Considering the relatively limited role and space ascribed to Mary in the gospels, it is remarkable that her enduring status is just short of divine. What is it about her that evokes such warmth and devotion in the hearts of Catholics throughout the world?
Mary is described by various titles in her Litany such as Seat of Wisdom, Most Holy, Queen of Angels, and … Mother of God. The title of Mother of God is laden with appealing images. There is a profound and universal reverence given a woman once she becomes a mother. It is as if she were entrusted with a mystery and a mission surrounding the life that she bore. The effect of Mary's life goes beyond being the mother of Jesus yet is inextricably tied to it. Mary is the ideal human being. But her perfection is not off- putting and the ideals she exemplifies seem not unattainable. As the Mother of God, she is also the Mother of the Church and, thereby, a source of encouragement and comfort to all who pray to her. She becomes, as a mother often does, a Seat of Wisdom.
Every human being journeys through life equipped with certain gifts, talents, and beneficial proclivities as well as with limitations, deficiencies, and burdensome flaws. One may exercise considerable control over much of one's life, but just as often be at the mercy of life's vagaries. Mary offered her life to the overshadowing power of God; had her mettle tested by what God asked of her; and was steadfast in faith before all of the tragedies and triumphs of her life. One facet of her exceeding attractiveness to believers over the centuries is how her humble and gentle nature prevailed over all she had to endure. The faithful can turn to her as a human being who knew the wonder, bewilderment, frustration, horror, and the glory of life. Perhaps, this is an essential insight. She knew! One can bring one's experiences before her because she knows them. A person can bear his or her heart only before one who knows, cares, and wishes to escort that heart to a higher, a wiser, and a more tranquil plane. Mary reassures one of the value of the sacrifices made for good and God. She spurs the person on to share the victory she has won. The eloquence of the late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen illuminates this thought: "When sin corrodes your soul and rusts your heart and you are weary without God, then have recourse to Mary the Refuge of Sinners, for she, the sinless one, knows what sin is - she, too, lost her God." Mary understands.
In the experience of most, especially those growing up before the current fashion of the two income family, the figure of mother was synonymous with that of home. And the figure of home conveys feelings of identity, belonging, non-affectation, and warmth. Add to these the symbol of Church. The church is a community and a place containing all the notions of love and of feeling centered; a place where mom and dad, brother and sister belonged together; an experience with a connection to eternity that touches each member equally. Of all who shared human nature, Mary has a unique identity with Church and a particular relationship with all of its members. Mary is the paradigm, the boast of humanity, the heroic figure who accepted the greatest role of any individual in the history of humankind. Yet, she shares with the faithful an intimacy that only the believer can understand. There is in Mary an accessibility to an inhabitant of heaven with whom one may feel at home, with whom one may comfortably share their deepest joys, fears, and hopes.
The title of this article expresses a not-too-subtle reference to The Lord's Prayer. Let it's conclusion note aptly the Hail Mary. What Mary means to Catholics is so beautifully defined by this prayer. It was the recitation of this prayer in the context of the Rosary that manifested the love of a family for their dying mother. Surrounded by her children and grandchildren praying the Rosary for her, this devout woman and friend departed this world and their care, I would prefer to think, to the waiting arms of that woman full of grace to whom the prayer was addressed and to whom the request of the prayer was made that she would pray for us now and at the hour of our death.
Why do Catholics revere Mary? It has much to do with her victory over all that life would do to her and with the nature of a mother's love. As the Mother of the Church, the Blessed Virgin Mary cares for all of her children.
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