Saturday, August 15, 2009

Hail Mary, Full of Grace

Today Catholics all around the world are celebrating the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

It is a special day that our tradition holds that Mary was brought to heaven where she lives with our Risen Lord. We believe that she is very much a part of our daily lives and intervenes for all of us to Jesus Christ our Savior and her son.

Catholics have great respect for Mary and that has led a lot of confusion among our non-Catholic Christian brothers and sisters. The chief misunderstanding is that non-Catholics think that we pray to Mary as a god and nothing could be further from the truth. We know that Mary is the Mother of Jesus and not God. Just as we ask our fellow Christians for their prayers, we think it is OK to ask Mary for her prayer and support.

And so why all this respect for Mary?

Let's look at the Bible.

Lk 1:39-56

Mary set out
and traveled to the hill country in haste
to a town of Judah,
where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth.
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,
“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?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears,
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled.”

(Emphasis is mine)

Mary had a choice - and she choose to believe. Because of her choice, our Savior was born and redeemed the world from sin.

God loves us so much that he always gives us free will. Even though He prepared Mary for this purpose by having her born free of original sin (that's why she is called the Virgin Mary because she was free of original sin not only because she had never been with a man), He still gave Mary a choice.

This young girl (between 14 and 17) could have refused God. There was lots of sensible reasons for her to refuse. First, people would have thought she was lying or crazy about talking to God. She was no one special from a family of no consequence. Why would God choose her to carry His son? Secondly, she was already betrothed to Joseph. Being pregnant would have brought shame not only to herself and her family but could have easily resulted in her being stoned to death. Read the passage again, there was good reason that Mary traveled to the hill country in haste. Finally, she was not going to get anything out of this - there was no reward, no fame, nothing.

How many of us would have agreed to this offer? So, not only will everyone think that I am nuts, but I get nothing for this and I might be killed? Yeah, I am going to sign up for that...

And yet Mary did. She believed and acted on her faith. She and Joseph helped raise Jesus, and after Joseph died, she helped Jesus on his ministry. Through the tough times and all the way to the foot of the cross where she saw her son die in the most horrible way - Mary kept the faith. She was truly the first disciple of Christ.

And in a culture and time that really did not value women, even the early church respected Mary's contribution and her faith. And we celebrate this day of her assumption every year all around the world.

As "progressive" as we would like to believe our western society to be - in many ways we still do not respect the role of women. It seems that the role of wife and mother are constantly being attacked. The world tells us that women are expected to have careers outside their home. Our young girls are told that they need to have their own lives, they don't need a husband, or children, they need to look out for themselves instead of for others. They are told it is a "man's world" so they need to be tough - they need to be men.

So, it is a good thing that we take a moment to consider Mary. A young girl who believed and choose to follow God's will and not her own. An example of what it means to be a disciple and a mother. Perhaps by considering Mary, we can begin to change our views on the value of women and motherhood in our own society. Perhaps we can gain the courage and the strength to act on our faith even when it does not make any sense. When God calls us, I pray that we can all answer - "Here I am Lord. Send me."

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