Discipleship in Mary

War Begins in Eden; Victory Declared in Revelation

To know and love Jesus better now as beloved disciples, we must know Mary as our loving Mother, the fulfillment of the promised “woman,” not only the one Isaiah spoke of, but also of “the woman” in Genesis 3:15 to whom Moses pointed.

According to God’s providence, we find that right after the chapter of the Suffering Servant who redeems Israel [Jesus](Is 53), Isaiah depicts a woman originally abandoned by God [figure of Eve, not just Israel] who upon the Suffering Servant's death is made fruitful again [now fulfilled in Mary]. This woman’s children — through the Lord’s power, not man’s — are made more numerous than she who has an earthly marriage (Is 54:1). The prophecy was not fulfilled until Jesus our Suffering Servant gave His mother Mary to be the mother of every beloved disciple, every Christian (Jn 19:26-27), thus making her the new Eve.

Mary who never “knew” man (Ever-Virgin), became the new Eve (“Mother of the Living” Gen 3:20) when in the fullness of time, God sent His only Son to restore what was lost in the first Adam. Now, by the power of the Holy Spirit forming Jesus’ humanity in us and thus sharing His divinity, Mary is made fruitful. For just as surely as Mary is the mother of Jesus, she is the mother of Jesus in us, His mystical body, and therefore just as truly our Mother. Through her Immaculate Conception, Mary was already privately anointed the new Eve, but at the Crucifixion she was publicly presented to us: “Behold your Mother” (Jn 19:27). A further explanation will help us understand her role as New Eve.

Reading carefully the third chapter of Genesis, we find a prophecy about a war between a “woman” and her “offspring” and the “serpent” and his “offspring,” engaged in a mortal combat as a result of the original sin. The chapter closes with the angel of God blocking the way back into Eden with a flaming sword, particularly fitting in that the serpent who wrecked man’s relationship with the Father was a fallen angel. The existence of angels and heavenly realities were obvious, not only to Moses, but to Jesus’ Apostles, too. These events were not dusty myths, but immediate and urgent realities to them.

Saint John the Apostle opened his Gospel with the phrase, “In the beginning” the opening words of Genesis. By his opening words, John wanted his hearers to understand that by the coming of Jesus Christ God had started a new heavens and a new earth.

With this in mind it is no surprise that Saint John viewed Mary as the new Eve. The Book of Revelation picks up on the train of thought that Jesus and Mary are the ultimate fulfillment of the opening chapters of Genesis and a renewed creation. Chapter twelve resumes the figures in Genesis 3:15 of “the woman” and her “offspring” and the “serpent” and his “offspring.” The “male child” (Rev 12:5) born of the woman is clearly Jesus Christ the promised “offspring” (Gen 3:15; the dragon is the “ancient serpent [of Eden]” (Rev 12:9), the Devil, and his offspring are the fallen angels. The fallen angels are called “its” angels and so are rightly seen as “offspring.” Clearly then the figure of the woman who gave birth to the child is depicted as the ultimate Eve…Mary.

Notice that the Devil has “its” angels (Rev 12:7). Rightly we refer to them as his offspring even though he did not give them physical birth. In John’s Gospel, Jesus tells those who refuse to listen, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning…he is a liar and the father of lies” (Jn 8:44). In Revelation 12 the devil is depicted as a murderer trying to devour the child and called the “deceiv[er] of the whole world” (Rev 12:4, 9). “The woman” is depicted as having “her offspring,” those “who keep God’s commandments, and bear witness to Jesus” (Rev 12:17).

Just Because She Was Perfect, That Does Not Mean It Was Easy

Catholics easily fall in to the trap of thinking Mary’s holiness came easily. It did not. We have all received special graces from God, but like the Prodigal Son, we squander them and have no gratitude to the Father who bestowed them. Mary however chose the harder path. Every day she chose to continue to sacrifice her will to the will of the Father.

Certainly God’s grace was unique to her, as unique as the grace given at her conception in Saint Anne’s womb (the Immaculate Conception), but this did not steal from Mary’s freedom. Having to say “no” to herself so that the will of God could reign in her and for all mankind was a constant and difficult sacrifice. What godly and innocent woman would not revolt at the thought of being misunderstood — possibly even viewed as an adulteress — by her betrothed? That took gut-wrenching humility…almost being disowned by Saint Joseph. What a test of trust in God — as great as that of Abraham! What loving mother is not deeply pierced to know that hundreds of children two years old and younger were slaughtered on account of the birth of her son? What loving mother is not revolted to know her son is destined for a horrifying death and then to have to helplessly watch? We honor Mary’s Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart because it was real, as real as the suffering of Jesus in His Sorrowful Mysteries, and with Jesus, her suffering was for our sakes, not hers alone.

Mary shows us what it means to be the faithful disciple of Jesus, and Jesus desires to find in us a will as submissive as hers. This is partly why He wanted us to know her as our Mother. Jesus tells us what we must do to be saved: “Believe in Him whom God has sent.” Through Elizabeth, the Holy Spirit Himself testifies that Mary ultimately fulfills this call to discipleship: “Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit…said, ‘Most blessed are you among women…Blessed are you who believed what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled’” (Lk 1:41-44). Mary believed in Jesus from the start and was the first to believe in Him. At the Annunciation she gave God her “Fiat” (“be it done”), her “Yes,” and did not turn back despite the awesome odds she faced. Under the weight of the cross she did not despair, but trusted God as she experienced absolute anguish.

Now, together with her (discipleship in Mary), we must say “Yes” to Jesus’ coming and not turn back. We must heed her original public command at the Wedding Feast in Cana: “Do whatever [Jesus] tells you” (Jn 2:5).

Mary and the Rosary

Whether it was at major apparitions such as Lourdes or Fatima, or locally-approved ones like Betania or Akita, the message remains the same. Mary tells us to pray the Rosary daily. Why? How could a prayer outside of the Mass be so important to her? To Jesus?

The Rosary is a tool that trains us to be beloved disciples. In order to understand why, we must understand meditation because the Rosary is a meditation on the mysteries of Jesus’ Salvation and Mary’s discipleship.

Saint Paul uses the analogy of Christians being in the ultimate competition for the salvation of their souls and says, “I do not box as one beating the air; but I pummel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor 9:26-27). Athletes easily understand the importance of meditation. Mental visualization and preparation are just as key to winning as the physical activity. This understanding is summed up in the popular phrase concerning competition that it is “90% mental and 10% physical.” So don’t only consider the Virgin Mary as your mother, consider her also as your personal trainer in the faith. When she recommends the Rosary, she is getting you ready for the big fight.

Consider the strength available to you in the Sorrowful Mysteries: It’s not going to be every day that you feel so beaten down in anticipation of what is coming that you call out, “Father take this cup from me!” However, the time will come when your enemies are on their way because you refused to give in to corruption; you will be diagnosed with cancer or worse; or, you will be faced with continuing God’s will or turning back. Will you say with Christ to the Father, “Nevertheless, not my will, but Yours be done?” Or will you get mad at God that things are not going your way? If you’ve been meditating on this mystery you will be prepared to face these challenges with Christ. You will continue with Mary in discipleship. You will accept that God can bring good out of any evil and you will persevere in faith.

It’s not going to be every day that someone rips the flesh off your back with a scourging whip, but as a human, the powers of your flesh will always seek to be satisfied. Our flesh contains many powers and desires: the desire to be liked or be important, the desire for foods, the desire for the sexual, for pleasure or relaxation. While good in themselves, they can become disordered. When desires override what you know to be the will of God, are you capable of saying “No” to them? Jesus certainly didn’t want the struggle of feeling His flesh subject to such torture, but went through it to strengthen us when we feel the torture of saying “No” to ourselves. If we are meditating on this mystery, then when we are called to the line to fight we will be prepared to face the challenge.

It’s not going to be every day that someone wishes to crown us with thorns, but truly in western society the persecution has begun. The soldiers put the crown on Jesus' head because He testified to the truth and so they wanted to mock Him and hurt Him. Do you avoid speaking the truth because you are afraid of the crown of thorns that awaits? When people mock you for speaking the truth, do you hate them and lash out? Jesus didn’t lash out. When Mary says “Think about the Passion of my Son,” she is pointing out the mysteries that have within them the strength to make us true disciples of Jesus.

Jesus did not throw down His cross because it was too heavy. Obedient to His Father, He fell beneath it three times. We are called to daily take up our cross and follow Him. Maybe our own sinfulness weighs us down and so we fall. Maybe we begin to think we’ll never complete God’s will — the way seems too steep and long. God just asks us to be faithful, not successful, as Mother Theresa said. We need to keep trying despite the odds. If we meditate on this mystery then we will know that God always sends the help we need. The Father inspired the soldiers to get Saint Simon of Cyrene to help Jesus carry His cross. Surely He will send others to help those baptized in to His Son carry theirs. Meditation on this mystery will convince us to never give up.

Finally, if we have been “beloved disciples” the time will come when it seems all have abandoned us as we hang naked upon a cross. Otherwise, we should question if we have lived trying to fit into the world rather than trying to transform it in Christ. No servant is greater than the Master. If they treated the Master in such a manner, think of what they will do to the disciples. This mystery forces us to remember that life can get bad. Living for God in a corrupt world usually means a clash of cultures — the culture of life and the culture of death. Such suffering seems meaningless to the world and is mocked by it. However, Jesus’ obedient suffering made reparation for mankind’s disobedience and sin (Rom 5), so too, since Jesus lives in us, our obedient suffering will make reparation for the disobedience of others. Suffering has value and meaning. If we think on the Passion of Jesus we will not despair in the face of suffering.

Fear not. Just as God was working out our salvation in Jesus on the Cross, so too God is helping you work out your salvation in fear and trembling. The same woman who comforted Jesus in His ignominious death on the Cross stands ready to help us in the Rosary as she prays for us “now” and at the hour of our death.

© Copyright 2004 Catholic Exchange

Matthew Tsakanikas is a freelance Catholic writer. You can contact him at mtsakanikas@yahoo.com

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