Thursday, February 10, 2011

"Do Whatever He Commands You...."

You might recognize the title of this post as being from John's Gospel, (John 2:5). It is something Jesus' mother, the Blessed Virgin, tells the servants during the wedding feast at Cana. I think it applies to anyone who calls themselves Christian.

We hear very little about Jesus' earthly parents in the Bible. Some believe Joseph, his stepfather was likely an old man who married his mother to give her a place. One tradition holds that Mary was likely a temple virgin, thus consecrated to God, her whole life. As for myself I tend to sort of mash both of these traditions into a single lump. It is my belief that Joseph took Mary in intending to live a chaste life with her; as she was a temple virgin and he was an old man. Regardless I think the life of the Blessed Virgin has much to teach us.

Mary was the world's first Christian. She believed in her Son, even before the world had beheld Him. But more than that, her existence does nothing but "magnify" him, as she says in the beautiful Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55).

Catholics are bound by the teachings of the Church to believe that Mary was conceived free of sin and remained in so pure a state throughout her whole life. I know a lot of people that hear that and it raises their hackles. A lot of people think it means that Mary is somehow equal with God or that she didn't need a Savior, but she even says her soul glories in God her Savior.

The ways I always try to explain this bit of Catholic dogma, are concerning Mary's role as the Ark of the New Covenant and the pit analogy.

The Bible can very easily be read with an eye toward types. Something in the Old Covenant routinely prefigures something in the New. The holiest thing in the Old Testament was the Ark of the Covenant. It housed the tablets on which God wrote the Commandments, the manna from the desert and the rod of Aaron. When God told Moses to build the Ark, he instructed him in complete detail as to every inch of its design. The Ark was to be made with pure acacia wood and pure gold. It was so pure and holy that God smote a man for touching it merely to keep it from falling off an ox cart (2 Samuel 6:6-7).

So if the Ark was that holy and it held stone tablets, a rod and a jar of manna, how much more holy the ark that carried the Incarnate Word. Mary was kept from sin by a special grace of God. Unmerited, undeserved grace. God in his ineffable plan, took the victory of the Cross from Calvary and extended it back in time by about 50 years and infused Mary's soul as one without sin. Catholic theology says that in essence God baptized Mary before he infused her soul; however Mary unlike the rest of us was so devoted to God that she was able to remain free from the stain of all sin.

The pit analogy would be that if someone is walking along in the woods they can be saved from a pit in two different ways. A person could fall into the pit and be pulled from it, thus being dirtied from the fall into the pit. Or the person can be told "hey there's a pit there don't go into it." That person wouldn't be stained from falling into the pit.

Mary shows up routinely in the Gospels at important moments. As I said in John's Gospel she is the one who kick-starts Jesus' ministry by having him turn water into wine. Notice what He calls her during this scene. "Woman" (John 2:4), He does it again in John's Gospel, it's hardly an accident. When Jesus is dying on the cross he turns to his mother once again and address her and "the beloved disciple" (John 19:26-27).

St. John is making a connection, from Genesis to Jesus. In Genesis Eve is called Woman. See Genesis 2:20 and compare it with Genesis 3:23. In Christ we have the new Adam, if we have a new Adam we must have a new Eve. Eve was created immaculately in the Garden from the old Adam. Mary was Immaculately Conceived to bear the new Adam in Bethlehem.

St. John again uses "Woman" to identify Mary in Revelation 12:1-6, compare that with Genesis 3:15. It's clear from the Johannine literature in the Bible that John views Mary as an integral part of salvation. He makes her the Ark of the New Covenant and the Woman against whom the Dragon wages war during the end times.

Which brings me back to my original point. Mary has an important part to play in our salvation and it is more than just bringing Christ to the world. All her efforts, all of her life continually point to her Son and are best summarized in the quote from the beginning of this post. If indeed we "Do whatever He commands of us we shall find our eternal salvation. If we say it's too hard, or not worth it, or we serve ourselves we can easily lose out on that salvation.

On a side note I find it interesting that two of the most famous and most venerated Marian apparitions highlight some of these things. When the Blessed Virgin appeared to St. Juan Diego, on a hill outside of Mexico City in 1531, she appeared as a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and crowned with stars.

Three Hundred years later, in 1858, she appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous outside of Lourdes, France. When the young peasant girl asked her who she was, she was told "I am the Immaculate Conception." Blessed Pope Pius IX had formally declared the Immaculate Conception as dogma, just four years before the apparition 1854. It was Pius IX who also declared the apparition at Lourdes to be authentic.

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