“Mary with Child, Angels and Saints” (detail) by Duccio di Buoninsegna
Growing up as a Baptist, leaving that church as a teenager, and living in the spiritual wilderness for two decades until I experienced a significant conversion to Christ in 2005, I never thought about Mary. Since joining the Catholic Church in 2006, I have gone through several phases in my feelings about her: mild curiosity, strong interest, education, revelation, appreciation and now devotion and love.
What brought about this change? How did Mary grow so significantly in my affections? The answer is complicated. I would love to tell you that it happened all at once in some miraculous epiphany. No, my experience has been much more gradual over the last few years. As the phases above indicate, I had to educate myself on Mary before I knew how to love her. Today, it is second nature for me to ask the Blessed Mother for her intercession and prayers. The Rosary has become an important part of my prayer life.
As we read about Mary in Scripture, the writings of the Saints and early Church Fathers, our Popes, and more contemporary authors, we discover her vital role as the Mother of Christ, the Mother of His Church and the Mother of all humankind. Mary is the “New Eve” and it is natural that we love and revere her. It is also appropriate and expected that we should seek out the Blessed Mother in prayer to intercede for us with her son, Jesus Christ.
The more I read about Mary and draw closer to her in my prayers, I keep coming back to three essential lessons which I continually receive. These lessons are apparent in every mention of Mary in the Bible. They have been explored and taught by the Church for millennia. I am referring to Surrender, Service and Love.
Three Powerful Lessons
1. Trustful Surrender to God’s Will
I am inspired by the humility, strength and discernment of a young teenage girl who said yes to being the mother of Christ. Her answer, freely given, was arguably the most important “yes” the world has ever known. She is the ultimate example of unconditional commitment to God’s Will. Our faith requires an ongoing surrender and conversion that is often difficult to conceive and even harder to do, yet we can learn from the Virgin Mary’s lifelong example of placing God’s Will first in her life.
We are also called to respond to God’s invitation, to say “yes” to a relationship with Him. This is what Mary’s Fiat- “Let it be done to me” – is all about. In saying yes to God, as Mary did, we are able to discover the path to conversion and enter into a close relationship with Him. Every time I pray the Rosary, I think of the Annunciation and Mary’s humble surrender. I am both reminded and encouraged that I must let go of my pride, give up control and surrender everything to Him.
2. Generosity and Service
The Blessed Mother does not receive that many mentions in the Gospel, but two of them refer specifically to her selfless desire to help and serve others. Her visit to her pregnant cousin Elizabeth when she herself was pregnant with Jesus speaks volumes about her generosity and desire to serve. We receive the scriptural basis for the Hail Mary in Elizabeth’s timeless greeting of Mary in (Luke 1:41-43), “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”
The second scriptural reference to Mary’s generosity is at the Wedding of Cana in John 2:1-11. Her concern over the needs of the wedding guests and the lack of wine caused her to ask her son to help. He performs the first of His public miracles at the request of His mother and begins His public ministry. This is also a clear statement about Mary’s role as intercessor.
We can’t ignore the clear and obvious focus of her entire life from the time of the Annunciation to the Assumption was an outpouring of generosity and service as she put aside all of her personal plans and desires to do God’s Will. Can we learn from Mary’s example? Where can we show generosity and selfless service in our lives today?
3. Love and Devotion
The Blessed Mother spent her entire life lovingly devoted to our Lord. She loved Him as her son and loved Him as the Savior of mankind. Mary also loves each of us…her children. At the foot of the Cross, Jesus clearly identified as the Mother of mankind. We read: “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home” (John 19:26-27).
Mary’s pure love for her son, Jesus Christ, and her love for all of us is a wonderful example that we should follow. Our prayers to the Blessed Mother help us obtain the graces we require through her intercession with our Lord and ultimately we draw closer to Him through that intercession. As I reflect during my Rosary or at other times when I am thinking about Mary, I am inspired to show more love towards others and deepen my devotion to my own family, friends and the Church.
I am not a theologian, and fully understanding the many aspects of what the Church teaches about Mary’s life is a little daunting. But the truth is, very few of us are theologians. We need to do the best we can to understand the role of Mary in our lives through prayer, reflection and reading. One of the best ways I know to deepen our understanding of (and connection to) Mary is to faithfully pray the Rosary. We should pray it every day, if possible. Saying the prayers, reflecting on the mysteries, and asking for her intercession has been a blessing for me and a real source of comfort and peace.
I don’t know how you feel about Mary. You may have a growing reverence and love for her. Or you may mumble and rush through saying the Hail Mary. Wherever you are, I encourage you to learn more about the Blessed Mother, go to her often in prayer, and ask for her holy intercession with her Son. Simply… love her. My faith has grown over the last few years in part because my love for Mary has grown as well.
Pope Saint John Paul II once said, “From Mary we learn to surrender to God’s Will in all things. From Mary we learn to trust even when all hope seems gone. From Mary we learn to love Christ her Son and the Son of God!” This is a beautiful and eloquent summation of the powerful role the Blessed Mother plays in our faith and our relationship with her son, Jesus Christ.
Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that any one who fled to thy protection, implored thy help or sought thy intercession, was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins my Mother; to thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful; O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy clemency hear and answer me. Amen.