October 2, 2020

Christ the Cornerstone

Mary is a model of both tenderness and courage

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“Mary first conceived Jesus in faith and then in the flesh, when she said ‘yes’ to the message God gave her through the angel. What does this mean? It means that God did not want to become man by bypassing our freedom; he wanted to pass through Mary’s free assent, through her ‘yes.’ He asked her: ‘Are you prepared to do this?’ And she replied: ‘Yes.’ ” (Pope Francis, Oct. 12, 2013).

During the month of October, we pay special attention to the role of Mary in the life of the Church and in our own lives. She is God’s mother and, by the grace of Christ, our mother, the Mother of the Church. We are invited to turn to her—especially in times of difficulty—for comfort, inspiration and hope.

Why is Mary such an important figure in the Church’s devotion and in Christian spirituality? There are many reasons, of course.

Mary alone among all the children of Adam and Eve was sinless, by the grace of God, and is therefore an example of how we should live. She always said “yes” to the Father’s will, and she was humble, obedient and faithful in doing what God asked her to do. Mary is the mother of Jesus, the Son of God and our Redeemer. She was the first Christian disciple, the first to carry his word and to follow him on the Way of the Cross.

Mary is a model of both tenderness and courage. She cares deeply for all of us, her children, and she encourages us to be strong in our faith regardless of the threats and temptations we face every day.

The images of Mary standing courageously at the foot of the cross, and then holding her dear Son tenderly in her arms following his bitter crucifixion, are imbedded in our minds and hearts. They speak far more eloquently than words, teaching us what it means to be women and men who wish to follow Jesus as his disciples.

Adoration, which is the fullest possible expression of love and reverence, is reserved for God alone. Christians do not adore Mary or the saints, but we do regard them with feelings of deep honor and respect. We venerate them as women and men who responded generously to the Lord’s invitation to take up their crosses and follow him.

Mary was the first to freely accept the burdens, and the rewards, of Christian discipleship. As a result, she occupies a unique place of honor among all the holy men and women who have given themselves fully to following in the footsteps of her Son.

As Pope Francis has observed, “When Mary says ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord’ [Lk 1:38] in response to the news that she will become the Mother of God, she doesn’t say: ‘this time I will do the will of God, I am available, then I’ll see.’ Hers is a full yes, without conditions.” Instead of imitating this attitude of Mary, the Holy Father says, “We are experts in the ‘half-yes:’ we are good at pretending not to understand what God wants and consciousness suggests.”

That’s why we turn to Mary—to help us overcome our fear, hesitation and reluctance. She emboldens us with her courage at the same time that she comforts us with her tenderness.

Pope Francis also points out that we can be “cunning” and avoid saying “a true and firm ‘no’ to God” by making excuses, such as “ ‘I can’t,’ ” or “ ‘not today, but tomorrow … tomorrow

I will be better, tomorrow I will pray, I will do good, tomorrow.’ ” However, by doing this “we close the door to good, and evil profits from these missing ‘yeses,’ ” the pope says, noting that each one of us has “a collection” of these missing yeses inside.

Each full and unreserved “yes” we say to God is the beginning of a new story, Pope Francis tells us. Saying yes to God is the witness given to us by the saints, especially Mary our mother and our guiding star. We venerate Mary because she points us toward Jesus and shows us the way to live as he asks.

We are blessed with many ways to express our love for Mary. The rosary is the most popular form of Marian devotion. When we pray the rosary, we have a special opportunity to meditate on the incidents in the life of Christ, the sacred mysteries of our redemption, even as we ask our Blessed Mother to intercede for us as we struggle to follow her Son as missionary disciples.

Let’s pray that Mary’s courage and her tenderness will inspire us as we seek to follow her Son. †

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