We are presented today with two mothers, each of whom stood at the foot of a “tree” and listened to a “word,” which had profound consequences for her children.
The first reading takes us back to the story of Adam and Eve’s fall from grace. Eve was standing at the foot of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the fruit of which God had commanded her and Adam not to eat. She listened to the word of the serpent, who told her that she could not trust God. He urged her to take matters into her own hands and eat the forbidden fruit, in an effort to make herself like God. In effect, he told her that she could take God’s place.
We know the terrible “fruit” of Eve’s choice to listen to and act upon this word of the serpent – sin entered into the world. She broke her relationship with God, and convinced Adam to do the same. They lost their close friendship and communion with God. And they necessarily passed on to their descendants the consequences of their sin. And so we who are “children of Eve” by nature are born into this world with Original Sin, tending to fear and distrust God rather than love and trust him.
In today’s Gospel we see the other mother, Mary, standing at the foot of the “tree” of the Cross, upon which her Son is dying in order to bring reconciliation between God and humanity. She too is listening to a “word,” but this time it is the word of God which she treasures in her heart. She hears Jesus say from the Cross, “Woman, behold your son,” and she hears the Holy Spirit tell her that her Son is giving his life in love to glorify the Father and to win salvation for all people. He is telling her to be united to her Son in his mission, giving her full “yes” to God even in this most awful trial, as her soul is pierced with sorrow (cf. Lk 2:35). And she chooses to listen to and act upon this word.
As Eve’s “no” to God had consequences for all of her descendants, so Mary’s “yes” to God bears immense fruit for her children. We saw in yesterday’s celebration of Pentecost that the Holy Spirit lives within our hearts, introducing us into the very life of God. But in order for us to enter into that divine life, we have to make a choice to say “yes” to God, “yes” to his action in us. This is where Mary acts as our Mother. As she always said a full and unreserved “yes” to God at every moment of her life, she gains for us the grace to do the same. Because of her obedience, we have “inherited” from her, in the order of grace, the ability to make the same choice as she did.
Our Gospel Acclamation for today is, “Happy are you, holy Virgin Mary, and most worthy of all praise, for from you arose the sun of justice, Christ our God.” It is Mary who, in her womb, put flesh on the very Word of God. In her, that Word became incarnate. This is her role for all time, to help to “put flesh on the word.” Now she does this in us. As our Mother, she helps us to say “yes” to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit as he makes Christ present once again in the world in our own flesh.
This is what it means for Mary to be “Mother of the Church.” What is the Church, except the very Body of Christ on earth? That Body is made up of us, who are being transformed, like the Eucharist, from ordinary “bread” into the very Body and Blood of Christ.
This is a process of deepest mystery. We can only fully become the Body of Christ as we allow the power of the Holy Spirit to work in us. We need to enter into prayer, as the Apostles did in the alternate first reading. They “went into the upper room” where they “devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with … Mary the mother of Jesus.” Like them, we need to take the time to retire to our own “upper room” – someplace where we can be quiet and undisturbed, to spend time with God. We ask Mary to be with us and to give us the grace to say our own “yes” with her to all that God means to do in us, to make us her children, true members of his Church, his Body on earth. Then we are no longer imprisoned in the disobedience of Eve, for we have died with Christ to that natural life and are now free to live a new life of grace as children of Mary.
In the Gospel, Jesus gives his Mother to us to be our Mother. Let us listen deeply today as he says to us, “Behold, your Mother.” And, like John, let us then take Mary into our home, our heart. The Jerusalem Bible translates the end of this sentence as “the disciple made a place for her in his home.” Let us make a place for Mary in our lives, asking her to stay with us as our spiritual Mother and to teach us always to say our “yes” with her to God.
As I stand at the foot of a “tree” listening to a “word,” am I drawn to imitate Eve or Mary? Do I humbly ask Mary to help me “put flesh on the word”? Do I take time to retire with Mary to my “upper room” to spend time with God daily?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 16, no. 5. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.