WelCom September 2020
Ko Maria, te Whāea o te Ora
Many feasts and memorials honouring Mary are celebrated in August, September and October: August 15, the feast of the Assumption, the national feast day of Aotearoa New Zealand; the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 22 August; the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 8 September; the Most Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary Memorial, 12 September; Our Lady of Sorrows Memorial, 15 September, Our Lady of the Rosary Memorial, 7 October.
Fr Neil Vaney sm reflects on Mary the Mother of Life – encompassing the Assumption and Mary and more in our lives.
Mary – Mother of Life
Around September and October, we celebrate many of the key feasts of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The feast of the Assumption, August 15, is the patronal feast-day of New Zealand. How appropriate that is in times when we struggle to contain the lethal onslaughts of Covid-19 all around us.
Many of the early Church writers made a comparison between two lives: the first Eve in the book of Genesis as the mother of death; and the second Eve – Mary – who brought back God’s own life into creation in her son Jesus; for this reason she is the Mother of Life.
Modern studies of the first creation story (Gen 1.1-2-4) stress how it is a tale of increasing complexity of relationships – from the physical world, to vegetation, to animals and finally humans. It is the complexity and reach of relationships that is the key to this ordering, all held together by the reality that woman and man are made in the image and likeness of God (1.27). Their relationship is shared not only with each other, but also with God who walks with them in the garden, and with rest of nature (cf Gen 2.12). When sin enters the scene it is not so much disobedience but more as a breaking of all these bonds of trust and companionship. It is alienation and suspicion and vulnerability.
“Mary has given us a wonderful example of how trust in Jesus has helped her entrance into a new life.”
Mary too Grew in Relationship
To understand the significance of Mary’s assumption we need to examine the relationships in her life. In accepting to become a virgin/mother she has to live with paradox (Lk 1.34-6) and complete trust in something inexplicable. This pushes her into a covenant of trust with her husband, Joseph, and a journey of exploration with Jesus. Like all human relationships their love has its times of tensions and stretching (Lk 2.18-20, 3.48, 8.19-21). Choosing to live at home, unmarried, and then to desert his mother (probably a widow) to set out on an unheralded mission seemed to stretch these bonds to the limit. Yet ultimately, she becomes his disciple and shares his deepest moments of pain and rejection under his cross (Jn 19.26-7).
At the moment of his death there begins a new relationship with Jesus. After awareness of his rising from death and subsequent being flooded with the experience of the inpouring of his Spirit (Acts 1.14, 2.1-4), she began a deep voyage into what she now perceives as being made in the image and likeness of God (a God who is three persons), something explored in John’s gospel (especially in Jn 14-16) and in the letters of Paul, for example Rom 8.10-27.
The Mysterious Inner Life of the Trinity
Mary began to comprehend at depth how God lives in abiding relationship, a perpetual dance of giving, receiving and melding, always new, embracing all creation at different levels of awareness. We have traditionally named these Divine Beings as Father, Son and Holy Spirit but there have been many attempts to comprehend this mystery. St Bonaventure used the image of Speaker, Word (what is spoken), and Spirit which unites both speaker and word.
In the longest and strongest marriages than I have known I have seen reflections of this in which giving and receiving merge into unity like the two faces of a coin, where the relationship itself grows into a palpable reality, different from the couple who entered it individually; in creating a new joint identity, each has become more distinctly who they are.
A long tradition tells us that Mary lived many years with the apostle John in Ephesus (now in modern Turkey). I believe that during this time she moved more and more deeply into the Trinitarian life that she found within her till finally there was no separation and she moved physically to be with her son by means of what the Eastern Church called her ‘dormition’, or falling asleep and waking in God’s presence.
Mary and the Fear of Death
All of us still have to pass through the portal of death to discover the fullness of our Godly relationship. Recent debate about euthanasia and the fears aroused by the Covid pandemic have made it clear what people fear most about death. It is not so much pain, nearly all of which can be controlled clinically. It is more the loss of links, of relationship, and of control of one’s own life into the hands of others. Mary has given us a wonderful example of how trust in Jesus has helped her entrance into a new life. Jesus accepted death so it is no longer a closed door. Mary has passed through that door without dying. We believe that the memory of her, perhaps even her presence, can help us to walk down that last corridor with peace and trust in the relationship of love that has shaped our life.