by, Martin, sx
It was a blissful and historical event for Catholics when Pope Pius XII on November I, 1950 declared officially the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The new Marian dogma cheered the hearts of Catholics all over the world. It gave to Marian groups and associations a new vigor in their trust and devotion to Mary. Brief, it was as if one more star was added to the crown of Mary. However, this cheerful welcome on the part of Catholics had its counter-part in the indifference or better the disappointment of so many non-Catholics among whom Protestants. They saw in the dogma of the Assumption a presumption since no scriptural text does support clearly its definition. Thus, the new dogma became one more reason for Protestants to distance themselves from Catholics.
It goes without saying that Mary has been very often a “battleground” between Catholics and Protestants in their quest for dialogue and communion. While Catholics at times have been over- praising her, Protestants would simply look at her as someone who participated in the history of salvation without any special status. The outcome of this confrontation has very often been the portrayal of Mary as a “Catholics’ patrimony”. Hence, on one hand, having affection for her and asking for her intercession imply ipso facto being a Catholic. On the other hand, rejecting the Rosary and any other Marian prayer would mean to be a Protestant. It is not without regret that one may underline how important is Mary for Muslims compare to what she is for those who first inherited her.
Thanks to the work of the Spirit of the Lord who ceaselessly breath upon Christ’ faithful thirst and desire for unity, a commission composed by both Catholics and Anglicans produced in 2004 a common declaration on Mary based on Scripture and Tradition that both had in common prior to the schism. Among the points where both groups agree, the document states that anyone who takes Christ seriously must take Mary seriously too. Indeed, the Scriptures give witness to her “fiat” that played a key role in the dwelling of the Son of God among us. They depict her not only as the “favored one” but also as the “servant of the Lord” who grew in love and understanding of the will of God, pondering it in her heart and listening to the Son of Man to whom she gave birth. To us today’s believers, Mary has a lot to say on how to listen to the Voice of God, to give it our generous response and so to bear fruit “out of perseverance”.
Beyond all technical and theological debates on Mary, beyond the excesses of titles such as “Mediatrix of all graces” and the controversial Marian pictures drawn by feminist theologians, perhaps the most beautiful encounter with Mary that life put on my way is completely out of this frame. Way back 2009. At the eve of the Holy week, a few number of novices including myself entered the gate of one of Mother Teresa’s Houses dedicated to mentally retarded men and boys. Each one of us is given a room for cleaning. As I started my chore, I noticed a painting hung on one of the walls. It was a representation of a woman holding a child. At the bottom of the painting was an inscription: “Be for me a mother today”. I got hit by the simplicity of those words and they spoke to me more eloquently than any of our learned Mariologists. For about a couple of minutes, I remained still and looked around me. There were only emptied beds of men suffering of tuberculosis. I looked back at the picture and again I got hit by the caption: “Be for me a mother today”. This was, in my opinion, the most moving prayer my patients could address to Mary. And in this prayer, the heart of Mary was revealed to them too. Later, when the time came for me to make my First Profession, I concluded my prayer of Consecration with the same words: “Mary…be for me a mother today and always.”
I am aware that motherhood is not the only way one may look at Mary. However, it is perhaps the main aspect of her life that speaks most powerfully to millions of believers. That Jesus himself gave his mother to us while dying on the cross corroborates how deep is and must be Mary’s spiritual motherhood for all his disciples. If she gave birth to the Messiah and watched upon his human and spiritual growth, she may as well lead us to him and tell us how to undergo the ups and downs of our life and stand at the foot of the Cross.
In a couple of days, we Catholics will again commemorate solemnly the Assumption: Mary elevated into the Glory of God, body and soul altogether. Cheer and bliss will again be ours. Suspicion and bitterness may again arise on the part of those for whom such an event is a Catholics’ fabrication. Some may feel the need to argue again…Perhaps, far from theologizing and discussing upon Mary, we should simply do as the Beloved disciple did: “He took her into his home”.