Why bother with Mary?
This is a question I’ve had to ask myself again and again. Why bother praying the Rosary? Why bother asking for Mary’s intercession? Why bother consciously cultivating a devotion to Mary, the Mother of God?
For some, that will seem like the most obvious answer in the world. Um, because she’s Jesus’ mother! But others of us might be thinking… so? I already have Jesus and I love Him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength (or at least, I want to). Why do I need Mary?
I think it’s because Mary offers us an image of what it means to be Christian that we can’t get anywhere else. I’m sure you’re heard of WWJD but if that is the extent of our discipleship – asking what Jesus would do – we are sorely missing out. I think because Jesus is Christ, He can’t really show us how to be Christians as such. As Christians, we don’t just want to be like Christ, we need to know how to treat Christ.
That’s where Mary comes in. She is the first Christian. She is the only one who is there at Incarnation and at the Crucifixion. No one had a deeper or more intimate relationship with our Lord than His Mother. In her words and her actions, we can see that her whole life is centred on Christ. By meditating on her life, and deliberately cultivating a love for her, we become more like her. This is a principle we see over and over again: we become what we love.
In this sense, Mary is the model of discipleship. After all, if the Church is the Bride of Christ, and indeed all Christians are feminine in relation to the Lord Jesus, then it only makes sense that our chief model of discipleship is a woman – the Woman, the New Eve who believed the Word of God and is blessed by all generations. We often think of discipleship as a very active thing. What are you doing for God? How are you spreading the gospel? Catholic Tradition would call this the “Petrine” dimension of the Church, after St Peter and the other Apostles. It is good and valuable but a Marian spirituality reminds us that the most important thing is our interior relation to God, not how much activity we are doing.
In thinking on and loving Mary, I want to become more like the Very First Christian – the one who said YES! to the Holy Spirit, who praised God for her blessing, and who treasured up the Gospel in her heart, trusting God even when she didn’t understand. The one whose life was utterly centred on Christ and totally surrendered to the love and will of God.
Mary, I think, is a great teacher precisely because she is the model of discipleship. (Discipleship comes from the Latin word for teaching.) In John’s Gospel, Mary facilitates (or “mediates”) Christ’s first miracle of turning water into wine. What does she say? “Do whatever he tells you.” (Jn 2:5) If every Christian teacher took those words to heart, can you imagine the fruit we would see? “Do whatever he tells you.”
Mary’s discipleship leads, as all discipleship should, to the foot of the Cross. With St John and the other women, she stood below the Cross and watched her Son and her Lord lay down His life. Can you even imagine her anguish? I can see the pain on my own mum’s face when I’m having a bad day. But this? This cruel, unjust and shameful execution? Lord, break my heart with sorrow for my sins and my hard-heartedness like Mary’s was breaking that Friday.
But at the same time, she stayed. We don’t know how much she understood… but she stayed. She didn’t leave her Son – not now, not ever. Mothers are stubborn like that. They will do anything, endure anything, for their kids. Lord, give me that same sort of trust and strength in my sufferings, never to leave you who are my Lord and my God.
There is so much I can learn from Mary what it means to be a Christian, a follower and disciple of Christ. A Marian spirituality is a spirituality that loves and imitates the Blessed Mother. And like her, it is characterised by humility and holiness, an openness to the Word and grow in understanding, a readiness to suffer, and above all, a life oriented toward to Christ and teaching ourselves and others, “Do whatever He tells you.”