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 Mary, Role and Leadership

by the Rev. Mark Connolly

Recently I received e-mail from a reader wondering why more sermons are not given concerning the role of Mary, the mother of Christ. Her comment was that Mary, the mother of Christ, should not just be preached about or talked about only during the month of May. And I think this person was right.

There is no more important woman in the history of the Catholic Church than Mary, the mother of Christ. To be singled out with the responsibility of bringing Christ into the world, to have the role of raising him, educating him, making his life as peaceful and as meaningful as possible, this was an overwhelming responsibility. And while she was keeping many things in her heart about him, she had a sense of the dreadful ordeal that he was to be subjected to. Imagine any mother realizing that her son would go through an agony, a scourging, a crowning, a crucifixion. This is exactly what Mary was subjected to. She witnessed the tragic ordeal of her son, who was totally innocent, nailed on a cross between two guilty thieves. After the death of her son, she was a widow at the time, God singled her out to be the mother of the Church.

If you go back to the early period of the Church when there was chaos in the ranks after the death of Christ, there was one person responsible for keeping the twelve apostles together and that was Mary, the mother of Christ. She guided the twelve apostles with the same inspiration and leadership that she used with her son. Mary, who gave birth to her son, gave birth to the Church. When you think of Mary's role, when you think of the role of the Holy Spirit, you soon get an idea of the importance of Mary in the life of Christ and the life of the Church.

For the first thirteen centuries of the Church, the influence of Mary in art, in architecture, in books, has been obvious. The great cathedrals in Europe, such as Notre Dame in Paris, the great works of art by Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci, the great writings by St. Thomas on the role of Mary, all of these stem from the inspiration and leadership that came from the mother of the Church.

It is so incredible today to think that no other woman has ever dominated the scene of history as much as Mary, the mother of Christ. Many non-Catholics that I personally know are fascinated by the role that Mary has played in the history of the Church and the life of the American Catholic. When you explain to them the role that Mary had in the birth of Christ, it does fascinate many of our non-Catholic friends.

Mary, the mother of Christ, has been for centuries a role model for millions of Catholics. All of us know the Hail Mary we said were prayers asking for a favor to be granted or some privilege or benefit given to us. The rosaries said in the past at home or at Church were said generally not just for devotional reasons, but as prayers for our families, for someone who was sick, for someone out of a job, for someone in need. Mary inspired faith and hope and trust. Catholics for centuries

considered Mary as their friend and one whom they could turn to when life was getting them down. St. Bernard once said about her, she not only anticipates our petitions, she is always waiting to respond to our needs.

Another facet of the life of Mary is the influence she has had on the American Catholic. It is quite amazing to think when the immigrants; the Irish, the Polish, the Italians and the Slavic people; came to this country they brought their own devotional practices to honor the mother of Christ. The religious festival, the May Crownings, the religious processions, were their way of carrying on their devotions.

There is one other, among many qualities, that is basically attributable to Mary, the mother of Christ. From the time when the Baltimore Catechism was introduced to the American Catholic, the norms of the standards of purity and modesty were for the most derived from the life and role that Mary played in religious formation of the American Catholic. There was in the early ages of our country a closeness, an identity, a sense of intimacy with Mary, the mother of Christ. She, in her lifetime, exemplified purity and modesty. She inspired it by her lifestyle and from the memory of Mary came, for the American Catholic, the ideas, the reasons for purity and modesty. Mary inspired reverence for her body and she inspired others to reverence their body in the same way.

I remember many years ago going to the Karl Jung Clinic in Zurich, Switzerland. Jung's daughter, Frau Bauman, was one of the lecturers. She took a group of us into her father's library and showed us almost every document you could get from the Vatican that pertained to Mary, the mother of Christ. Jung was not a Catholic, but he believe that Mary, the mother of Christ, took a lot of the barbarisms out of Christianity. Jung maintains that she taught reverence for the sacredness of each one's body. I have often wondered, since hearing that lecture about Mary and her sense of the sacred especially the body, if our culture had that sense of reverence taught by Mary would we have as many wife abuse or child abuse cases as we have today.

No reputable historian or sociologist can deny the role Mary has played in the formation of the Church in the past. Mary still has the same power, the same influence with her Son, to play another important role in the growth of the American Church and the Church worldwide. She has been a source of leadership and inspiration in the early Church. She can supply both qualities today. St. Bernard summed it up when he said, she who anticipates our petitions will certainly answer our requests.

Our devotion to Mary has to be reactivated. It will help the Church. It will help all of us.

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