October 9, 2020

Christ the Cornerstone

Pray for the courage and fidelity to imitate Mary

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“While Jesus was speaking, a woman from the crowd called out and said to him, ‘Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed.’ He replied, ‘Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it’ ” (Lk 11:27-28)

Continuing our October reflections on the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Gospel reading for this Saturday’s Mass (Lk 11:27–28) reminds us that all of us, including Mary, are called to listen to the word of God and to incorporate it fully into our daily lives.

When a woman from the crowd shouts out “Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed” (Lk 11:27), Jesus appears to contradict her. “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it” (Lk 11:28).

St. Augustine, in his treatise, “On Holy Virginity,” made this startling, seemingly contradictory, statement: “Thus also her nearness as a mother would have been of no profit to Mary, had she not borne Christ in her heart after a more blessed manner than in her flesh.” This is not a diminution of Mary’s singular role as the Mother of God. It is an affirmation of her openness to God’s will—no matter what it cost her. It also calls attention to the witness Mary gave to the true meaning of Christian discipleship.

What Mary did so perfectly when she opened her heart to God’s messenger, and said “yes” to the divine call to sacrificial love, is what each of us is invited to do in our life’s journey. That’s why Jesus emphasizes the blessings that come from fidelity to God’s word. Mary was blessed because of her generous response to the will of God, not simply because she gave birth to God’s Son.

What the woman in the crowd exclaimed is no different from Elizabeth’s greeting to her young cousin, which we repeat each time we pray the Hail Mary: “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Lk 1:42).

There is a singular honor in Mary’s being chosen to be the Theotókos (Mother of God), but there is an even greater honor in her free decision to “hear the word of God and observe it.”

Pope St. John Paul II, in “Redemptoris Mater” (1987), wrote that “in her new motherhood in the Spirit, Mary embraces each and every one in the Church, and embraces each and every one through the Church” (#47). “In the expression ‘Blessed are you who believed,’ we can therefore rightly find a kind of ‘key’ which unlocks for us the innermost reality of Mary, whom the angel hailed as ‘full of grace.’ If as ‘full of grace’ she has been eternally present in the mystery of Christ, through faith she became a sharer in that mystery in every extension of her earthly journey” (#19).

In Mary, there is no difference between her role as the Mother of God and her responsibilities as the first Christian disciple. She is blessed (full of grace) both because of who she is and because of what she does.

This kind of absolute consistency is impossible for us. We are sinners, and we always fall short in our efforts to hear God’s word and then do it. That’s why we look to Mary and all the saints as examples.

It’s also why it’s so important for us to encounter Jesus in prayer, in the sacraments (especially the Eucharist) and in service to those in need. As Jesus tells us clearly in Saturday’s Gospel reading, we’re blessed when we respond to God’s call the way Mary did—freely and without hesitation.

To be successful as missionary disciples of Jesus Christ, we must be attentive to God’s will for us. That means tuning out all the distractions that prevent us from hearing God’s word. We also must be willing to sacrifice our own comfort and to do things that would be impossible for us without the help of God’s grace. Fortunately, we can always turn to Mary, our mother, for inspiration and assistance. With the help of her intercession, doors that would otherwise be closed and locked are miraculously opened for us. As long as we follow her instructions to the servants at the wedding feast in Cana—to do whatever Jesus tells us—nothing is impossible for us.

As St. Augustine would remind us, nearness to God profits us nothing unless we also bear Christ in our hearts and express his self-sacrificing love in our actions. Let’s pray for the courage and fidelity to imitate Mary. Let’s be attentive to God’s word, and let’s strive to observe it in everything we say and do. †

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