Here in the Twin Cities, it is hard to believe it is really May, the month of Mary. (We’re still having occasional days with snow flurries here.) My memories of the month of May from my Catholic grade school days consist of scenes of my classmates and I processing around the classroom singing hymns to Mary, the procession ending with the crowning of the statute of Mary in the front of the classroom with a garland of flowers. (As I write this, I can still feel how much each of us wanted to be the one to put the crown of flowers on Mary’s head.)
Most of my adult life, I had no particular devotion to Mary. I think there is some truth in Pope Paul VI’s suggestion in his 1975 apostolic exhortation on Mary (Marialis Cultus) that a lot of discussion of Mary at the time reflected outdated ideas about Mary of the Middle Ages and the Counter-Reformation period of the Church. (He gave as an example the way some theology incorrectly presented Mary as timidly submissive.)
I think we’ve grown – at least I know I have – in our appreciation of Mary in her fullness – as first disciple, as mother of God, as mother of the Church, as mother of sorrows, as a prophet of justice. And for me equally important, as a real woman of faith.
A young girl asked to give birth to the Son of God. A young mother asked to leave her home and family and live as a refugee in a foreign country on the strength of a dream of her husband. Flash forward to a woman (in a Jewish culture where marriage and children are the norm) hearing stories of the strange things her son is saying and doing and being forced to let go of any hope that her son will settle down and give her grandchildren. And finally, that same woman, asked to witness the gruesome execution of her son.
These things all happened to a real human woman – a women with desires, dreams, anxieties and fear. But also a woman of tremendous faith. Mary trusted her God so completely, so deeply, that she was willing to put her entire life – and the life of her son – into His care. When Mary calls herself the servant of the Lord during her encounter with the Angel (I’ve reflected before on the Annunciation), she is making a statement, not about submissiveness, but about her trust in God’s goodness. Mary willingly places the direction of her life in God’s hands – all of it. No matter what surprises came her way. And it is that faith, that trust, that allowed her to face all that she did.
So as we remember Mary during this month of May, we remember, not an idealized superhuman figure, but a woman of tremendous faith. A model of what it means to be a person of faith.