There is an old story about a workman on a scaffold high above the nave of a cathedral that looked down and saw a woman praying before a statue of Mary. He saw her intensity and decided to have some fun with her so he whispered “woman this is Jesus I need to tell you something.” The woman gave no indication that she heard him so he whispered again but this time a little louder, “woman this is Jesus, I need to tell you something.” Again the woman did not appear to her him and she kept praying. Finally the workman raised his voice saying “woman listen to me, I need to tell you something.” Finally the woman looked over to the crucifix and said, “Be quiet, I am talking to your mother.”
Unfortunately that is the impression that many other faiths have about Catholic’s and how we embrace Mary and Marian devotions. There is no denying Mary’s unique role in salvation history and we rightly should honor her and look to Mary for more than interceding on our behalf. She said yes to an impossible request. Her yes to become pregnant by the power of God would cause the community to do more to her than ostracize her. It was a sin punishable by death and yet she trusted God enough to say yes.
We agree with other faiths about this unique role of Mary in salvation history and she is rightly called the Mother of God. Yet I know from so many conversations within our church and outside our church that many Catholics have called Mary as co-redeemer with Jesus. There is one redeemer and that is Jesus Christ.
That image of the woman praying is a more than just a story it is a true image of so many who look to Mary as the dispenser grace. Our church teaches us that the dispenser of grace is the Holy Spirit and the words of scripture affirm this over and over again. That woman is a true image of many whose devotion seems to be so exclusive that all relationship with God, with Jesus or the Holy Spirit is unimportant.
The doctrine of the church about salvation, about relationship with Jesus, about all prayer goes through Jesus to the Father has not changed for centuries. Mary’s role in salvation history, her yes, brought us all redemption through the birth, life and death of Jesus Christ.
Cardinal Sunnens said something that for me sums up all the teaching of the Church about Mary. He said Mary is like a river always running in one direction carrying us with it to Christ. Mary’s role in salvation history was to bring the savior to the world and for those who have not yet met Jesus Mary still is a vehicle to bring them to Jesus. We need to pray for Mary to lead us to Christ and to inspire us to do as she did – say yes to allow Jesus to come to life within us. We need to look to Mary to inspire us to always be open to the appearance of God in our lives even when the outcome of inviting God into our lives is uncertain.
Paul tells us Jesus is the new Adam and Mary is the new Eve. I have often tried to understand how that statement works in our theology when it comes to Jesus and Mary. I know what I have been taught and can recite those for you but I want to point out only one area where this is important to us as we celebrate this feast. The loss of our place in the kingdom of God was immediate as a result of Eve’s disobedience. The result of Mary’s obedience was Jesus restoring the kingdom of God and our place in it as sons and daughters.
Jesus and Mary share the results of their obedience – fullness of life with God through the Ascension and through the Assumption. The doctrine of the Assumption says that Mary at the end of her life was taken up body and soul into heaven. Like Ezekiel, she was taken up to heaven. This teaching has its roots in her unique role by her yes to God bringing the savior to you and I. Can we point to this event in the scriptures? We cannot show you a verse where this happens like we can point to Ezekiel going to heaven at the end of his mission on earth. Her yes to God sealed her share of the fruit of redemption as much as our embracing Jesus seals our share in the fruit of redemption.
Marian doctrine and devotion properly understood and practiced should never lead us away from Christ but more deeply into a relationship with Jesus. The woman who thought Jesus should shut up because she was talking to his mother lost sight of the perfect harmony of wills and hearts between Mary and Jesus. A harmony we see so evident in the story of the wedding feast of Cana where Mary says, “…do whatever he tells you.”
This is the constant message of Mary to us – do whatever he tells you.