Mary: Who She Is and Why She Matters

Who is Mary and why does she matter? Theologian and author Dr. Robert... Read more


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Part 1: Mary, the Morning Star

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By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Nov 16, 2016)
The world in which most Catholics today live, work, and raise their children can best be described as a realm of enveloping "darkness." Not since the days of the decline of the Roman Empire has the light of the Son of God been so covered over by the thick, dark clouds of atheism and materialism, immorality, and despair. Sometimes we wonder: How can we carry on and live as God's children in the midst of such spiritual emptiness, moral decline, and cultural gloom all around us?

This is hardly the first time in history that the People of God have faced such darkness. In the Old Testament, in the days of King Ahaz, the people of Israel were surrounded by enemies from without, and moral and spiritual corruption within their own ranks. Nevertheless, in the midst of this gathering storm the prophet Isaiah spoke words of comfort to God's People from the Lord (Is 9:2,6,7):

The people who walked in darkness
Have seen a great light;
Those who dwelt in the land of deep darkness
On them has light shined ...
For to us a child is born
To us a son is given;
And the government shall be upon his shoulder,
And his name will be called
"Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."
Of the increase of his government
And of peace
There will be no end.
Upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom,
To establish it and uphold it
With justice and with righteousness
From this time forth and for evermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

This was one of Isaiah's prophecies of the coming of the Messiah. The Gospels make it clear that it is Jesus of Nazareth, sent from the Father, who brings the light of God's merciful love to the world (see Mt 4:15-16; Lk 1:79), and who shows us the way to live as children of God: "I am the light of the world," Jesus said. "He who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life ... I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life" (Jn 8:12, 14:6). In short, Jesus Himself is the one who lights the way for us through this dark world as we journey to our true home in His heavenly Kingdom.

Still, we need to know how best to follow where He leads, and we need plenty of help along the way. As gifts to us from His merciful Heart, therefore, Jesus has given us the saints, and above all the Blessed Virgin Mary, to model for us the way of true Christian discipleship. The saints are those who lived in deepest surrender to the Holy Spirit in every age, and in every walk of life, and by the same spirit the Christian virtues were fashioned in their hearts to a heroic degree. Saint Paul tells us: "I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me" (I Cor 4:16).

If this is true about all the saints, how much more so about the Blessed Virgin Mary! In this series of web articles, we shall explore how Mary lights the way for us as the model disciple of Her Son.

In his Wednesday audience address series on Mary, St. John Paul II repeatedly spoke of her as the supreme model of faith, hope, and love for the People of God:

Despite the sins of her members the Church is first and foremost the community of those who are called to holiness and strive each day to achieve it. In this arduous path to perfection they feel encouraged by Mary, who is the "model of virtues." The [Second Vatican] Council noted: "Piously meditating on her and contemplating her in the light of the Word made man, the Church with reverence enters more intimately into the great mystery of the Incarnation and becomes more and more like her spouse" (Lumen Gentium, 65).

So the Church looks to Mary. The Church not only contemplates the wondrous gift of Mary's fullness of grace, but strives to imitate the perfection which in her is the fruit of her full compliance with Christ's command: "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt 5:48). Mary is all holy. For the community of believers she represents the paradigm of the authentic holiness that is achieved in union with Christ. The earthly life of the Mother of God was characterized by a perfect harmony with the person of her Son and by her total dedication to the redeeming work He accomplished (General Audience of Sept. 3, 1997).

Of course, this looking to Mary as the model of Christian discipleship was not something invented by St. John Paul II: It is part of the living Tradition of the Church. In the 18th century, for example, the Ven. Fr. Casimir Wyszynski, MIC (1700-1755) of the Congregation of Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, translated into Polish and published a book by a Spanish Jesuit, Fr. Francis Arias, entitled, Morning Star. In this book, Mary was represented by the symbol of a star with 10 rays, each ray representing one of her virtues portrayed in the Gospels. The Marians developed a set of prayers called "The Chaplet of the Ten Evangelical Virtues of the Blessed Virgin Mary" which is still recited by the Congregation and by the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception (The Blue Scapular). Father Wyszynski opened this book of meditations on Mary's virtues by telling us that striving to follow Mary's example of discipleship and holiness can lead us deeper into an abiding union with Jesus Christ:

Mary is the noble Star rising from the house of Jacob, whose rays illuminate the whole world ... let us then watch the rise and movements of this brightest star carefully; let us follow her; let us rise up from the sleep of death by sin. If we want to see this Morning Star rising, we must zealously imitate the ten Virtues of the Virgin Mary. For just as a star once led the three wise men to Jesus as He lay in a stable in Bethlehem, so will this Morning Star, shining with the ten rays of these evangelical virtues, lead us to Jesus sitting at the right hand of the Father in the heavenly kingdom.

The Ven. Casimir Wyszynski was surely right: The beauty of Mary's soul shines out with matchless radiance from the pages of the Gospels. In fact, this is a tremendous work of mercy that she has done for us all: modeling for us the path of virtue that, if we follow it faithfully, will make us true disciples of Jesus Christ.

Next Time: Her Virtues All Flow from Divine Grace

Access the series to date.

Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy. His latest book is Mary - Who She Is and Why She Matters (Marian Press).

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