

And that may in fact be the case. It is a love letter to a scientific but often unbelieving time. Despite our sometimes cynical demands for evidence, to our Lord and our Lady, we are still the apple of their eye. They look to us from afar, from an ancient shroud and very old tilma and they seem to say, “I am here for you to see. And I see you, you whom I love. You are the apple of my eye.” 

For such mercies, thank you Lord.

The Biblical Roots of the Assumption of Mary

While the actual event of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven is not recorded in the Scriptures, there is a biblical basis for the teaching that, considered as a whole, confirms Catholic teaching as both fitting and in keeping with biblical principles. Let’s ponder this feast in stages:

The Assumption Explained To be “assumed” means to be taken up by God bodily into Heaven. As far back as the Church can remember we have celebrated the fact that Mary was taken up into Heaven. We do not just acknowledge that her soul was taken to Heaven, as is the case with the rest of the faithful who are taken there (likely after purgation); rather, Mary was taken up, soul and body, after her sojourn on this earth was complete. There is no earthly tomb containing her body, neither are there relics of her body to be found among the Christian faithful. This is our ancient memory and what we celebrate today, Mary was taken up, body and soul, into Heaven.

The Assumption Exemplified – While Mary’s Assumption is not described in Scripture, several other “assumptions” are; thus the concept itself has a biblical basis. The actual event of the Assumption is not described in Scripture. However, there are “assumptions” recorded in the Scriptures and thus the concept is biblical.

EnochEnoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away (Gen. 5:24). By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death; and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was attested as having pleased God (Hebrews 11:5).

ElijahAnd as they still went on and talked, behold, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven … And he was seen no more (2 Kings 2:11).

Moses – Some say that because the location of Moses’ grave is not known, he too was taken up into Heaven. We read in Monday’s first reading at daily Mass: He was buried in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is (Dt. 34:6). The text of course does not say that his body was taken up, and if it was, it occurred after death and burial. The Book of Jude hints at this: But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses … (Jude 1:9). Some further credibility is lent to the view of Moses being assumed by the fact that he appears with Elijah in the account of the Transfiguration. Some of the Church Fathers also held this opinion. Further, there is a Jewish work from the 6th century A.D. entitled The Assumption of Moses. In the end, though, the assumption of Moses is not officially held by the Church.

The Assumption Evidenced (John Sees Mary in Heaven) There is one other scriptural account that may provide evidence of Mary’s whereabouts. Today’s second reading, a passage from the Book of Revelation, features John’s description of his sighting of the ark of God:

Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a great hailstorm. A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads …. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter (Rev 11:19 – 12:5).

The woman in the passage is clearly Mary, since the child is obviously Jesus (although she also likely represents Israel and Mother Zion). And where is Mary seen? In Heaven. Some argue that this does not necessarily indicate that her body is in Heaven; they say that it might be referring only to her soul. However, the physical description of her seems rather strong to support such a view.

Others believe that because John mentions the ark and then continues on to describe Mary (the woman clothed with the son), that he is in fact still describing the ark. (I have written on this elsewhere: Mary: The Ark of the New Covenant.) If Mary is the ark described, then she is clearly in Heaven.

So, the Bible, while not specifically recording Mary’s Assumption, does present other assumptions, thus showing it to be a biblical concept. Further, Mary’s physical presence in Heaven seems at least hinted at, if not directly described, in the Book of Revelation.

The Church does not rely solely on Scripture. In this case, what we celebrate is most fundamentally taught to us by Sacred Tradition; the memory of Mary’s Assumption goes back as far as we can remember.

The Assumption Extended to Us The Feast of the Assumption is of theological interest and provides matter for biblical reflection, but eventually these questions are bound to arise: So what? How does what happened to Mary affect my life? What does it mean for me? The answers are bound up in nearly every Marian doctrine. Simply put, what happened to Mary will also happen to us in the end. As Mary bore Christ into the world, we bear Him in the Holy Communion we receive and in the witness of His indwelling presence in our life. As Mary is (and always was) sinless (immaculate), so too will we one day be sinless with God in Heaven. As Mary cared for Christ in His need, so do we care for Him in the poor, suffering, needy, and afflicted. Finally, as Mary was assumed, body and soul, into Heaven, so too will we be there one day, body and soul.

After our death and subsequent purification, our soul goes to Heaven; our body, though, lies in an earthly tomb. But one day, when the trumpet shall sound, our body will rise and be joined to our soul.

For we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” … Thanks be to God. He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15:51-57).

So our bodies shall rise; they shall be assumed and joined to our soul.

Improved model! An older woman once said to me, upon hearing that her body would rise, “Father if this old body has to rise, I’m hoping for an improved model!” Yes, indeed; me too! I want a full head of hair, a slim build, and knees that work! I want an upgrade from this old, general issue model to a luxury edition. In fact, God will do that. Scripture says,

  • He will take these lowly bodies of ours and transform them to be like his own glorified body (Phil 3:21).
  • But someone may ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body …. So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power …. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven (1 Cor 15:35-49).
  • I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another’s (Job 19:25-27).

The assumption of our bodies, prefigured by Christ in His own power and also in Mary by the gift of God, will one day be our gift too.

The following song is an African-American spiritual and describes that “great gettin’ up morning” when our bodies will rise. If we have been faithful, our bodies will rise to glory!

I’m gonna tell you about the coming of the judgement (Fare you well) There’s a better day a coming …. In that great gettin’ up morning fare you well! Oh preacher fold your Bible, For the last soul’s converted …. Blow your trumpet Gabriel …. Lord, how loud shall I blow it? Blow it right calm and easy Do not alarm all my people …. Tell them to come to the judgement …. In that great gettin’ up morning fare you well. Do you see them coffins bursting? Do you see them folks is rising? Do you see the world on fire? Do you see the stars a falling? Do you see that smoke and lightning? Do you hear the rumbling thunder? Oh Fare you well poor sinner. In that great gettin’ up morning fare you well.

In the Midst of Much Blood, God Extended a Rose – A Meditation on Guadalupe and Mother Mary

dec12-blogI’d like to reflect this evening on the first reading from today’s Mass for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth. Then another sign appeared in the sky; it was a huge red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on its heads were seven diadems. Its tail swept away a third of the stars in the sky
and hurled them down to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman about to give birth, to devour her child when she gave birth.  She gave birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was caught up to God and his throne. The woman herself fled into the desert where she had a place prepared by God. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have salvation and power come, and the Kingdom of our God and the authority of his Anointed” (Rev 12:1-10).

I. Drama In this great passage, there is a kind of a pulling back of the veil, a disclosure of what is really going on: There is a great and cosmic battle that reaches upward and outward, across generations, across nations and empires, and down into the close quarters of every human heart. It is the great battle between darkness and light, between the great Red Dragon and the Lord of Glory.

During this battle, there is a great sign in the heavens. There stands a woman clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet, and a crown of twelve stars about her head. She brings forth a son, destined to rule the nations with a rod of iron, to crush the dragon with the heel of his foot.

Many seek to localize the descriptions from the book of Revelation into either the first century or the end of time, but in fact they are fulfilled both then and now. For this great struggle was then, is now, and will continue until Christ comes again in glory to definitively apply the victory He has already won.

This great cosmic drama explains most of the struggles we see around us and within us. It explains the insanity of war, retribution, violence, promiscuity, abortion, and every evil afflicting us today. It explains our greed, our unreasonable fears and suspicions, our cynicism, and the fact that so often we are just plain mean to one another.

But this drama in the Book of Revelation also shows the woman clothed with the sun, Mary, and her son Jesus. And so it also explains our love, our thirst for justice, our appreciation for truth and beauty, and our capacity for caring, forgiveness, and living chastely and uprightly.

A wonderful documentary released in 2012, The Blood and the Rose, depicts this great drama. The title describes beautifully how in the midst of a bloody and violent world, the Lord often extends a rose, His mother.

There she is at the foot of the cross, with all its blood. There she is at the turning back of Muslim invaders at Lepanto. There she is at Guadalupe in the face of bloodthirsty Aztec gods. There she is at Fatima between two horrible wars.

But in the midst of all the blood and drama, the Lord extends a rose, His mother.  Her message is never complex, it is simply the Gospel: repent and believe the good news. Yes, do whatever my Son tells you. Repent; forsake your evil ways. Come to a new mind and begin to live in the kingdom that is now available to you. As a good mother, she warns us and tells us to pray, pray, pray. During the blood of conflict and the dramatic battle between light and darkness, a rose: mother Mary.

II. Dramatis personae – The second thing that occurs to me is the cast of characters and the simplicity of the setting of the great drama. To whom does God extend the rose of His love at the beginning; to whom does Mary trust her message?

The pattern began with the incarnation itself. God sent Gabriel not to a powerful queen of this world, not to a woman of great access, power, or money. Rather He sent him to a humble maiden in a town so small that there was no road that even went to it. Nazareth, a town of 300, accessible only via footpath—that is where Gabriel was sent, and to a woman few had ever heard of—Mary of Nazareth. Some have described this is as a daring raid, conducted secretly behind enemy lines.

Down through the centuries, the pattern continued. Mary herself most often goes to the most hidden and humble of people: Juan Diego, a simple working man; Bernadette Soubirous, a peasant girl; and the three children young children of Fatima. None of these was a scholar, theologian, bishop, powerful businessman, king, queen, or prince. God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him (1 Cor 1:27-29).

We tend to think that solutions come through the great and powerful, through the “big cheeses” of the time. But the pride of this world will be conquered with humility; Heaven reaches out to the merest children. In the midst of the blood and horrible roar of war, the rose is extended quietly; its message goes forth to the humble.

III. Direction – A final matter to consider on this Feast of Our Lady Guadalupe is the direction to which it points. And frankly, it points to the south. The center of the Church has shifted south and her complexion has become browner.

As the lights are going out in the West and much of the developed world, many other lights are coming on: in Africa, Brazil, Korea, and elsewhere. In Africa the number of Catholics has increased dramatically over the past fifty years.

Guadalupe somewhat signaled this all the way back in the 16th century. At the very time when Martin Luther was leading a revolt against the Church, at the very time when some two million Germans walked out of the church, nine million Mexicans walked in. In the midst of the bloody Aztec meltdown, in the midst of the blood feuds in Europe, Our Lady extended a rose in Mexico. The faith lit up in Mexico, Central America, and South America, even as it began its death throes in Europe.

In 1917 in Fatima, The Lord extended a rose through Our Lady. She warned three young children of a coming war that would be far worse than any that had ever been known before. She warned that if people did not repent and pray, Russia would spread her errors far and wide. But unlike 16th century Mexico, Europe did not heed her offer and disaster ensued, disaster that continues to unfold today.

Surely Africa, Central America, and South America are not without their problems. Protestant errors have infected too many. In Africa especially, many Catholics are being martyred at the hands of Muslims. There are still problems with government corruption and the lack of resources, but the blood of martyrs is the seed for the Church; it has always been so and will continue to be so until Christ comes again.

But in the midst of all the blood, in the midst of all the difficulties, God extends a rose to the poor and humble, the rose of His Mother Mary.

Happy Feast of our Lady of Guadalupe. For those of you who at times feel discouraged, remember the beautiful image of the blood in the rose. Stay calm and Viva Christo Rey!

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say, “Now have salvation and power come, and the Kingdom of our God and the authority of his Anointed.”

Here is an old song based on an even older text that points to Mary at Guadalupe, whom many Mexicans call “La Morena,” the dark-skinned lady. The text (translated to English) says,

I am the little dark girl, I’m the dark girl.
It is said that darkness,
is caused by sin,
but sin was never found in me nor it will ever be.

I am the little dark girl, I’m the dark girl.
I am the thornless rose,
about whom Salomon rhapsodized:
I am black, and beautiful and for me they will sing.

I am the little dark girl, I’m the dark girl.
I am the flaming bush,
that burns but is not consumed,
nor am I touched by that fire that will touch the others.

Biblical Basics about Mother Mary – A Homily for the Second Sunday of the Year

wedding-feastIn the gospel today of the wedding feast at Cana, there is a theological portrait of both Mother Mary and of prayer. Let’s look at the Gospel along five lines:

I. The place that Mary has – The text says, There was a wedding at Cana in Galilee and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding.

A fascinating thing about these opening verses is that Mary almost seems to dominate the scene; the presence of Jesus is mentioned secondarily. St. Thomas Aquinas notes that at Cana, Mary acts as the “go-between” in arranging a mystical marriage (Commentary on John, 98; and 2, 1, n.336, 338, and 343, 151-152). Once the marriage is arranged she steps back; her final words to us are, “Do whatever he tells you.”

How many of us has Mary helped to find her Son and to find our place at the wedding feast of the Lamb? I know that it was Mary who drew me back to her Son when I had strayed.

II. The prayer that Mary makes – The text says, When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.

Notice another central role that Mary has: intercessor. She is praying for others to her Son. There are three qualities to her prayer:

Discernment – She notices the problem, probably even before the groom and bride do. Indeed, mothers often notice the needs of their children before they do. But why didn’t Jesus notice? Perhaps He did; surely, as God, He knew. But He waits for us to ask. Yes, God waits for us; He expects us to ask. In part this is respect; not all of us are ready to receive all of His gifts. This expectation that we ask is also rooted in God’s teaching that we must learn to depend on Him and to take our many needs to Him. The Book of James says, You have not because You ask not (James 4:2).

Diligence – Simply put, Mary actually prays. Rather than merely fret and be anxious, she goes directly to her Son out of love for the couple (us) and trust in her Son. She sees the need and gets right to the work of praying, of beseeching her Son.

Deference – She does not tell Jesus what to do, says simply notes the need: “They have no wine.” Mary is not directive, as if to say, “Here is my solution for this problem. Follow my plans exactly. Just sign here at the bottom of my plan for action.” Rather, she simply observes the problem and places it before her Son in confidence. He knows what to do and will decide the best way to handle things.

In this way Mary models prayer for us. What wine are you lacking now? What wine do your children and grandchildren lack? Do you notice your needs and the needs of others and consistently pray? Or must things get critical for you to notice or pray? And when you pray do you go to the Lord with trust or with your own agenda?

So the Scriptures teach that Mary is the quintessential woman of prayer, a paragon of prayer. Not only does she intercede for us, she teaches us how to pray. 

III. The portrait of Mary – The text says, Woman, how does this concern of yours affect me? My hour has not yet come. His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.” Notice three things about this brief dialogue:

The title of Mary Jesus calls her “woman.” In Jewish culture this was a respectful way for a man to address a woman, but it was unheard of for a son to address his mother that way.

Hence this text stands out as unusual and signals that Jesus is speaking at a deeper level. In the Johannine texts Jesus always calls his Mother, “Woman.” This is in fulfillment of Genesis 3:15, which says, I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall crush your head, while you strike at his heel. And thus Jesus is saying that Mary is this woman who was prophesied.

Far from being disrespectful to Mary, Jesus is actually exalting her by saying that she is the woman who was prophesied; she is the woman from whose “seed” comes forth the Son destined to destroy the power of Satan.

In this sense Mary is also the new Eve. For Jesus also calls her “Woman” at the foot of the Cross; He is the new Adam, Mary is the new Eve, and the tree is the Cross. And thus, just as humans got into trouble by a man, a woman, and a tree, so now we get out of trouble through the same path. Adam’s no is reversed by Jesus, who saves us by his yes. Eve’s no is reversed by Mary’s yes.

The tenacity of Mary – In Greek, Jesus’ words to his mother are, τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί, γύναι – ti emoi kai soi, gunai (What to me and to thee, Woman?). When this phrase appears elsewhere in the Scriptures (e.g., Gen 23:15; 1 Kings 19:20) it usually indicates some kind of tension between the interlocutors. On the surface, it would seem that Jesus is expressing resistance to the fact that His mother striving to involve Him in this matter. What makes this interpretation odd, though, is that Mary doesn’t seem to interpret Jesus’ response as resistance.

Perhaps there was something in the tone of voice that Jesus used, or perhaps there was a look between them that resolved the tension, and evoked Jesus’ sympathy for the situation. Whatever the case, Mary stays in the conversation with Jesus and overcomes whatever tension or resistance existed. In this we surely see her tenacity.

This tenacity comports well with the tenacity she showed at other times. Though startled by the presence of the angel Gabriel, she engaged him in a respectful but pointed conversation in which she sought greater detail. Mary also hastened to visit her cousin Elizabeth, and in the dialogue that followed she proclaimed a Magnificat that was anything but a shy and retiring prayer. She joyfully acknowledged the Lord’s power in her life, and all but proclaimed a revolutionary new world order.

To be tenacious means to hold fast in spite of obstacles or discouragements. However we interpret Jesus’ initial resistance to Mary’s concern, it is clear that Mother Mary does not give up; she expects the Lord to answer her favorably. This is made clear by her confident departure from the conversation, when she turns to the stewards with the instruction, “Do whatever he tells you.”

The trust of Mary – She simply departs, telling the stewards, “Do whatever he tells you.” She does not hover. She does not come back and check on the progress of things. She does not seek to control or manipulate the outcome. She simply departs and leaves it all to Jesus.

IV. The power of Mary’s prayer – Whatever his initial concerns regarding Mary’s request, Jesus goes to work. Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus told them, “Fill the jars with water.” So they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it.  And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine, without knowing where it came from—although the servers who had drawn the water knew—the headwaiter called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.”

If we do the math, we may confidently presume that Jesus produced almost 150 gallons of the best wine. Mary’s prayer and tenacity produced abundant results.

Sometimes the Lord tells us to wait so that He can grant further abundance. Scripture says, But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:31).

The Catholic tradition of turning to Mary and regarding her as a special intercessor with particular power is rooted in this passage. But Mary is not merely an intercessor for us; she is also a model for us. Following her example, we should persevere in prayer and go to the Lord with confident expectation of His abundant response. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much (James 5:16).

V. The product of Mary’s prayer – The text says, Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs at Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory and his disciples began to believe in him.

At the conclusion of this gospel is the significant result that many began to believe in the Lord on account of this miracle. This is Mary’s essential role with reference to Jesus, that she should lead many souls to a deeper union with her Son. And having done so, she leaves us with this instruction, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Mary’s role is to hold up Christ for us to see, as she did at Bethlehem for the shepherds (and later the Wise Men) and as she did for Simeon and Anna at the Temple. Her role is to point to His glory as she does here at Cana. And ultimately her role is to hold His body in her arms at the foot of the cross after He is taken down.

As a mother, Mary has a special role in the beginnings of our faith, in the infancy and childhood of our faith. The text says that many “began to believe.” In Greek grammar, this phrase is an example of an inceptive aorist, often used to stress the beginning of an action or the entrance into a state. Thus Mary has a special role in helping to initiate our faith, in helping (by God’s grace) to birth Christ in us. As St. Thomas Aquinas say, she is the “go-between,” the great matchmaker in the mystical marriage of Christ and the soul. Having done that her final words are, “Do whatever he tells you.” And while she may draw back a bit, she continues to pray for us.

Here, then, are some biblical basics about Mother Mary, from this gospel of the wedding feast at Cana.

Our Lady of Fatima – Her Prophecies and Warnings Remain as Essential as Ever!

fatimaThis week on October 13 and 14th I am in Fatima. Such a profound apparition occurred there, and so accurately prophetic of our times!

Our Lady’s warnings of the consequences if we did not pray and convert have proven to be sadly accurate. She warned of another, more terrible war (World War II). She spoke of great lights in the sky that would serve as a final warning before the terrible war. (They appeared all over Europe just before Hitler invaded Poland, in the form of a stunning display of the Aurora Borealis.) She said that Russia would spread her errors, that the Church would have much to suffer, and she warned of a pope who would be struck down.

A final and belated prophecy from Fatima seems to have come in the form of a letter written by Sister Lucia to Cardinal Carlo Caffara. He had written to her asking for her prayers as he had been commissioned by Pope John Paul II to establish the Pontifical Institute for the Studies on Marriage and the Family. The year was 1981. According to Cardinal Caffara, she wrote back with the following:

[T]he final battle between the Lord and the reign of Satan will be about marriage and the family. Don’t be afraid, she added, because anyone who operates for the sanctity of marriage and the family will always be contended and opposed in every way, because this is the decisive issue. And then she concluded: however, Our Lady has already crushed its head. [*]

Thus, from Fatima comes one accurate prophecy after another. Here we are today, locked in a terrible battle over the most basic units of any civilization: families and the marriages that form them. Fatima, the great prophecy of our time and a summons to sobriety and prayer!

Something else that has always intrigued me about Fatima is the name of the town itself. Fatima is a town bearing the name of the daughter of Mohammed; this is so stunning! Why of all places would Mary appear there? Is it just coincidence? If you think so, you have not pondered that everything about the apparition of Fatima is prophetic.

The great Archbishop Fulton Sheen, in his book The World’s First Love, reflected on its significance and posed a few questions. Please note that the book was written in 1952 and therefore some of the spellings are not the modern ones. Here are some excerpts:

The Koran, which is the Bible of the Moslems, has many passages concerning the Blessed Virgin. First of all, the Koran believes in her Immaculate Conception, and also, in her Virgin Birth … The Koran also has verses on the Annunciation, Visitation, and Nativity. Angels are pictured as accompanying the Blessed Mother and saying, Oh Mary, God has chosen you and purified you, and elected you above all the women of the earth. In the 19th chapter of the Koran there are 41 verses on Jesus and Mary. There is such a strong defense of the virginity of Mary here that the Koran in the fourth book, attributes the condemnation of the Jews to their monstrous calumny against the Virgin Mary.

Mary, then, is for the Moslems the true Sayyida, or Lady. The only possible serious rival to her in their creed would be Fatima, the daughter of Mohammed himself. But after the death of Fatima, Mohammed wrote: Thou shalt be the most blessed of women in Paradise, after Mary. In a variant of the text Fatima is made to say; I surpass all the women, except Mary.

This brings us to our second point; namely, why the Blessed Mother, in this 20th Century should have revealed herself in the significant little village of Fatima, so that to all future generations she would be known as “Our Lady of Fatima.” Since nothing ever happens out of Heaven except with a finesse of all details, I believe that the Blessed Virgin chose to be known as “Our Lady of Fatima” as pledge and a sign of hope to the Moslem people, and as an assurance that they, who show her so much respect, will one day accept her divine Son too.

Evidence to support these views is found in the historical fact that the Moslems occupied Portugal for centuries. At the time when they were finally driven out, the last Moslem chief had a beautiful daughter by the name of Fatima. A Catholic boy fell in love with her, and for him she not only stayed behind when the Moslems left, but even embraced the Faith. The young husband was so much in love with her that he changed the name of the town where he lived to Fatima. Thus the very place where our Lady appeared in 1917 bears a historical connection to Fatima, the daughter of Mohammed.

Missionaries, in the future will, more and more, see that their apostolate among the Moslems will be successful in the measure that they preach Our Lady of Fatima. Mary is the advent of Christ, bringing Christ to the people before Christ himself is born. In any apologetic endeavor, it is always best to start with that which the people already accept. Because the Moslems have devotion to Mary, our missionaries should be satisfied merely to expand and develop that devotion, with the full realization that our Blessed Lady will carry the Moslems the rest of the way to her divine Son. She is forever a “traitor,” in the sense that she will not accept any devotion for herself, bit will always bring anyone who is devoted to her to her divine Son.

A beautiful reflection by Archbishop Sheen and one we can surely hope will come to pass! Relations are much tenser between Christians and Muslims today than in 1952. But Fatima is the apparition that just keeps prophesying.

It is nothing less than astonishing that Mary should appear in a town with the name of Fatima. Surely this is no mere coincidence. As Sheen points out, Heaven does nothing without purpose. It is very clear to me that we are not to pass over this detail. “Our Lady of Fatima” has a different ring to it when we consider that Fatima is more than a place; Fatima is the daughter of Muhammad and the greatest woman in Islam. “Our Lady of Fatima” sounds and feels so different when it is heard in this context of person rather than place. It is hugely significant.

It seems clear that Mary will play an important role in the years ahead as the Muslim/Christian conflict likely grows sharper. Perhaps, as Sheen notes, she will be the bridge that connects two vastly different cultures; the common mother who keeps her children talking. Right now this connection seems little pursued, even (as far as I can tell) by the Vatican.

The Guadalupe connection – I wonder, too, if the history of Our Lady of Guadalupe presents some historical parallels to our current struggle with the Muslim world. In the early 16th Century in Mexico, missionaries had made only meager progress in bringing the Aztec people to Christ. This was a combination of the sometimes rude and cruel treatment of the indigenous people by the Spanish soldiers, and also of the fearful superstition surrounding the Aztec gods. The people were locked in with the fear that unless they fed these gods with horrific human sacrifices, their greatest god, the sun, would no longer shine.

Into this fearful and suspicious setting entered Mother Mary. The miraculous image she left in 1531 was richly symbolic. Her face is that of a mother: gentle and compassionate, unlike the appearance of the frightening Aztec gods, who wore fierce masks. Her features seem to be both Aztec and European, two cultures combined in kindness and peace. Her attitude is one of humble prayer, so she is clearly not a god(dess). She is a merciful mother who consoles and prays for us. She is to be honored but not adored. The black band around her waist means that she is with child and offers Jesus to the people. Her message is about Him. The sun was the greatest of the Aztec gods, so by standing in front of it, Mary shows that she is greater than even their greatest god. To the Aztecs, the moon represented the god of darkness and death. That Mary is standing on the moon is a sign that these powers, too, are defeated by the Son she bears.

Mary brought the breakthrough. Within ten years, over twelve million Mexicans came to Christ and entered the Catholic Church.

This history is paralleled in many ways today in the current tensions with the Muslim World. In many Muslim lands today, conversions are few. Part of the reason for this is a strong aversion to the Western culture from which Catholicism comes. Many Muslims also hold grievances due to alleged American and Western “mistreatment.” Finally, a large factor is fear. In many parts of the Muslim world, leaving the Muslim faith is likely to get one killed. So, it is a combination of a wide cultural gulf, grievances, and fear that keep conversions low. All of this is not unlike the situation in 16th century Mexico.

Is Mary key to this? It took Mary to bridge all these similar gaps between the Aztecs and the Christian missionaries. Might Mary also be that bridge today when similar gaps divide people? Time will tell, but one of her greatest modern titles is “Our Lady of Fatima.” And then there is the crescent moon, upon which Mary stands in the image of Guadalupe. In modern times the crescent moon is the symbol of Islam. By God’s grace, and with love and humility, Mother Mary of Guadalupe was victorious in overcoming the false religion of the Aztecs.

Might this crescent moon on which Our Lady of Guadalupe stands also point to our times and the crescent moon of Islam? Might it indicate that her victories, by God’s grace, are not at an end? Perhaps we can hope that what our Lady of Guadalupe was to the Aztec people of Mexico, Our Lady of Fatima will be to the Muslim people of the world.

As always, I invite your comments and answers to my questions.

Here is “Immaculate Mary,” sung in Arabic:

How the Rosary Led Me to Christ

rosary-1024x632As a young child I was very close to God. I spoke to Him in a very natural way and He spoke plainly to me. Although I have very few memories of my early childhood, I vividly remember how close I was to God. When early puberty approached, though, I began to slip away, drifting into the rebellious and angry years of my teens. As the flesh came more alive, my spirit submerged.

The culture of the time didn’t help, either. It was the late 1960s and early 1970s and rebelliousness and the flesh were celebrated as “virtues.” Somehow we thought ourselves more mature than our pathetic forebears, who were hopelessly “repressed.” There was the attitude among the young that we had come of age somehow. We collectively deluded ourselves, aided by the messages of rock music and the haze of drug use, that we were somehow “better.”

So it was the winter of my soul. The vivid faith of my childhood gave way to a kind of indifferent agnosticism. Though I never formally left Church (my mother would never had permitted that as long as I lived in under my parents’ roof), I no longer heard God or spoke to Him. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that when I was in high school I joined the youth choir of my parish church. This was not precipitated by a religious passion, but rather by a passion of another kind: there were pretty girls in the choir and I “sought their company,” shall we say. But God has a way of using beauty to draw us to the truth. Week after week, year after year, as we sang those old religious classics a buried faith began to awaken within me.

But what to do? How to pray? I heard that I was supposed to pray. But how? As a child it had been natural to talk with God. But now He seemed distant, aloof, and likely angry with me. And I’ll admit it, prayer seemed a little “goofy” to me, a high school senior still struggling to be “cool” in his own eyes and in the eyes of his friends. Not only that, but prayer was “boring.” It seemed an unfocused, unstructured, and “goofy” thing.

But I knew someone who did pray. My paternal grandmother, “Nana,” was a real prayer warrior. Every day she took out her beads and sat by the window to pray. I had seen my mother pray now and again, but she was more private about it. But Nana, who lived with us off and on in her last years, knew how to pray and you could see it every day.

Rosary Redivivus – In my parish church of the 1970s, the rosary was non-existent. Devotions and adoration were on the outs during that sterile time. Even the Crucifix was gone. But Nana had that “old-time religion” and I learned to appreciate it through her.

Ad Jesum per Mariam – There are some, non-Catholics especially, who think that talking of Mary or focusing on her in any way takes away from Christ. It is as though they consider it a zero-sum game, in which our hearts cannot love both Mary and Jesus. But my own experience was that Mary led me to Christ. I had struggled to know and worship Christ, but somehow a mother’s love felt more natural, safer, and more accessible to me. So I began there, where I could. Simply pole-vaulting right into a mature faith from where I was did not seem possible. So I began, as a little child again, holding my Mother’s hand. And gently, Mother Mary led me to Christ, her son. Through the rosary, that “Gospel on a string,” I became reacquainted with the basic gospel story.

The thing about Marian devotion is that it opens up a whole world. For with this devotion comes an open door into so many of the other traditions and devotions of the Church: Eucharistic adoration, litanies, traditional Marian hymns, lighting candles, modesty, pious demeanor, and so forth. So as Mary led me, she also reconnected me to many things that I only vaguely remembered. The suburban Catholicism of the 1970s had all but cast these things aside, and I had lost them as well. Now in my late teens, I was going up into the Church “attic” and bringing things down. Thus, little by little, Mother Mary was helping me to put things back in place. I remember my own mother being pleased to discover that I had taken some old religious statues, stashed away in a drawer in my room, and placed them out on my dresser once again. I also took down the crazy rock-and-roll posters, one by one, and replaced them with traditional art, including a picture of Mary.

Over time, praying the Rosary and talking to Mary began to feel natural. And, sure enough, little by little, I began to speak with God. It was when I was in the middle of college that I began to sense the call to the priesthood. I had become the choir director by that time and took a new job in a city parish: you guessed it, “St. Mary’s.” There, the sterility of suburban Catholicism had never taken hold. The candles burned brightly at the side altars. The beautiful windows, marble altars, statues, and traditional novenas were all on display in Mother Mary’s parish. The rest is history. Mary cemented the deal between me and her Son, Jesus. I became His priest and now I can’t stop talking about Him! He is my hero, my savior and Lord. And praying again to God has become more natural and more deeply spiritual for me.

It all began one day when I took Mary’s hand and let her lead me to Christ. And hasn’t that always been her role? She, by God’s grace, brought Christ to us, showed Him to us at Bethlehem, presented Him in the Temple, and ushered in His first miracle (even despite His reluctance). She said to the stewards that day at Cana, and to us now, “Do whatever he tells you.” The Gospel of John says, Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him (John 2:11). And so Mary’s intercession strengthened the faith of others in her Son. That has always been her role: to take us by the hand and lead us to Christ. Her rosary has been called the “Gospel on a string” because she bids us to reflect on the central mysteries of the Scripture as we pray.