Saturday, May 16, 2020

MARY, OUR MOTHER AND OUR FREEDOM by FATHER EDWARD BLANCHETT

Opening Prayer: 

O Mary, You shine continuously on our journey as a sign of hope. We entrust ourselves to you, Health of the Sick, who, at the foot of the cross, were united with Jesus’ suffering, and persevered in your faith. 

Help us, Mother of Divine Love, to conform ourselves to the will of the Father and as at Cana in Galilee, to do what Jesus tells us. For he took upon himself our suffering, and burdened himself with our sorrows to bring us, through the cross, to the joy of the Resurrection. 

We fly to your protection, O Holy Mother of God; Do not despise our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from every danger, O Glorious and Blessed Virgin, through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 

May has historically been known as “the month of Mary”. We pay special devotions to her: we begin the month with a crowning of her image, there is special emphasis on the Marian devotion of the Rosary, there are litanies offered on her behalf, many times we end the month with – a personal favorite of mine – the feast of the Visitation. The question to ask is: Why? Why is May the month of Mary? 

According to many sources, one reason was because in ancient Greece (remember that the Church went to Greece in its earliest apostolic missions) May was the month dedicated to the Greek god Artemis (or Diana in Roman mythology), the goddess of fertility. Rededicating the month to the Mother of God was a way the early Christians looked to "baptize" pagan culture. But there can be so much more to it, and particularly to us during this time of the coronavirus pandemic, a time that is seen as a restriction to many of our freedoms in this “sheltered in place” environment; even as we slowly begin to open our churches (during the Memorial of the Apparition of Our Lady at Fatima, which was a very interesting coincidence), you won’t be able to even  step into a church building without following a lot of rules that could be seen as obstacles to your freedom. The reason I called this an “interesting coincidence” is because there is a close relationship to the view of freedom and our devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

So, to answer my first question “Why is Mary the Month of Mary”, I’m going to start with another question: What is Freedom? – there’s society’s definition, of which I looked up in the dictionary so that there’s no mistake: 


Freedom is the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint. 

Did you hear that? It said, essentially, the ability to do what we want. Is that really what freedom is? I’d like to propose another definition of freedom: 

Freedom is choosing to align our will to the divine will; it is the act of choosing the Good. 

While this may not seem to agree at all with society’s definition, it is actually the one that makes us truly free. Restrictions due to COVID-19 – restrictions to our freedoms: Stay at home orders; social distancing; face masks required; restriction of access to the sacraments. Isn’t it amazing: a virus - something so small that it can’t be seen without a powerful electron microscope - has shackled our freedom! 

But, even with the temporary suspension of public worship and access to the sacraments, has it restricted our freedom in the true Christian sense? What is authentic freedom? It is not the sum result of the number of possible choices we have. So, as a result, how could we now potentially become be more free than ever? 

Here’s what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say on freedom (paragraphs 1731 and 1733):

Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one's own responsibility. By free will one shapes one's own life. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude. The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to "the slavery of sin." (1731,1733). 

Freedom is closely bound to truth; if we choose to look at freedom just on its own, to gauge it as the number of choices that we have (which in logic is called a self-referential fallacy: using one or more of the conditions of a concept as the proof of itself), we actually commit the sin of idolatry. We may actually idolize freedom as a good in itself. 

We can be more free if we’re living as children of God and not slaves to sin – authentic freedom. 

Freedom is the ability to exercise the Good in our lives, not to have an overabundance of choices. And it is only in Christ that we can find our fulfillment, giving us the freedom of the children of God. Giving ourselves for Love’s sake. If we look upon freedom in these terms, we may find that the restrictions in life - even and maybe even especially in these times when choices have become more restricted - can actually become a way to discover how to be free, giving up our individual wills so that in fact we can find ourselves, we are giving the room and the time to make the right choices – in service to God, to others, to self in that order – so that we can draw closer to the truth, which sets us free. 

Here’s where we can turn to Mary as the perfect example in that exercise of true freedom. We often call Mary our Mother – What does this mean in the life of anyone who is a parent? What does it mean for us in “parental” role (whether they are “parents” in actual or figurative terms)? 

Mary, our Mother, the Mother of the Church, gives us a wonderful roadmap on what it means to have true freedom. Let’s listen to the first instance in scriptures where we hear about this freedom:  

"In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.” Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her."

In the worldly view, Mary’s situation and freedom can almost seem to be a paradox. In first Century Palestine, women – and particularly young women – were far from free. As children, they were considered the lowest rung of society (in fact, they were seen as “owned” by their parents). Although men tended to throw off this yoke as they grew into adulthood, that wasn’t available to women: they went from being “owned” by their parents to becoming the property of the husband. And this was certainly Mary’s situation in Jewish society. If you’ve ever read the second Century work The Protoevangelium of James (considered apocryphal and not part of divinely inspired Scripture, but it’s nonetheless a beautiful work and I would highly recommend it!), you would read a lot about the life of Mary. Very likely much older than her, Joseph was arranged to marry the young woman (probably little more than a teenager) so that she could continue to be a consecrated virgin in service to the Temple of Jerusalem. She already had very few freedoms, so now let’s look at the Gospel reading we just heard: the Annunciation of Gabriel to Mary. By saying “Yes”, she was putting herself at great risk: if convicted of adultery (being betrothed to Joseph was pretty much the same as already being married), she risked being stoned to death. If Joseph had gone through with his idea – putting her away quietly – although it would have saved her life, her pregnancy would have condemned her to a type of separation from society with little hope of actually finding happiness. Of course, this isn’t even touching on the consequences of making this choice that faces any potential parent: the loss of freedom in order to give to meet the child’s needs. By any worldly view, Mary’s choice was one that would be far from making a freedom of choice. But, in fact, she made that choice using freedom in the way that all of us are called to do. The choice that our Blessed Mother made: in service to God, made in freedom despite any questions, fears or doubts. The choice that she made, choosing to subordinate the good of her will, was done for a greater good, even at great personal cost to herself. She truly aligned her intellect and her will towards the divine will and, as a result, played an essential part in the redemption of the human race. Throughout her life, and especially at the Annunciation, Mary’s focus wasn’t on her own emotional fulfilment. Quite the opposite, the Blessed Virgin lived her life on the opposite principle: accepting the role God set out for her. This is what made her free in the truest sense of the world and it’s what continued to guide her through the most difficult times of her life as the Savior’s mother. 

When these restrictions are finally over, as our “freedom” is being reinstated, we’re being given a very unique opportunity to decide how will we choose to exercise that freedom: as the license to do everything we had done before (beneficial and otherwise) or as a means to discover what true freedom means: to us and in our relationships to others and to God?  

I’d like to conclude by citing what Pope St. John Paul, who had dedicated his papacy to service in the manner of our Blessed Mother with his motto Totus Tuus “All Yours: I am totally yours, and all that I have is yours”, says about Mary in his closing paragraph, 120, of the encyclical Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth) – Mary in the true exercise of freedom. 

Mary is Mother of Mercy because it is to her that Jesus entrusts his Church and all humanity...Mary is the radiant sign and inviting model of the moral life. As Saint Ambrose put it, "The life of this one person can serve as a model for everyone"...Mary lived and exercised her freedom precisely by giving herself to God and accepting God's gift within herself. Until the time of his birth, she sheltered in her womb the Son of God who became man; she raised him and enabled him to grow, and she accompanied him in that supreme act of freedom which is the complete sacrifice of his own life. By the gift of herself, Mary entered fully into the plan of God who gives himself to the world. By accepting and pondering in her heart events which she did not always understand (cf. Lk 2:19), she became the model of all those who hear the word of God and keep it (cf. Lk 11:28), and merited the title of "Seat of Wisdom". This Wisdom is Jesus Christ himself, the Eternal Word of God, who perfectly reveals and accomplishes the will of the Father (cf.Heb 10:5-10). Mary invites everyone to accept this Wisdom. To us too she addresses the command she gave to the servants at Cana in Galilee during the marriage feast: "Do whatever he tells you" 

O Mary, Mother of Mercy, watch over all people, that the Cross of Christ may not be emptied of its power, that man may not stray from the path of the good or become blind to sin, but may put his hope ever more fully in God who is "rich in mercy" (Eph 2:4). May he carry out the good works prepared by God beforehand (cf. Eph 2:10) and so live completely "for the praise of his glory" (Eph 1:12). Amen. ¡De Colores!