“Mary, Mother of Reconciliation, Dignitate retreat” (3/30/2019)
Fr. Ignatius John Schweitzer, OP
St John Damascene, from the 8th century, prays these words of consecration to Our Lady—words which we can make our own, “O Lady, we bind our hope to you, as to a most secure and firm anchor. Today we offer ourselves to you. To you we consecrate our mind, soul, body, in a word, ourselves, entirely, and with psalms, hymns, spiritual canticles, we honor you with all our power.” “For you, acting as a mediatrix and becoming the ladder of God descending to us…you brought together what had been rent apart…[Christian men and women] are taken up into heaven…You who have won for us and brought us all good things.” (Hom I on the Dormition, 199-201).
We find in these words of this doctor of the Church, John Damascene, much of what we are concerned about in this retreat. In this prayer is a total consecration to our Blessed Mother. In it, we find Mary in her sublime dignity, as Mediatrix. Like Jacob’s ladder from Gen 28, the things from heaven come down through Mary and things from earth ascend to heaven through Mary as she shares in the mission of her Son, Jesus Christ. This is Mary’s most sublime dignity, to share in God’s own work of salvation. And this is our highest dignity as well, to be made cooperators with God in his work of salvation.
Damascene says of Mary that she acts as mediatrix, becoming the ladder of God and bringing together what had been torn apart: men and women are reconciled to God. “Mother of Reconciliation,” is the title of this Lenten Votive Mass of Mary, we celebrate. God has given Mary a special role in his work of reconciliation, and we too are given a share in it. Our first reading speaks of our share in the ministry of reconciliation. God doesn’t need our help but, in love, he chooses to involve us as his adopted sons and daughters. Dignitate!
Our Gospel gets us into this whole web of mysteries. At the moment when our salvation is being accomplished by Jesus on the Cross, he says to his Mother, “Woman, behold your son!” and he says to his beloved disciple, “Behold your mother!” Although these words are simple and few, the crucial context in which they are spoken show their utter significance. Mary is made mother of every disciple of Jesus. It was among the last gifts of Jesus to his Church, that he has given Mary to each of us as our Mother. “Behold your mother!”
John Paul II, in his Theotokos catechesis, stresses that Mary’s motherhood is a personal and unique relationship with each one of us in our individuality. John Paul II says, “On the cross Jesus did not proclaim Mary’s universal motherhood with formality, but established a concrete maternal relationship between her and the beloved disciple. In the Lord’s choice we can see his concern that this motherhood should not be interpreted in a vague way, but should point to Mary’s intense, personal relationship with individual Christians” (190).
As an example of what JPII is talking about, we might consider what takes place, say on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, at the Basilica Shrine on campus. You’ve probably learned by now, that you want to make a trip over to her chapel for her feast on December 12. There you will find the chapel overflowing with flowers. You will see devout pilgrim after pilgrim coming to Our Lady, some approaching her on their knees. They each have their own personal story. They each have their particular needs that are so urgent and pressing. They each have their unique way of relating to Our Lady. And Mary as Mother deals with each of them on personal terms.
Isn’t this a good expression of the dignity of the human person? It’s not enough for God to make Mary the mother of humanity in general. She is mother of each individual person in his or her unique and unrepeatable self, such is the gift of human dignity. It’s not enough to lump everyone together, but Mary has a unique relationship with each one of us.
Ask a mother of a large family if she loves each of her children in a unique way? If she’s a good mother, she surely does. And somehow through the Holy Spirit, Mary’s heart is so expanded, to embrace each of her children individually as unique persons, especially in eternity.
In Redemptoris Mater, John Paul II says, “Of the essence of motherhood is the fact that it concerns the person. Motherhood always establishes a unique and unrepeatable relationship between two people: between mother and child and between child and mother. Even when the same woman is the mother of many children, her personal relationship with each one of them is of the very essence of motherhood” (RM 45). This is JP II’s personalism at work here, gaining insight into Mary’s motherhood.
Next, personhood involves mission. From the uniqueness of each individual person, also comes a unique mission. Each person has an unrepeatable mission that cannot be fulfilled by another. We each have our own way of sharing in Christ’s work of reconciliation. It’s part of our dignity. Yet it surpasses our capacities. It is beyond what we could do on our own.
And so the mystery of Mary opens up for us one more perspective. Mary is utterly dependent on God in fulfilling her mission as Mother of the Church. Human dignity includes dependence and receptivity. The lowly handmaid of the Lord is most receptive and dependent on the Lord. The Lord then is able to do great things in her. It’s not the philosophy of modernity and its ideal of the independent self, the self-sufficient person. No. Part of human dignity is dependence, dependence on God and dependence on those around us. We are reconciled to God but we are also reconciled to one another in a communio of love. We are reconciled in the interdependence of the whole human family. We are reconciled under Our Lady, the Mother of Reconciliation.
So as we offer ourselves to God and in service of His plan for our lives, we depend on and entrust ourselves also to the Mother of Humanity, the mother of each one of us personally. We began with the words of an 8th century Doctor of the Church, John Damascene, ‘consecrating to Mary our mind, soul, body, in a word, ourselves, entirely’ as he says.
And we will end with a great Saint closer to our time, John Paul II, and his words of consecration to Mary while in Bologna in 1982. We join JPII in praying, “We entrust our life to you [Blessed Mother]. To you who welcomed the Word of God with absolute fidelity, and dedicated yourself to his plan of salvation and grace—yielding to the action of the Holy Spirit with total docility. To you who had from your Son the mission of receiving and caring for the disciple whom he loves. To you, each and every one of us repeats, ‘Totus tuus ego sum’ (I am all yours), that you may take our consecration and unite it to that of Jesus and yours, as an offering to God the Father for the life of the world” Amen. (A. Calkins, 224)