Mary, our model for a richer humanity

Friday, May 17, 2019 - Updated: 1:09 pm

By Dr. Susan Muto

The events of Mary’s life reveal themselves each time we pray the rosary, but have we meditated on them in relation to our everyday experience? It is not enough that we prove our devotion to her by celebrating her in the month of May. We must find a way to let her life and ours intertwine.

Throughout her life, Mary knew the range of emotions that we, too, feel. Recall, for example, the Annunciation. She was filled with fear and joy upon receiving the awesome revelation that she was to conceive of the Holy Spirit and give birth to Jesus.

This humble beginning was part of a larger series of miracles that she would only grasp as her life unfolded from the point of her fiat to God’s will.

The mystery of this announcement reminds us of the hidden meaning behind each partial revelation of reality. Her receptive response to known and unknown truths sets her on the path to fully human, fully spiritual living.

We learn from Mary what it means to visit one another on a level deeper than get-togethers with the neighbors next door. When she travels to the hill country to see her cousin Elizabeth, she shares a secret with her; their level of communion was so complete that each woman confirmed the miracle God had accomplished in them.

We, too, need to visit others on this level of deep trust — as a wife visits her husband in special moments of quiet presence or passion; as a new mother visits her baby or an elder child visits his or her dying mother. We share in the meaning of the visitation of Mary and Elizabeth each time we are present to others in loving, receptive and trusting ways.

The incarnation of Jesus is an event that invites us to reflect on the mystery of birth. Why is it so memorable an occasion? To be born marks the moment our essence in God comes into existence. To be born implies a leap of faith, hope and love.

On our birthday we gather together the many moments of our life up to that point and renew our best intentions for the future.

In the Jewish tradition, it was customary for parents to offer their child to the Creator whose custody belongs ultimately to him. In presenting her child to God, Mary listened from the innermost depths of her heart to the reality of this ritual. It was Mary’s way of showing us how to be present to ourselves and obedient to the rituals of our faith tradition.

We are bound to fail many times in this effort to listen to the invitations God extends to us because, unlike Mary, we can be masters of self-deception. Irreligious pride is often in conflict with religious humility.

To be present to self and others, as Mary was in the Temple, is a way of listening to reality in a gentle, not a grasping or domineering, way. We learn from Mary to be humble and willing to accept the limitations we observe in ourselves and others. We are present to the situation in its finite meaning while looking forward to its infinite horizon. We can be like dancers who have mastered the form of a waltz, yet who soar beyond its standard moves to display the uniqueness of our personal grace.

Mary helps us every day to find ourselves. “Find” is a word that recalls another event in her life, the day she knew she would have to give her child wholly to God because he had to be about his Father’s business. He would have to leave his homey surroundings, after growing there in wisdom, age and grace, and enter the wider world. There he would find little worldly success. Despite the depth of his love he would have to undergo a violent death, betrayed by his own friends. God took Mary’s child away for a purpose she could only dimly foresee. She gave him up because she believed in God’s promise, though sorrow would pierce her heart.

Mary’s finding of her child and surrendering him to God confronts us with a question close to our heart: What do we have to give up to follow God’s will?

Mary felt the pain of detachment, but she chose to surrender her beloved Son to his own destiny. She knew the difference between true and false love, between respect and domination.

Once we are free to find our destiny — our own reason for being — then what? There is nothing wrong with moving on and knowing we are not in control, but God is. What can be wrong is our attitude — how we feel about success or failure. Who we are and what we do complement one another. We can ask Mary to help us discern how to accept our limitations and develop the art of “letting go” of what is beyond our control.

Mary resigned herself to the will of God, not because it exonerated her from daily responsibility, but because her surrender was the only way to answer God’s call. She believed and trusted that obedience to God’s will reconciles all the warring factions in our soul and deepens our receptivity to the divine plan.

An incident of this union of faith and formation occurs at the wedding feast at Cana. There, Mary teaches us the art of listening to all sides of any given situation and accepting what is without undue flattery or flamboyant praise.

Mary knew the host was running out of wine; she was sensitive to his predicament. She asked her Son to do her a favor and he did, though his time had not yet come. Were she a person who needed adulation, she might have stepped forth and announced her concern to the host, but she chose instead to perform what she knew was right, unnoticed by the wedding party. She was interested in the common good. She knew the needs of the guests and, rather than subject the host to any embarrassment, she asked her Son in private to intervene.

Mary is a person without guile, a vessel of divine love. Though we may never reach the pinnacle of her perfection, what matters is that we recognize her as a model for a richer humanity and strive to attain it, no matter how often we fail.

The sooner we learn to surrender our self-centeredness, the freer we are to become relaxed, faithful people who respond eagerly to the call we have received.

To some degree, thanks to the grace of God, we begin to possess the virtues that Mary so perfectly embodies. She teaches us how to be the people we most deeply are. In her we see the perfect union of human presence and fidelity to our divinely bestowed call.

If we choose her as our model, she will carry us through the ages and stages of our humanity: childhood, adolescence and adulthood; through joy, hope, suffering, service, promise and pain, to final glorification.

To do so is not meant to be easy. We will have to move with Mary from the light of Bethlehem to the darkness at the foot of the cross. Thanks to her motherhood, we have been given the Savior of the world. Thanks to her witness, we can blend into one the fire of our faith with the rose of our knowing beyond any doubt that our Redeemer lives.

Muto is dean and executive director of the Epiphany Academy of Formative Spirituality in Pittsburgh’s Beechview neighborhood. Visit www.epiphanyassociation.org.

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