Mary: Icon of faith

Cunningham formal robes

Cunningham formal robes

In his first encyclical, Lumen Fidei, Pope Francis calls our Blessed Mother the “perfect icon of faith” (Lumen Fidei, 58). In describing Mary as an icon, our Holy Father is telling us that she is a symbol of our faith. In her we see a faith-filled woman who cooperated with God’s grace and is praised as the one who is blessed because she believed (Cf. Lk 1:45). During this Year of Faith, when we are making a concerted effort to know, live and share our faith, we can see in Mary what faith entails and discover the path to discipleship.

   Mary listened. “Faith is linked to hearing” (Lumen Fidei, 8). Mary listened to Gabriel and accepted his message even though she did not understand how it could be fulfilled. She listened to her Son when He announced that he had to “be about his Father’s business” although she could not grasp what “doing the Father’s business” would entail. She listened to the shepherds who related the angels’ message that her child was the savior. Mary listened to Simeon’s words identifying her son as a sign of contradiction and predicting her maternal suffering. She listened to Anna’s words of gratitude in the temple at seeing the child. I imagine she listened to Joseph when he told her they needed to flee to Egypt, and then some time later when he told her it was time to return to their homeland. And during Jesus’ public life, I picture Mary listening to the disciples and the crowds as they talked about her Son’s teachings and deeds. She heard words of acclamation and praise, challenge and disbelief. She heard words of derision and scorn.

   And how did Mary respond to what she heard? “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). Mary accepted the word she could not understand. She had to deal with obscurity and with the unsearchable and inscrutable ways of God (Cf. Rm. 11:33). But with full trust she relies on the word that the messenger of God announces to her and becomes the model and mother of all believers.

   Mary listens to all the words she hears about her Son. On two occasions, St. Luke tells us that Mary listened to the word, held it in her heart and reflected on it. Mary took all the events that were happening and held them in her heart. “She placed each single element, each word, each fact within the whole and compared it, cherished it, recognizing that everything comes from the will of God” (Pope Benedict, General Audience, December 19, 2012). Over time the word of God, like a seed, matured in Mary.

   It is no different for us. Like Mary we experience joyful moments of encounter with God, but we also meet moments in which God seems absent and His will does not correspond to ours, to what we would like. If, like Mary, we can listen to the word of God, hold it in our hearts and reflect on it, our faith will mature. It will grow in the good soil of a heart that is open and receptive.

   The Wedding Feast of Cana, at which Mary plays a prominent role, is more than an account of a joyful occasion and a miracle that saved the host of the feast from embarrassment. It is a description about how one becomes a disciple. It is Mary who points the way: “Do whatever he tells you.” Mary’s expectation is that Jesus will address the dilemma of “no wine” and that the host should listen to Jesus. But more than listening to Him is required. The stewards must “do” what Jesus tells them to do.

   The way of faith and discipleship is twofold. Listen to Jesus and do whatever he tells you. In an age where there is so much communication, so many words and voices that vie for our attention, we are inclined to let words enter “one ear and go out the other.” And yet the circle of Jesus’ friends, “his mother and his brothers,” are those who do the will of the father (Cf. Mk 3:34). Faith requires an active listening. We hear and we do. Faith must be lived and shared.

   From the cross, Jesus gave his mother to us. She is the Mother of the Church and the Mother of our faith. We can turn to her in prayer and ask her intercession. Allow me to quote the words with which Pope Francis concludes Lumen Fidei, The Light of Faith:

   Mother, help our faith!
   Open our ears to hear God’s word and to recognize His voice and call.
   Awaken in us a desire to follow in His footsteps, to go forth from our own land and to receive his promise.
   Help us to be touched by His love, that we may touch Him in faith.
   Help us to entrust ourselves fully to him and to believe in His love, especially at times of trial, beneath the shadow of the cross, when our faith is called to mature.
   Sow in our faith the joy of the Risen One.
   Remind us that those who believe are never alone.
   Teach us to see all things with the eyes of Jesus, that he may be light for our path.
   And may this light of faith always increase in us, until the dawn of that undying day which is Christ himself. Your Son. Our Lord.

   If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.


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