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August 15, 2010

Thoughts about who Mary really was and why she is relevant for us.

First, her amazing humility:

Did she not give birth in a shelter made for animals?

Does she not know

the weariness of disorder

the longing for household perfection

the choice of the divine plan over a tidier hope?

Did she not raise the Son of God,

the very fullness of the mystery of motherhood?

(For all our children,

— though not born in divine estate —

are yet created to be the sons of God.)

Today is Mary’s feast day — she has many feasts, at least one big one each month, but this is one of the largest — the Assumption, the feast of her being taken to heaven, not just like any who die in faith, but in body as well as soul because Jesus would not leave his mother’s body behind. Since I cannot help remembering the gentle plaint of a man who found it hard to believe, and who thought about it as little as possible so that he might not be found faithless, I want to suggest some supporting thoughts, starting with the plain vanilla kind, and moving on from there.

First of all, it is a fact that while we have the burial-place of Jesus (so briefly used) and of many of the apostles and even, apparently, the bones of St. Mary Magdalen, there is no tradition whatsoever of Mary’s burial or her burial-place. The tradition is that she “fell asleep” and the next day, her body was gone. There is no competing tradition of burial anywhere.

Moreover, her body was the body from which the Lord’s was taken, and while one might say this of any of his human ancestors, it was especially true of his mother. For a short time, she was the universe of her creator. Think about that! So the teaching is that this body was not left to corruption, but was taken up to make her whole with her Son.

Medieval tradition held the eclipse (of the sun by the moon) as a figure of Mary’s pregnancy, because during this event, the lesser light enfolds the greater. Ben Long has a wonderful painting, “Mary Great with Child,” and you can see it off to the side in this image of the Church he transformed with his work. In the upper background, the sun is being eclipsed. There is a wonderful story with this painting. His wife was pregnant at the time, and he used her for a model, but wanted a face local to the area and kept watch for the right one. One day, in the hills, he met a woman with just the right face, and fell into conversation with her as he memorized her features. He never saw her again and nobody could identify the face he had painted. He had asked for her name, though, before they separated. She said it was Mary.

Finally, I want to speak of the mystery of pregnancy, of which her pregnancy is the ultimate, but all pregnancies take part in it.

How can one person be within another? Pregnancy is not just incubation. We incubate chicks in boxes; that’s ok. But now we’ve begun using one mother to incubate children for another, and we need to understand that pregnancy is not just a warm spot for an immature body. Everything a mother does affects her child. Read The Secret Life of the Unborn Child by Thomas Verny. Everything matters. The person of the mother is engaged in the formation of the person of the child and relationships with a pregnant woman are relationships with her child. This is the specific reason why brushing aside the tradition of Mary’s holiness is a brushing aside of pregnancy as a personal event. One follows from the other.

If Jesus, a divine person, was to take flesh and be fully human, and if he took flesh of a specific woman and wasn’t just magically set among us, then that woman had to be a woman of prayer during her pregnancy, and if during, then obviously before, and in that case, afterwards too. If Mary was not prayerful, then Jesus was abracadabra man, not really her child as we are the children of our mothers.

And this also points to a depth of vocation for us. Pray for your children, bless them from the first moment that you are aware of their presence, through their childhood, and on afterwards. They have a vocation, and you are involved. Your messy house is not less tidy than a stable; don’t let it get you down. The unexpected — and unwanted — events of your life are not more difficult than being wakened to go to Egypt right now or the baby will be killed. So Mary understands these things, and your vocation is not dimmed by any of them.

You are the mother of a child of God. Awesome! Happy Feast of the Assumption!

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