What Is It about Mary? Part II: Family Life and the Church

Birgit - holy family

For a moment, imagine the Blessed Virgin Mary tidying her home and preparing meals. Or picture her tenderly bathing the Son of God, gently placing a kiss on his forehead before putting him into bed. Although Mary was supremely graced by God, she was not free from the duties of her vocation. As a young Jewish mother, she had many daily obligations. Whereas her life as a Queen was hidden with God, her actions were informed by her pure love of God.

The Holy Family, a Human Family

The Mother of God is a bride, spouse, a temple (of the Holy Spirit), and a spiritual mother. Accordingly, the Church loves as Mary loves—with spousal fidelity and fecundity. By the creative power of God, we have been born to new life; in the womb of grace. Mother Angelica encouraged us to see our Mother in the Church:

“We could go on and on as to what the opinions and feelings of people are towards the Church. We could look at various theological aspects of its teaching authority and its apostolic succession, but we would inevitably reach an impasse with argument piled upon argument. With this in mind let us look at the Church and its function as St. Paul did and see it for what it is—the Bride of Christ the Mother from whose womb of grace each of us was born to a new life a life of Sonship.” (My Mother–The Church).

She continued,

“The Church is a Mother because she is a Bride who is forever bringing forth children of light, pillars of holiness, sources of inspiration, challengers of truth, and defenders of the Faith” (My Mother–The Church).

As I wrote in a previous post, Mary has universal appeal. Therefore, we relate to the Blessed Virgin Mary as children of God. She calls us to return to the Father. Despite her meekness, we know she is the one to “crush” the serpent (Genesis 3:15) as the mother of the Redeemer. Similarly, she is the “handmaid of the Lord”, the Woman in the Proto-Evangelium or “first gospel” (CCC 410). God is doing something new in creation. Do we expect that He can do something new in wounded family life, too?

Learning from the Holy Family

Indeed, the Holy Family embraced family life in the shadow of the Holy Cross. We are asked to do the same. Equally important is the perfection of their love by God’s grace. As such, their humanity is not insignificant but emphasized in the Church’s devotion. Thus, the Holy Family offers us a view of natural family relationships disposed to God’s grace and new life in Christ.

We might ask, how did the Holy Family grow in faith, hope and love?

The same way it does in our own lives—day by day, in obedience and sacrifice. A caution: avoid the temptation to dismiss the Holy Family as “unrealistic.” It can distort the meaning of Christian family life—by suggesting that holiness is only for “unique” or “lucky” families. Moreover, the Holy Family was not freed from material poverty or political and cultural circumstances; a reading of the Gospel reveals the very real trouble the family of Nazareth faced at times.

Christian Family Life

To put it another way, the Holy Family shows us how to live in the ‘here and now’—with hearts surrendered to God. No matter how broken, wounded, or difficult family life and marriage can be, every family has hope in Jesus Christ. Furthermore, the Church teaches that family life is not a quaint, nostalgic idea. Conversely, in God’s plan, it is a radically distinct communion of persons. Admittedly, we fall short sometimes—but God continues to offer mercy and grace. Do we avail ourselves of it, with obedient hearts?

Although the Savior of the World had no earthly siblings to trouble him as he studied, or to tease him as his facial hair appeared, he had “family” trouble. Our Lord’s suffering on the Cross would cover every betrayal, accusation, insult or harsh word and deed spoken by every spouse, sibling, marital in-law, grandparent, cousin, aunt, uncle and every family member of the human family. Therefore, Christ our Brother suffered the wages of sin, death, rivalry, jealously, envy, pride, and hurt in the family of God. He answered us with His life and His Mother (John 19:27).

New Meaning of Motherhood

In the divine maternity of Mary and the motherhood of the Church, human bonds have a new dimension in Christ:

“Now, when Jesus left Nazareth and began his public life throughout Palestine, he was completely and exclusively ‘concerned with his Father’s business’ (cf. Lk. 2:49). He announced the Kingdom: the ‘Kingdom of God’ and ‘his Father’s business,’ which add a new dimension and meaning to everything human, and therefore to every human bond, insofar as these things relate to the goals and tasks assigned to every human being. Within this new dimension, also a bond such as that of ‘brotherhood’ means something different from ‘brotherhood according to the flesh’ deriving from a common origin from the same set of parents. ‘Motherhood,’ too, in the dimension of the Kingdom of God and in the radius of the fatherhood of God himself, takes on another meaning. In the words reported by Luke, Jesus teaches precisely this new meaning of motherhood.” (Redemptoris mater §20)

Mary’s Maternal Mediation

As Saint John Paul II wrote, Mary’s motherhood embraces each individual and all of humanity; so, by the order of grace and God’s will, Mary loves us into intimacy with the Lord. She consoles us in our weakness and imperfections. She nurtures our spiritual life through her maternal mediation:

“From the text of John it is evident that it is a mediation which is maternal. As the Council proclaims: Mary became ‘a mother to us in the order of grace.’ This motherhood in the order of grace flows from her divine motherhood. Because she was, by the design of divine Providence, the mother who nourished the divine Redeemer, Mary became ‘an associate of unique nobility, and the Lord’s humble handmaid,’ who ‘cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the Savior’s work of restoring supernatural life to souls.’ 45 And ‘this maternity of Mary in the order of grace. . .will last without interruption until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect.’” 46 (Redemptoris mater §22)

The Vocation of the Christian Family in the World

The Christian family finds fulfillment in the order of redemption: community, vocation and evangelization, all of which acts as a witness to God’s love.

“The Catechism tells us that ‘In the creation of the world and of man, God gave the first and universal witness to his almighty love and his wisdom, the first proclamation of the 4plan of his loving goodness, which finds its goal in the new creation in Christ’ (315). Here we see the fundamental truth that, in the plan of God, creation itself is ordered to redemption. Thus the family as a created reality finds its full meaning as a Christian family, as a community for whom Jesus Christ himself is Savior. Jesus makes of this community, this family, an instrument of his own saving, redeeming work on behalf of humanity.

 —(The Family in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Cardinal William J. Levada, July 7, 2006)

Reconciliation, Prayer and Sacrifice

Where there is discord in the Christian family or in the Church, Mary tends to the heart of the ‘family of God.’ Consequently, Christian families should strive to honor the dignity of their vocation and witness to the world the ‘loving goodness of God,’ since the life of the Christian family is born of the new creation:

“The Catechism says that because it is a ‘communion of persons,’ it is ‘a sign and image of the communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit.’ In addition to this Trinitarian image, ‘in the procreation and education of children it reflects the Father’s work of creation.’ Moreover, the Christian family ‘is called to partake of the prayer and sacrifice of Christ,’ and it ‘has an evangelizing and missionary task’ (2205).”

–( The Family in the Catechism of the Catholic Church Cardinal William J. Levada, July 7, 2006)

The Power of Prayer to Heal Family Life

The world needs Christian families. At the heart of Christian family life is Christ. Many families today are deeply wounded and face distressing circumstances. There is nothing in marriage or any family life beyond God’s divine assistance. Nothing. May is the month of Our Lady. St. John Paul II was deeply devoted to her. May the God of love and life, hear our prayer.

Saint John Paul II – Prayer for Every Family on Earth

Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in His ways!…
Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house;
Your children will be like olive shoots around your table.
Lo, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord.
(Psalm 128:1, 3-4)

Lord, from You every family in heaven and on earth takes it name. Father, You are Love and Life.

Through Your Son, Jesus Christ, born of woman, and through the Holy Spirit, the fountain of divine charity, grant that every family on earth may become for each successive generation a true shrine of life and love.

Grant that Your grace may guide the thoughts and actions of husbands and wives for the good of their families and of all the families of the world.

Grant that the young may find in the family solid support for their human dignity and for their growth in truth and love.

Grant that love, strengthened by the grace of the sacrament of Marriage, may prove mightier than all the weaknesses and trials through which our families sometimes pass.

Through the intercession of the Holy Family of Nazareth, grant that the Church may fruitfully carry out her worldwide mission in the family and through the family.

We ask this of You, who are Life, Truth, and Love with the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

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