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BY Jim Cosgrove
The joys and sufferings of Mary's experience on her pilgrimage of faith mirror those of the entire Church, said John Paul II.
Even though God chose her and filled her with his grace, Mary knew uncertainty and pain, the Pope said March 21 during his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square.
Hers was a journey of faith, accomplished under the shadow of a prophecy that foretold her suffering — Simeon's warning that a sword would pierce her soul. Her path took her through the sufferings of exile in Egypt and of times of inner darkness when she did not understand Jesus, the Pope said.
Mary's pilgrimage finally led her to the foot of the cross, where she gained “a new motherhood” in the Church. She still walks ahead of the Church and of every believer on the path to mankind's ultimate encounter with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
The passage in Luke (1:39-42), which we just heard, shows us Mary as a pilgrim of love. Elizabeth draws attention to her faith, however, and when they meet pronounces the first beatitude of the Gospel — “Blessed are you who believed.” This expression is “almost a key, which gives us a glimpse of Mary's intimate reality” (Redemptoris Mater, 19). As a crowning to the catecheses of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, we would now like to present the Lord's Mother as a pilgrim in faith. As daughter of Zion, she follows in the footprints of Abraham, who obeyed by faith, “when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was to go” (Hebrews 11:8).
This symbol of a pilgrimage in faith sheds light on the inner history of Mary, the believer par excellence, as the Second Vatican Council points out: “The Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross” (Lumen Gentium, 58). The Annunciation “is the starting point of Mary's journey toward God” (Redemptoris Mater, 14) — a journey of faith with the foreknowledge of the sword that will pierce her soul (see Luke 2:35); a journey that passes through the tortuous roads of exile in Egypt and of interior darkness, when Mary “did not understand” the 12-year-old Jesus' attitude in the temple and yet “kept all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51).
Times of Darkness, Times of Light
The hidden life of Jesus also unfolds in obscurity, a time when Mary must make Elizabeth's blessing reverberate within herself through an authentic “labor of the heart” (Redemptoris Mater, 17).
Certainly in Mary's life flashes of light were not lacking, as at the wedding of Cana, where — although with obvious detachment — Christ accepts the Mother's prayer and performs the first sign of Revelation, eliciting faith in his disciples (see John 2:1-12).
In the same interplay of light and shadow, of revelation and mystery, there are two other beatitudes that Luke mentions — one directed to the Mother of Christ by a woman of the crowd, and the other directed by Jesus to “those who hear the word of God and keep it” (Luke 11:28).
The goal of this earthly pilgrimage in faith is Golgotha, where Mary intimately experiences the paschal mystery of the Son; in a certain sense she dies as a mother in the death of the Son and opens herself to the “resurrection” and to a new motherhood in the life of the Church (see John 19:25-27). There, on Calvary, Mary experienced the night of faith, similar to Abraham's on Mount Moriah, and after the brightness of Pentecost, she continues to be a pilgrim in faith until her Assumption when the Son welcomes her into eternal happiness.
“The Blessed Virgin Mary continues to go before the People of God. Her exceptional pilgrimage of faith provides a constant reference point for the Church, for individuals and for communities, for peoples and nations and, in a certain sense, for all humanity” (Redemptoris Mater, 6). She is the star of the third millennium, as at the beginning of the Christian era she was the dawn that preceded Jesus on the horizon of history. In fact, Mary was born chronologically before Christ and gave him birth and introduced him into our human affairs.
Reasons for Joy
We turn to her, so that she will continue to guide us toward Christ and the Father, also in the dark night of evil, in moments of doubt, crisis, silence and suffering. To her we raise the hymn that the Eastern Church loves more than any other, the Akathistos hymn that, in stanza 24, lyrically exalts her. In the fifth stanza dedicated to the visit to Elizabeth, it exclaims:
On Calvary, Mary experienced the night of faith, similar to Abraham's on Mount Moriah.
“Rejoice, imperishable shoot of the vine. Rejoice, possessor of perfect fruit. Rejoice, you who cultivate the cultivator, friend of men. Rejoice, Mother of the Creator of our life. Rejoice, soil that germinates, fertile in compassion. Rejoice, table that is set with plentiful mercy. Rejoice, because you make a meadow of delights bloom. Rejoice, because you prepare a haven for souls. Rejoice, pleasing incense of prayer. Rejoice, forgiveness of the whole world. Rejoice, God's kindness to mortals. Rejoice, courageous word of mortals to God. Rejoice, Virgin Spouse!”
The visit to Elizabeth is sealed by the canticle of the Magnificat, a hymn that comes down through all the Christian centuries as a perennial melody — a hymn that unites the spirits of Christ's disciples beyond historical divisions, which we are determined to surmount for the sake of full communion.
In this ecumenical climate it is beautiful to recall that in 1521 Martin Luther dedicated a famous commentary to this “holy canticle of the Blessed Mother of God” — as he expressed it. In it he affirms that the hymn “should be well studied and remembered by all,” because “in the Magnificat, Mary teaches us how we must love and praise God. She wishes to be the greatest example of God's grace, so as to encourage all to confidence in and praise of divine grace” (M. Luther, Religious Writings, edited by V. Vinay, Turin 1967, pp. 431-512).
Hope of the Poor
Mary celebrates the preeminence of God and his grace — of God who chooses the last and the neglected, the “poor of the Lord” of whom the Old Testament speaks; who reverses their fortune and leads them to be participants in the history of salvation.
From the moment God looked upon her with love, Mary became a sign of hope for the company of the poor, the last of the earth who become the first in the Kingdom of God. She faithfully copies the preference of Christ, her Son, who repeats to all the afflicted throughout history: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). The Church follows Mary and the Lord Jesus walking on the twisted roads of history, to raise, promote and value the immense procession of women and men, the poor and the hungry, the humiliated and the hurt. (see Luke 1:52-53).
As St. Ambrose points out, the humble Virgin of Nazareth, is not “the God of the temple, but the temple of God” (De Spiritu Sancto III, 11, 80). As such, she guides all those who have recourse to her toward the encounter with the Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
[Translation by Zenit and the Register]