Today’s feast, the Queenship of Mary, is the third “feast of glory” in the month of August. It is an extension of last week’s feast of her Assumption into Heaven. Mary, living in glory with Jesus, reigns as Queen of angels and men. Her exalted and powerful position is not like that of earthly rulers, who rise to the top by impressive achievements and skill in winning human approval. Mary certainly does not take any credit for her place in Heaven; she does not even think about it the way we do. She only repeats to everyone, “the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name” (Lk 1:49). Our Queen Mother is a shining example of what Jesus taught in yesterday’s Gospel: “Some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” She had no problem passing through the narrow gate! She is first in Heaven because she was the last, the lowest, the poorest and most humble servant in her life on earth.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is addressing men who have the opposite attitude, not humility but arrogance. The contrast is striking: Mary enters Heaven and intercedes for all her children, that they may reign in glory with her; the scribes and Pharisees “lock the Kingdom of Heaven before men.” They neither enter themselves nor allow others to enter. Mary is first because she was last, and she serves to raise up everyone else; these self-righteous leaders are making themselves first, and so are in danger of being last, as well as harming others whom they should be serving.
Jesus’ words to the Pharisees sound harsh to us, but the people of the time would have found them much more shocking. After all, the scribes and Pharisees were generally considered to be the “holy ones.” They followed the laws of God, they studied his word carefully, they worshipped in the Temple. They looked much holier than Mary ever did. Yet Jesus insists that they are “blind fools.” They have confused what is important and what is not. They are so focused on how things look from the outside that they have become blind to what is essential. The Pharisees’ convoluted reasoning about which oaths are binding and which are not shows how far they have drifted from the path of truth. Jesus accurately exposes them as “blind guides”; their pride prevents them from seeing the ways of the Lord and thus they are incapable of truly leading others to him. What can be done with such people? Jesus knows he must “cast down the mighty from their thrones” before he can lift them up to real glory (Lk 1:52).
In the first reading, St. Paul is addressing people in very different circumstances. While the scribes and Pharisees had the appearances of holiness but were interiorly defiled, the Thessalonians are suffering persecution and growing in true holiness. Their perseverance in suffering for the Kingdom of God shows Paul that their faith is genuine. He thanks God for their ever-growing faith and mutual love, and he even boasts about them to other Christian communities.
Paul’s encouragement to the Thessalonians is similar to the lesson we received from the Letter to the Hebrews yesterday. The suffering of those who are striving to follow Jesus is not a sign of God’s punishment but of his love. The children of God should expect their Father to treat them as a loving father treats his sons, with discipline, so that they may grow strong. Through suffering, we learn to rely not on ourselves but on the strength that comes only from the Holy Spirit who makes us worthy of the Kingdom of God.
We do well today to ponder what our idea of “life” really is. At times we can be caught up, like the scribes and Pharisees, in external concerns. We are tempted to think that money, health, status, and possessions will give us a “good life.” We might also begin to think that if we are doing all the right things – going to Mass, saying prayers, avoiding obvious outward sins – then we are surely “holy.” But the readings today challenge us to see that real life is found only in Christ, in being conformed to him interiorly. This is the life that is strengthened when we turn to him in times of suffering.
At the end of today’s reading, Paul again touches on the theme of glory. He tells his disciples that he prays for them, “that the Name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, in accord with the grace of our God and Lord Jesus Christ.” When we persevere in faith and love, God is glorified in us and we are gloried in him. We may not see much of this glory on earth, but we do see it in the victory of the Saints, and we see it most beautifully revealed in the glory of the Virgin Mary, our Queen Mother. Today we turn to her and ask her intercession, that we may join her in proclaiming the greatness of the Lord.
Why do I focus on how things look from the outside and thus become blind to what is essential? How am I striving to grow in true holiness? In what ways do I resemble the Pharisees?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 18, no. 6. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.