Today, Aug. 15, is recognized in many traditions as the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Mary, the Theotokos.
As I prepare for this day — one of the most important days of the Church Calendar for those who use Marian devotion as a path to closer relationship with Christ — it is natural to start at the Annunciation.
The one verse I think most beautifully captures the strength, faith, courage and importance of Mary is Luke 1:38 — “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.” Mary’s perfect surrender to the will of God is a constant source of inspiration to me.
Then, turn to The Magnificat, in Luke 1:46-55, in which we hear those sweet words: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”
Mary’s Song of Praise, coming at The Visitation with her cousin Elizabeth, is as instructive as it is beautiful. It teaches us to pray with humility, a willingness to surrender and serve, to accept grace and trust in the strength of God. You can never go wrong reflecting on The Magnificat.
But, if we want the culmination of Mary’s teaching, and of our lasting relationship with her, and with Christ through her, I’d turn to the Passion narrative in John 19:16–37.
What stands out to me in preparation for this feast day is the imagery of Mary, standing with John, watching her Son suffer and die on the cross. Imagine the pain, the spiritual martyrdom, suffered that day as Mary stood by her son, even as most his disciples fled.
Stand with her there. See the cross stand out against the sky. Watch his blood drip onto the rocky soil. Hear, see and feel the pain. The anguish. His. His Mother’s. The disciple he loved. Stand with them, in the midst of that suffering.
If all the sorrow of the world were distilled into one scene, for me, it would be this one. Mary took on this suffering, for the will of God, for the Love of her Son, for us and our salvation. And Jesus, seeing his mother and John standing nearby, gives us the last teaching of his pre-Resurrection ministry: “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.”
Moments from his death, Jesus gives us his last teaching from the cross. He calls to us from the cross: Behold, your Mother!
When we experience suffering, when the pain is too great, Christ calls to us from the cross: Behold, your Mother! Mary is there for us. She stands there with us, to suffer with us, to guide us to her Son, to take on the role of our Heavenly Mother when we need her (which is, if we’re open and honest, I think, always).
We all suffer sorrows, great and small. Sometimes, bearing witness at the cross will heighten our worldly sorrows. The cross is, in truth, a hard and painful walk. But, if we’re willing to open our hearts to her, if we’re willing to stand with St. John and be such a disciple to others who suffer, the Blessed Virgin Mary will never leave us. Her love is as perfect as her Immaculate Heart, and that heart bleeds for us all.
Let us pray.
O God, you have taken to yourself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of your incarnate Son: Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of your eternal kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.