Thursday, October 7, 2021

Our Lady of Courage

Many Christians say that we are living in very trying and dangerous times. That is certainly true but one thing that Christians have to realize is that there has never been a safe time to follow Jesus Christ. His way has always been counter cultural and while different eras of history as well as geographic location could determine the type of danger we face, we must realize that each threat is real as are the feelings of fear and rejection. 

This was a reality not only for Christians in the early Church but for Jesus' family. In this year of St. Joseph we reflected on all that we can learn from Jesus' earthly father in an earlier blog (https://blog.hcdtalks.com/2021/03/honoring-st-joseph.html) but during this month of Mary we will now reflect on what we can learn from the courage displayed by our Blessed Mother. 

Yes, there are places in the world right now where being a Christian is a threat to your physical life. There are organizations out there right now who provide updated information on such threats.   https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/world-watch-list/ However, we should not forget the struggles that many of us face in the secular world, which has created an atmosphere where people of faith are not welcomed to share their beliefs while those with other forms of subjective beliefs are allowed to speak openly. It has become such a part of our culture that such attitudes exist in some Catholic schools where faith filled students are frowned upon when they speak of their faith outside of the classroom...while still being on campus.

As part of Humana Corpus Dignitate Catholic ministry I, along with my partner Angelica Delallana speak openly about how we are available for talks on some of the hard topics in our Church. Still, that does not mean that we do not face our own doubts and fears, especially when it comes to the potential backlash from those with a great passion for the opposing view. Therefore, a lot of what I am going to share in this blog is not just for those reading it but also for myself as well as my partner in ministry.

We are always reminded to take our concerns and struggles to Jesus. Still, we are reminded that aside from His love and grace Jesus has also given us the Communion of Saints in order to offer us various examples of how we can live as He wishes. No better example of this than the Queen of all Saints, which is why I took the time to write this blog to honor our Blessed Mother during this Month of the Rosary. 

 

Who is This Woman? 

The name Mary is the same as Miriam, who was the sister of Moses & Aaron, which also means that it is a name of great status. The name is defined as bitter or grieved, which might serve as a sign of things to come in our discussion. 

One of the titles that Our Lady is known for is the Virgin Mary. Some believe that it refers to her being a virgin at the time of Jesus' birth while others see it as a reference to her perpetual virginity throughout her life. There are those who actually challenge the belief in the virgin birth based on the Hebrew word almah, which is found in Isaiah 7:14. This word refers to a young woman of marriage able age. It is true that such a woman may not necessarily be a virgin but that does not mean she is not a virgin. 

The Greek translation uses the word virgin for almah and while this could challenge the idea of Mary's virginity at the time of Jesus' birth we have to also consider Joseph's intention to divorce her since he believed that she had been with another man (Matthew 1:19) as well as Gabriel's Annunciation where he explained to Mary, who was clearly a virgin at the time of this exchange, that the child's conception in her womb would be will of the Most High (Luke 1:35). Perhaps we are seeing not so much the fulfillment of the Law but the fulfillment of a divine revelation that began with the prophet Isaiah that would be fully pronounced by the angel Gabriel, who as stated to Zechariah in Luke 1:19, stood before God. 

This divine revelation would be fully manifested in Mary's Fiat in Luke 1:38: Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word. This is a beautiful portrayal of her faith in God's promises to His people (Luke 1:55) and is also the reason why she is described in Catholic Tradition as being Jesus' first disciple due to the fact that she knew Who she was carrying in her womb. Still, there was a great risk in accepting this blessing. As stated by Leslie Church: Never was a daughter of Eve so dignified as the Virgin Mary was, and yet in danger of falling under the imputation of one of the worst crimes; yet we do not find that she tormented herself about it; but, being conscious of her own innocence, she kept her mind calm and easy, and committed her cause to Him that judgeth righteously.

 

Holy Mother of God, teach us to accept Jesus' call for our lives and to have the courage to accept this mission knowing of the peace that He will give to us once we get closer to Him.


The Birth of the Promised One 

Matthew 2:1-4 tells us that Joseph had to take his family to his hometown of Bethlehem to enroll in the census. Censuses were taken to assess taxation and to find those who would be available for military service.  It occurred every 14 years and there is actual documentation from the years 20 to 270 AD. Jews were exempt from military service so the purpose for this census during the time of Jesus' birth was for taxation reasons.

Taking the journey to Bethlehem was both necessary and a great challenge for the Holy Family as it was 80 miles from Nazareth with travel and accommodations being far from comfortable. Travelers were responsible for their own food with innkeepers only providing fodder for the animals as well as fire for their guests to cook. It was certainly disappointing for this difficult journey to end with Joseph and Mary having to stay in  manger where animals feed but the Spirit within our Blessed Mother most likely gave her an insight as to the meaning of this struggle. William Barclay suggests that the reality of no room in the inn being a symbol of the cross: there was only room for Him on the cross since He seeks entry in the over-crowded hearts of men. With that being said, perhaps we could also suggest that Jesus was rejected from the beginning and in this case, our Blessed Mother was also a part of this experience.

After the birth of Jesus, the Holy Family were visited by shepherds, who were despised due to the fact that they were unable to keep the ceremonial details of the law, the meticulous hand washing rituals along with the other rules and regulations. They were also seen as robbers, thieves and outcasts, so it would seem odd to have them be present at the birth of Jesus since the cultural tradition was to have local musicians serenade boys that were born (Note: Jesus' birth brought a chorus from heaven, see Luke 2:13-14). Of course the presence of the shepherds speak right away of the mission of Jesus: I did not come to call the righteous but sinners (Mark 2:17).  

In this episode we see how much was gained from the courage of our Blessed Mother to take this trip to Bethlehem. Not only was she able to assist her husband in honoring his legal duty but also saw how the birth of Jesus was already changing the lives of others.  


Holy Mother of God, teach us to trust the paths that the Lord gives to us knowing that He will lead us to those who need to know Him. 


Simeon on the Suffering to Come
 
While the Holy Family was safe from Herod the reality of what was to come was further stated by Simeon during the Presentation of our Lord.  Although Jesus speaks of division in Matthew 10:34-36 it was foretold by the righteous and devout Simeon from Jerusalem.  As stated in Luke 2:34: Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted. As stated by Barclay: Towards Jesus Christ there can be no neutrality. We either surrender to Him or are at war with Him. And it is the tragedy of life that our our pride often keeps us from making that surrender  which leads to victory. Still, to be a part of this journey would mean that Jesus' family would also suffer. As further stated by Bergant & Karris: The shadow of the cross falls upon the Holy Family. Suffering would also be expected by Jesus' later followers (Matthew 16:24). 

This was of course best demonstrated in The Rejection at Nazareth (Matthew 13:54-58). While the Gospel does not state clearly if Mary was present she certainly would know of the episode and have suffered knowing that this occurred in her hometown of all places. As stated by Church: There are those who will be prejudiced and enraged against him. In other words, how could the Promised One be such a simple man that we have seen grow up before our eyes? The question though should be, why not such a person since these people are descendants of a faith tradition with a history of God using people from humble backgrounds to do His will.


Holy Mother of God, teach us to see with the eyes of faith, those who the Lord sends to us with a genuine faith in order to lead us to your Son. 


The First Sign 

At the Wedding of Cana, we find out in John 2:3 that they had run out of wine. When Mary informs Jesus of this predicament His response was: Woman, how does your concern affect me? (John 2:4). According to Barclay, while we are unaware of Jesus' tone when He responded to Mary we are aware of the fact that this was a common phrase at the time. If stated in anger, it represented a complete disagreement. If stated gently, then it was not so much reproach but misunderstanding. It was Jesus' way of letting Mary know that He was able to deal with the situation.

To those in the modern world, the use of the word woman may be seen as insulting but we must remember that Jesus used the same word on the cross when He gave our Blessed Mother to John (John 19:26-27). Barclay tells us that this was a sign of respect, similar to the English word Lady. Barclay further tells us that use of the word woman in this way was also known in other ancient cultures as we also saw it used by Odysseus in addressing Penelope, his well beloved wife and by the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus when he addressed Cleopatra, the famous Egyptian Queen

Mary had complete confidence in Jesus as her prompting of Jesus to do something about the lack of wine gave Him the chance to offer a glimpse of His glory. Still, with Jesus also stating in John 2:4 that His hour had not yet come, we sometimes fail to recognize the courage it took for her to show that confidence in public because after all, Jesus could easily have denied her request. Still, like most loving sons,  Jesus essentially changed His plans, which was not a foreign concept in the Jewish tradition as we have numerous occasions of God working with a situation that did not quite go according to plan. However, in this case, Our Lord did it in order to address His mother's concern for the wedding party.  


Holy Mother of God, help us to stay the course when struggles interrupt our plans. To trust in your Son to be there with us as He continues to guide us on our way. 



The True Family of Jesus 

Acts 2:44 tells us this about the first Christian community: All who believed were together and had all things in common. For this to occur the community would have to live in a very family like atmosphere knowing that most if not all of their fellow Christians were not blood relatives. Such an idea had to be taught by Jesus, who made if very clear in Mark 3:35 that His family are those who do the will of God

Mary certainly understood what that meant but there is still the reality of Mark 3:33 when Jesus said:
Who are my mother and my brothers? While we can focus on Mary being conceived without original sin, thus, not being one to retaliate or harbor any ill will towards Jesus. Still, we cannot forget that she was a human being with a mother's heart for her Son.
 
Aside from that, Jesus also challenged his own people to look beyond what was familiar to them....and this was not the first time. We can look to the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37), where Jesus featured the goodness of a person who would not have been highly regarded by His own people.  However, in the idea of who is truly a member of Jesus' family, He takes it to a more personal level. Consider this statement by Bergant & Karris: In a society that placed a very high value on blood relationship, Jesus' teaching about His disciples forming a spiritual family would be quite challenging. 

The struggle was also beyond Jesus' words in terms of what made up His true family. John 7:5 tells us that Jesus' brothers did not believe in Him (for clarification of the use of the word brothers please see: https://www.catholic.com/magazine/online-edition/jesus-had-brothers). While this seems tragic it is not exactly something many of us are not familiar with. While many of us recognize the special bond we have with our families we also recognize the value of a genuine friendship. As stated by Barclay: Friendships are founded on common ideals & experiences. True love is found on obedience (John 15:14). True kinship is not always a matter of flesh and blood. Such relationships begin with a choice on who to befriend and/or marry, so the power of choice is in fact grounded on something that could be defined as deeper than blood. 

Some of us are blessed not only with such friendships and marriages but also faith communities. Working with people who truly seek to live the Gospel as the first Christian community from Acts of the Apostles. A community that Our Lady was also a part of. This goes to show what can be achieved through the power of God's grace along with our commitment to live as those who do the will of God. 
 

Holy Mother of God, teach us to open our hearts and welcome our neighbor not just as a child of God but as a member of both God's family and our family. 


The Suffering Mother

Theologians speak of Jesus being abandoned by the Father on the cross even though Our Lord said in John 10:18: No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. In other words, Jesus was always aware of the fact that He would Rise after laying His life down for others.  

Historically speaking, Jesus was not alone on the Cross. As stated in John 19:25: Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. Mind you, this went on after Our Lord's apostles had already abandoned Him. Some argue that the women faced no risk of danger due to their lack of status in the ancient world. However, Barclay responds with the following: It is always a dangerous thing to be an associate of a man whom the Roman government believed to be so dangerous that He deserved the Cross. It is always a dangerous thing to demonstrate one's love for someone whom the orthodox regard as a heretic. In other words, the women had to be concerned of the backlash they could receive both from the Romans as well as the Jewish leaders but had no regard for that because, as Barclay says, perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). 

This perfect love is most apparent in all of these women but only one of them was Jesus' mother. Therefore, she also endured a pain that these other women could never endure. Jesus is both her Son and Her God. Therefore, her suffering was one that only she could know. Jesus was the fulfillment of God's promise to humanity but He could only have one mother. Therefore, even though we grieve at the thought of what He did for all of us none of us could ever know the suffering of Mary, the Mother of Our Lord. 

As we try to contemplate all that Mary could have felt at that moment let us look to Barclay's reflection: If Mary did not understand she could still love. Her presence was the most natural thing in the world for a mother. Jesus was a criminal to some but He was her Son. The eternal love of motherhood is in Mary at the cross. 

In other words, Mary teaches us what it means to be a mother.

And yet, there is still more for us to learn in Barclay's reflection. 

There is something infinitely moving in the fact that Jesus in the agony of the Cross, when the salvation of the world hung in the balance, thought of the loneliness of His mother in the days ahead. He never forgot the duties that lay to His hand. He was Mary's eldest soon, and even in the moment of His cosmic battle, He did not forget the simple things that lay near home. To the end of the day, even on the Cross, Jesus was thinking more of the sorrows other than of His own. 

We can speak a lot on Ephesians 5:25-27 but that teaching came from this moment of Jesus on the Cross. Here is the moment when Our Lord demonstrated the self-denial that He calls for all husbands and fathers as He both cared for His mother while also giving Her to us: the Church. His Bride. 

Jesus teaches us what it means to be a husband and a father. He died for all of us while also giving us what we need (Matthew 7:9-11 & Luke 11:11-13). In this case, His mother. 

Further, had it not been for Mary's courage from her Fiat to the moment she would suffer the agony of watching her Son die on the cross, we would not have her as our mother along with her example of what it means to have a courageous faith.  
 

Holy Mother of God, teach us to love when our hearts are broken and please comfort us when we are close to losing hope in the promises of your Son. 

  

Conclusion 

We have so much work to do but in the midst of that work we also have much to endure. We have seen many people of faith lose their careers, their status, their reputations as well as their peace of minds. People of faith have always faced rejection from family and friends. In other words, the people of Christ do in fact carry many crosses. 

One of those crosses is the burden of fear. While many American Christians speak of us not having to live in parts of the world where our faith can cost us our lives we still have the burden of rejection, which for any person is a great challenge since we are both communal beings and people of faith who are called to share the Gospel with others. 

Let us look to Our Lady as an example of courage and know that we can turn to her for inspiration and guidance on how to endure our own struggles. Allow her to show us the maternal gaze of her Son while we seek to follow and imitate Him. 

 


Carlos Solorzano
BA & MA in Religious Studies from Cal State Long Beach
Certified Through the Theology of the Body Institute
Co-Founder of Humana Corpus Dignitate

https://www.hcdtalks.com/

 

Sources

  • https://bible.usccb.org/bible 
  • https://www.catholic.com/magazine/online-edition/did-the-father-forsake-jesus
  • Achtemeier, Paul J. (editor) Harper's Bible Dictionary Harper San Francisco 1971 p. 610
  • Bergant, Dianne & Karris, Robert J (editors). The Collegeville Bible Commentary. The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN. 1986 pgs. 422, 865, 881, 941-942
  • Brown, Raymond. An Introduction to the New Testament. Doubleday, 1997. pgs. 232
  • Church, Leslie F. (editor). Matthew Henry's Commentary in One Volume. Zondervan Publishing House, 1961. pgs, 1204, 1419 
  • Barclay, William. The Gospel of Matthew Volume 1. The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1975 pgs. 18-21 
  • Barclay, William. The Gospel of Matthew Volume 2. The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1975 p. 53
  • Barclay, William. The Gospel of Luke. The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1975 pgs. 20-23, 26-27
  • Barclay, William. The Gospel of John Volume 1. The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1975 pgs. 97-99
  • Barclay, William. The Gospel of John Volume 2. The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1975 pgs. 255-257