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More Remarks About Mary: Catechesis

mary.mother.of.jesus.01

Archdiocesan Catechetical Standards on Mary

The current catechetical standards for grades K through 8 regarding Mary used by the Archdiocese of Washington attempt to build a comprehensive vision of the Blessed Mother, not all at one time, but each year building upon the next. We must hope that there is suitable retention and that Mary has a perpetual devotional place in the home. One of my persistent concerns is that too many adults rely exclusively upon a catechesis geared to children. The standards are a good starting place, but I would urge Confirmed Catholics to continue in a study of their faith and in service to God. Here are the standards:

K.01.04 – State that Jesus is the Son of God and Son of Mary. [CCC 441-445, 495; Compendium 95; USCCA 85-86].

K.02.03 – State how Jesus grew up in a family and was obedient to his mother, Mary and foster father, Joseph. [CCC 437, 532-534, 564, 583, 1655; Compendium 104; USCCA 86, 385].

K.07.07 – Recall that we ask the Blessed Mother Mary and the saints to pray to Jesus for us. [USCCA 472].

1.01.10 – Identify Mary as the Mother of Jesus the Son of God. [CCC 467; Compendium 88; USCCA 144-145].

1.02.03 – Identify the Angel Gabriel as the messenger who told Mary that she would be the Mother of Jesus Christ the Son of God at the Annunciation. [CCC 484-486; 493-494; Compendium 94-97; USCCA 37-48].

1.02.05 – Identify the Holy Spirit of God at work in the lives of Mary and Elizabeth. [CCC 721-726, 744; Compendium 142; USCCA 470-471].

1.04.02 – Identify objects in the Church: … statues of saints, image of Mary… etc. [CCC 1182, 1186, 1674; Compendium 246, 353; USCCA 246].

1.07.04 – Memorize and recite the Sign of the Cross, the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary and the Glory Be. [Compendium 181; USCCA 184, 532].

1.10.02 – Give examples of how parents are role models in a Christian family to be loved and obeyed like Jesus obeyed Mary and Joseph (Luke 2:51). [CCC 2221-2233; Compendium 458-462; USCCA 377].

2.01.04 – State that Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary. [CCC 487-507; Compendium 95; USCCA 469].

2.01.11 – Name Mary as Jesus’ mother, the Mother of God. [CCC 495, 509; Compendium 95; USCCA 520].

2.01.12 – Describe Mary as the Mother of the Church. [CCC 963-970; Compendium 196-197; USCCA 146, 148, 152].

2.04.18 – Identifies seasons of the Church year as celebrations in the life of Jesus, Mary and the saints. [CCC 1168-1173, 1195; Compendium 242; USCCA 173].

2.07.06 – Recite the Hail Mary to praise God and to ask for Mary’s intercession. [CCC 2676; Compendium P. 181/562-563; USCCA 532].

4.06.11 – Understand that Mary and the saints offer us examples of good Christian lives. [CCC 956, 957; Compendium 194, 197; USCCA 173].

4.07.02 – Pray the Rosary as a special prayer that helps us imitate the lives of Jesus and Mary. [CCC 971; Compendium 198; USCCA 298-300].

4.07.03 – Describe the Rosary as a way we come to understand Jesus through the eyes and “school” of Mary. [CCC 971; Compendium 198; USCCA 298-300].

4.07.04 – Recognize that the mysteries of the Rosary are meditations on different events in the lives of Christ and his Blessed Mother. [CCC 971, 2708; Compendium (see The Rosary, p. 189); USCCA 298-299].

5.01.06 – Recognize Mary as the Immaculate Conception. [CCC 490-493; Compendium 96; USCCA 143-146].

5.01.07 – Define the Immaculate Conception that from the first moment of her conception, Mary – by the singular grace of God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ – was preserved immune from original sin. [CCC 490-493; Compendium 96; USCCA 143-146].

6.01.10 – Describe Mary as the Mother of God and the Mother of Jesus because Jesus is both true God and true man. [CCC 466-467, 495; Compendium 88, 95; USCCA 82; Mother of God 521].

6.01.12 – Show belief that Mary was a virgin before and after the birth of Jesus Christ. [CCC 496-499; Compendium 98-99; USCCA 144, 148].

6.07.10 – Recognize the humility and faith of Mary as our model for prayer. [CCC 967-973, 2673-2679, 2682; Compendium 562-563; USCCA 173].

6.07.11 – Identify and list the four types of mysteries of the Rosary (Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful and Glorious). [CCC 1674, 2678, 2708].

7.01.19 – Describe how the Holy Spirit worked through Mary to prepare the way for the Incarnation. [CCC 488-489; Compendium 94-97; USCCA 143-147].

7.02.22 – Describe the major themes of the Gospel of Luke… (Mary as the first disciple.)

7.07.08 – Illustrate how the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary come from Sacred Scripture. [CCC 2673-2679, 2682, 2803-2865; Compendium 562-563, 580-581; USCCA 470-471, 483-490].

7.08.06 – Recognize that the Church names Mary as Mother of the Church. [CCC 963-964, 973; Compendium 196; USCCA 146, 148].

8.01.16 – Recognize that Mary collaborated with the whole redemptive work of her Son. [CCC 493-4, 508-511; Compendium 97; USCCA 143-147].

One could also readily read her importance in the generic standards about original sin, grace, the incarnation, faith, prayer, the intercession of the saints, the destiny of the Church, etc.

Lumen Gentium: Mary’s Titles

62. This maternity of Mary in the order of grace began with the consent which she gave in faith at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, and lasts until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this salvific duty, but by her constant intercession continued to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. By her maternal charity, she cares for the brethren of her Son, who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and cultics, until they are led into the happiness of their true home. Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked by the Church under the titles of Advocate, Auxiliatrix, Adjutrix, and Mediatrix. This, however, is to be so understood that it neither takes away from nor adds anything to the dignity and efficaciousness of Christ the one Mediator.

Mary & the New Evangelization

mary.mother.of.jesus.01Jesus came to us through Mary. Similarly, he desires for us to come to him through Mary. She is indeed a special Channel of Grace for encountering our Lord. I think here of the thousands or millions of rosaries said and the accompanying meditations upon the saving acts of Christ. There are the countless churches and shrines dedicated to her for the honor of God. Fascinating both believers and non-believers are the miraculous stories, healings and apparitions.

Who does not know about Lourdes, Fátima, Guadalupe and many other sites of pilgrimage? But Mary is always about making disciples for her Son. All prayer has God as its proper object. Masses are offered in her churches, re-presenting the sacrifice of her Son on Calvary. Mary draws us to the altar of her Son. Mary urges us to receive the absolution of Christ in the ministry of priests, all so that we might know something of the grace which defines her.

During my reflections I have thought that we might compare Jesus and Mary to the sun and moon. Jesus is the Light of the World which dispels the darkness of sin and death. The sun shines with its own light and there is nothing to compare to it in the sky. However, the moon rules the night despite having no light of its own. The lunar illumination is entirely reflective of the sun’s rays. Like the moon, everything Mary has and offers comes first from her Son. She models to us how we can also allow the light of God to shine upon others in our lives.

The eternal plan of God comes to fulfillment in Mary. “…when the completion of time came, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born a subject of the law, to redeem the subjects of the law, so that we could receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). Faith and baptism make us adoptive sons and daughters to the Father, brothers and sisters to our elder brother Jesus,and children of the Queen Mother, Mary. We are made members of a royal household, the family of God.

Jesus has now taken his place on his throne at the right hand of the Father. However, as the incarnate Divine Wisdom, his earthly chair was literally the Virgin Mary. She held the Christ in her arms and rested him in her lap; yes, she was truly the Seat of Wisdom. Usually mothers would teach their children about God and lead them in prayer while so holding them; but Mary held the God-Man, himself, the one who is the proper object of prayer. He was like us in all things, i.e. the things that mattered which needed to be redeemed. He had genuine experiential knowledge. But he always knew who he was and why he had entered the world. Jesus was also the eternal Word. Words are communicated by speech and writing. The utterance of God’s voice had brought forth creation and the fashioning of men into the image of God. The writing of God’s living Word upon the flesh of Mary would make possible our re-creation and the restoration of men by grace to the likeness of God. I use here the terms “image” and “likeness,” not interchangeably, but rather, to give heightened emphasis to the latter. Image signifies our natural kinship to the divine Spirit with a soul of both intellect and will. Likeness refers to the supernatural change manifested by grace where one can be holy and truly hope for salvation.

At the 2011 Convocation for Priests of the Archdiocese of Washington, the speaker, Fr. Stephen Rossetti made mention that an important indicator for happy priests was a devotion to the Blessed Mother. He offered the immediate connection with this and the New Evangelization.

Mary is both missionary (to Elizabeth) and contemplative (pondering the mystery of Christ in her home). Mary is a special model of faith for the ages, but particularly for our time of confusion, disbelief and conflict. Mary is of crucial importance, both for the clergy and the laity. She brings her children to Jesus and to a greater love and intimacy with the Catholic Church. Indeed, I would contend that participation in the Eucharist and Marian devotion both fuels the spiritual life and keeps people Catholic.

 

A Priest’s Focus on Mary

mary.mother.of.jesus.01I have narrowly focused a series of reflections on the Virgin Mary. Over the years I have experienced various devotions to our Lady and have read countless books. Honestly, there is a great deal of divergence in how people approach Mary. In particular, I have shared a priest’s personal faith and relationship with our Blessed Mother. Given this emphasis, I must apologize if it seems that I skirt many possible connections to the lives of the single and married laity. But I am a celibate priest under holy obedience and these are the terms that define my life and posture before God. Nevertheless, I hope that readers might find value in a few points and generalities that reflect the truth and our human condition.

One of my thoughts was to offer this collection of reflections as a catalyst to jump-start similar ruminations from parishioners and others. Single people might ponder Mary’s possible early service to the Temple and her race to assist her cousin Elizabeth. Mary used her freedom and strength in service to God and others. Do we? Married couples might reflect upon both their fecundity and their passion as beloved persons of immeasurable worth. Mary conceived Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, literally Love Personified. Joseph was the great protector of the Holy Family but Mary was the heart of his home. Men and women love each other in the marital act and that love can result in offspring. Do they appreciate this awesome power and cooperation with God? Do married couples cherish one other? Do they place the needs of the beloved before their own desires? Do they see their children as miracles of God where we recognize the face of Christ? Do they appreciate that every life is a child of promise and is holy? As a celibate priest I can ask the questions, but I would leave it to our laity to help provide their personal answers. We belong to a corporate religion established by the Lord; but every believer must be disposed to divine grace in accepting a personal relationship of faith with Jesus Christ and of love with the Blessed Virgin Mary.

I have mentioned previously that the late Pope John Paul II lost his mother early in life and he sought to fill this emptiness with devotion to the Virgin Mary. She meant everything to him and he dedicated his priesthood to her. His apostolic motto (to Mary) was TOTUS TUUS, Latin for TOTALLY YOURS. He admits that he borrowed it after reading and re-reading True Devotion to Mary by St. Louis de Montfort. “Totus tuus ego sum, et omnia mea tua sunt. Accipio te in mea omnia. Praebe mihi cor tuum, Maria.” Translated: “I belong entirely to you, and all that I have is yours. I take you for my all. O Mary, give me your heart.” Ascribed to the late Pope John Paul II but also recited as a novena prayer to the Immaculata (under St. Maximilian Kolbe), we have the following prayer:

Immaculate Conception, Mary, my Mother.
Live in me. Act in me. Speak in and through me.
Think your thoughts in my mind. Love, through my heart.
Give me your dispositions and feelings.
Teach, lead and guide me to Jesus.
Correct, enlighten and expand my thoughts and behavior.
Possess my soul. Take over my entire personality and life.
Replace it with yourself.
Incline me to constant adoration and thanksgiving.
Pray in me and through me.
Let me live in you and keep me in this union always.

As sinners, we constantly ask for her intercession, praying in the Hail Mary for her intervention and help, “now and at the hour of our death.” She knows her own, and more importantly, can identify her children who love her and Jesus. She invites us into the life of her Son, indeed to share the life and love of the Trinity, itself.

A Quick Summary of Catholic Teaching on Mary

mary.mother.of.jesus.01While I will no doubt repeat myself, I would like to give a brief summation of Marian teaching, to help the reader in grasping these truths and to fill-in any holes in my reflections. Vatican II spoke about Mary in greater depth than any previous council. The council fathers discussed Mary in the document on the Church.

Catholicism would insist that if we are to follow Jesus, we must also love Mary. How does one begin to speak about Mary’s union with her Son? She shares with other women two qualities which are usually mutually exclusive, maidenhood (virginity) and motherhood. The mystery of her perpetual virginity and her exceptional motherhood (as the work of the Holy Spirit) give a heightened transcendence and meaning to her relationship with Christ. Because her Son is unique, the God-Man come among us, her identity and union with him also takes upon itself an extraordinary character. She is the Mother of God. The Mother of the Redeemer is given to us by Jesus as the Mother of the Redeemed. The Second Vatican Council concludes the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church by calling Mary the Model and Prototype of the Church who “occupies in the holy Church the place which is highest after Christ and yet very close to us” (Lumen Gentium, 54). Separated from a comprehensive appreciation of this bond between the Mother and Son, the Church would be hindered in understanding her own union with the Lord. It is for this reason that an absence of Marian piety and affection can be quite serious. She continues to give us her Son and to beckon us to his service.

Mary’s trust and faith in God makes her the first disciple of her Son. Salvation history comes to fruition in her. God’s dealings with humanity were taking a most personal and intimate turn with this young girl who accepted her role as “the handmaid of the Lord.” Before she was to give birth to Jesus in the flesh, she had already received him into her heart and soul. “At the message of the angel, the Virgin Mary received the Word of God in her heart and in her body, and gave life to the world. Hence, she is acknowledged and honored as being truly the Mother of God and Mother of the Redeemer” (Lumen Gentium, 53).

Although Mary has been given the title, Mother of God, she was conceived in the normal course to Saints Ann and Joachim. Because of the role she would play as the Mother of the Lord, she was preserved from any trace of original sin. This state of grace which she received from the first moment of her conception in the womb was never blemished by personal sin. This teaching is called her Immaculate Conception. Despite the faulty argumentation of certain critics outside the Church, Mary needed Christ as her Redeemer just like the rest of us. The only difference was that we were washed from our sins forward in time by faith and baptism while she was preserved from sin backward in time by a singular divine intervention. In both cases, the shadow of the Cross brings salvation. Jesus died for us all. The one who was the source of all holiness had to come through a pure vessel. Mary was blessed or sanctified to protect the dignity of Christ as the Son of God.

Before, during, and after the birth of Jesus her Son, Mary remained a virgin. When her life was accomplished, she was assumed body and soul into heaven. This teaching is called her Assumption. It reminds us that the new life earned by Christ was not a one-time event. One of our numbers has followed Jesus and has been transformed in body and spirit. We will also share in the bodily resurrection and restoration.

In baptism and faith, we are invited to live the life of Christ. Jesus looked down from his Cross and gave Mary to John as his Mother. John represents us on Calvary. Mary sees her Son alive in us by grace, both as individuals and as a community of faith. Mary is the Mother of the Church. The council called her “a preeminent and altogether singular member of the Church, and as the Church’s model . . . in faith and charity. Taught by the Holy Spirit, the Catholic Church honors her with filial affection and piety as a most beloved Mother” (Lumen Gentium, 53).

While on earth, she cooperated with the redemptive work of her Son. “She conceived, brought forth, and nourished Christ. She presented him to the Father in the Temple, and was united with him in suffering as he died on the Cross. . . . for this reason she is a Mother to us in the order of grace” (Lumen Gentium, 61). Crowned as the Queen of the Saints, she ceaselessly intercedes for her children. She wants us to mature and to come home. This role is never in competition with her Son as they are of one heart and mind regarding our salvation. Indeed, this is a good definition of sainthood— to think as God thinks and to love as God loves. “By her maternal charity, Mary cares for the brethren of her Son, who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led to their blessed home” (Lumen Gentium, 62).

Mary was with the Lord at Bethlehem and Calvary, at the beginning and at the end of his mortal life in this world. He was her Lord and yet he was also her own flesh-and-blood. She saw him die for her new children. Now, like any good mother, she waits and makes preparations for us in our true home which is heaven. She is our “sign of sure hope and solace” (Lumen Gentium, 68). Catholics render honor and reverence to Mary because she was the Mother of Christ and because she was the perfect disciple of her Son. Many critics fail to understand this, no matter what amount of explanation is given. Making the matter blunt, why do we love and speak to Mary with devotion? It is because we imitate Jesus. Did he not obey the fourth commandment? Did he not love and respect his Mother? As a child did he listen to her closely? Sure he did. All we are doing is the same.

The Council of Ephesus (431 AD) clarified that Mary was truly the Mother of God (Theotokos, God-bearer in Greek) according to the flesh. Mothers bear persons, not just bodies. The person whom Mary bore was truly the eternal Son of God, one in divinity with the Father.

Mary’s role for Catholic Christians cannot be reduced to her physical maternity. She continues to participate in the salvation of the adoptive sons and daughters of God the Father. Her presence at the beginning and at the end of Jesus’ public life reveals her complete dedication to the work of her Son. Her Son honors her in return. Luke sets her in the long line of great women in Israel who were integral to salvation history. Mary is viewed as the most significant woman of all, believing in God’s saving promise. Mary’s faith earns for her a unique place, not only in human history but in human hearts. Her humility sets the pattern for our own discipleship and prayer.

Compare Mary to Jephthah’s Daughter?

mary.mother.of.jesus.01My mind races back to the days when as a young seminarian I studied theology at Catholic University. There were several ladies also taking classes and studying for degrees. When we studied the story of Jephthah’s daughter, my friend Theresa became agitated. She found the story in Judges 11:29-40 to be deeply disturbing. She wondered aloud if there might be some Scriptures that cannot be salvaged for Christian believers, today. In thanksgiving for his victory in battle, the Hebrew general pledges that the first who steps out the door of his home, he will sacrifice. He immediately laments his pledge because out steps his young daughter. She requests a short time to mourn her virginity and then we are told he did as he promised. Unlike the story of Abraham and Isaac, it appears that God does not stay his hand. It is arguably a remnant story that betrays the fact that human sacrifice, while later regarded as offensive, had at one time been practiced by the Chosen People. As with a few other passages from the Bible, there was a debate during the formulation of the Lectionary for Mass that this story should be skipped. Nevertheless, while the Scriptures are edited and censored for polite sensibilities in the Lectionary, this reading is still included. It is terribly hard to preach upon. The young girl had courage and her father kept his promise to God; but as Christians, we are aware that some promises should not be made. The child mourns that she will never know the joys of being a wife and mother. It is a poignant and terrible story. Mary was probably not much older. Tradition has it that she had embraced celibacy and/or virginity as a servant of the Temple. This fuels the assumption by some authorities that Joseph was a much older man, betrothed to protect Mary in a male-oriented society. A friend of mine uses the story of the slaughtered girl to talk about the low premium placed on virginity by Jewish society in ancient days. We also see how virginity is embraced to honor God, either in a death to self (as with Mary) or in a physical death (as with Jephthah’s daughter). But I am of the mind that the story is too emotionally evocative for a level-headed analysis. It makes us very angry. How can the murder of the innocent ever please God?

Jephthah was a great Jewish general. He was successful against great odds. He was victorious not because of his oath, but in spite of it. As St. John Chrysostom would tell us, his repugnant act would move the Jews to renounce all such blood-oaths from that time forward. We read:

“For if after that vow and promise He had forbidden the sacrifice, many also who were subsequent to Jephthah, in the expectation that God would not receive their vows, would have increased the number of such vows, and proceeding on their way would have fallen into child-murder. But now, by suffering this vow to be actually fulfilled, He put a stop to all such cases in the future. And to show that this is true, after Jephthah’s daughter had been slain, in order that the calamity might be always remembered, and that her fate might not be consigned to oblivion, it became a law among the Jews, that the virgins assembling at the same season should bewail during forty days the sacrifice which had taken place; in order that renewing the memory of it by lamentation, they should make all men wiser for the future; and that they might learn that it was not after the mind of God that this should be done, for in that case He would not have permitted the virgins to bewail and lament her. And that what I have said is not conjectural, the event demonstrated; for after this sacrifice, no one vowed such a vow unto God. Therefore also He did not indeed forbid this; but what He had expressly enjoined in the case of Isaac, that He directly prohibited; plainly showing through both cases, that He doth not delight in such sacrifices” (Homily 14:7).

There is a minority view that the girl was not put to death but that she lived as if dead and embraced a life-long virginity. It may be along these lines that some would make a clearer connection to Mary. However, St. John Chrysostom would be the greater authority in this matter of the Jewish general and his act.

The Significance of the Assumption

mary.mother.of.jesus.01The doctrine is simply explained. Mary was assumed, body and soul, into heaven. She deserved this honor because she was free from sin and from its consequences. Mary is seen as the beginning of those first fruits promised in Christ. We see in Mary that the resurrection and new life of Jesus is not a onetime event but is the real hope held out to those who believe and follow the Gospel. We too will be restored to life. We will also be reconstituted body and soul— glorified, changed— and yet still the same persons, finding our identities fulfilled in Christ. There are various traditions about the Assumption, but the truth they teach is the same. The Eastern churches speak of this mystery as the “falling asleep” or the DORMITION of the “Mother of God” or the BLESSED THEOTOKOS (God-bearer). This reference to “sleep” was due to a hesitance in the tradition to speak about Mary’s death. The end of her life was so singular, calling it death seemed inadequate. The West often portrays Mary in art as being raised into heaven by the efforts of small cherubs at her feet— a sign that her elevation is not by her own power but by God’s. (Note that with images of the Ascension of Jesus there are no such little helpers; he rises by his own power.) There is also the tradition that Mary clearly did die, just as her Son had died. However, the grave did not consume her. She remained uncorrupted. Legend has it that when the apostolic community came to care for the body, Mary’s tomb was empty and filled with blooming flowers. Like her Son, she had entered into eternal life. She represents our hope and is an image for the Church as the New Jerusalem.

Pope Pius XII defined this dogma in 1950:

(Munificentissimus Deus)

“By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.”

The Devil Hates Mary

mary.mother.of.jesus.01While no one would claim that Mel Gibson is a theologian, he did follow sacred tradition closely in his movie, THE PASSION. Note that the devil or demonic entity in the film is constantly looking at Mary and even mocks the Nativity in one shocking scene as Jesus is scourged. The devil hates Mary. He was the great angel of light. He was a prince among the heavenly hosts. But he tarried to God’s summons and turned away. His pride made him forget his place before the Almighty. Obviously one who would compare himself to the deity would have a particular disgust for human creation. The devil looked at mankind as if we were just ants to stomp under foot. The possibility that God might join himself to such of his creatures was repugnant to him. Indeed, again looking at the film, the demon screams at the moment of Christ’s redemptive death because he realizes that this is precisely what God has done and he has lost his hold on the race of Adam and Eve, forever. Satan sees mankind merely as animated sacks of blood covered in meat. He hates us. Mary is the new Eve. He reserves a special hatred for her. If he could, he would have her despair; but failing in this, he will do all he can to hurt her. Like himself, she is purely a creature; unlike him, she still has in abundance what he has utterly lost, divine grace.