Ad Jesum Per Mariam.
To Jesus Through Mary. This phrase captures one of the central tenets of Catholicism: that the surest path to knowing and loving Jesus is through His mother Mary. As the one who cooperated in the Incarnation of the Word, helped start His Ministry, and suffered with Him in the crucifixion, Mary is uniquely suited to bring us closer to Jesus.
Mothers are inclusivists. They bring people together, because they have known togetherness with another person (their unborn children) more intimately than any man can ever know. Mary includes all possible relationships with God, with all three divine persons, perfectly: daughter to the Father, mother to the Son, and spouse to the Spirit (Forty Reasons, 112).
Mary’s perfect relationship with all three persons of the Trinity is revealed in Luke’s account of the Annunciation and Visitation (see Luke 1).
Submission to the Father
In the Annunciation, God’s plan for the Incarnation is revealed to Mary, who responds in complete assent: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). The Greek word for handmaid here, doulē, could also refer to slaves. It thus conveys Mary’s complete submission to the will of God. So complete is her deference to the will of the Father that it perfectly mirrors Christ’s Christ’s own self-denial in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
As the Creator, God’s will is providence, His plan for all things and all times. For us, as creatures, to submit to His will is to consent to be what we were made to be. Ultimately, we are all made to be with God. In the case of Mary, she so totally gave herself that she became the spouse of the Holy Spirit, giving birth to God the Son. All this was made possible by submitting to the will of the Father. If we wish to follow Mary into communion with the Trinity, then we must all imitate her example by surrendering our whole selves to the will of the Father.
Union with the Spirit
The result of her submission to the Father is Mary’s union with the Spirit. She received the Spirit so deeply in her being that God took flesh within her. (I’m relying on this insight by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in the book, Mary: The Church at the Source.) As the angel told her, with God nothing is impossible. Hence, what would have once been unthinkable—any real union between God who is pure spirit and mankind—took place.
Doctors of the Church from St. Augustine to St. Thomas Aquinas have taught that the Holy Spirit is specially associated with God’s love, just as the Word is identified with His self-knowledge. This makes sense since love, as Aquinas taught, is unitive. It desires to be with the beloved. Within the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is the Love that exists between the Father and the Son. As Aquinas writes in the Summa Theologica, “The name Love in God can be taken essentially and personally. If taken personally it is the proper name of the Holy Ghost; as Word is the proper name of the Son.” To be united to the Spirit we must follow the model of Mary and become pure receptivity (to paraphrase then-Cardinal Ratzinger).
Mission with the Son
Submission. Union. Then mission. Her union with the Spirit leads to Mary’s cooperation with Jesus in His mission of redemption. This begins at the moment of His conception as suggested in Luke’s account by the word of the angel: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).
In giving birth to Jesus, Mary is mystically participating in His mission, bringing Him to the world. This continues in the Visitation, where she brings the unborn Jesus to sanctify John the Baptist in the womb. Her relationship with Jesus as mother cooperating in His mission continues throughout His ministry, from Cana to the cross. If we are to follow Mary to Jesus then we must take the same approach of sharing in His mission—even, or rather especially, if it brings us all the way to the cross.
How can we participate more deeply in the life of the Trinity? Mary shows us one way: by submitting to the Father, uniting with the Holy Spirit, and spreading the word with Christ. Each involves a personal relationship. For Mary, as Kreeft notes, it is as daughter of the Father, spouse of the Spirit, and mother to Christ.
Submission. Union. Mission. Each of these builds on and encapsulates the other. It is only through total submission that we can become totally receptive to God. And it is only through such self-emptying that we learn to give of ourselves fully to others as we continue Christ’s mission.
We are most blessed that Mary is more than just a model for us. We learn from her story by doing more than reading and studying about her. With her, as with the Trinity, we encounter a living person. And what better person to bring us into the Trinity than Mary?