Following Mary, Martyr of Charity

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote – of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin – “It is a pious belief that she died from love. This alone could kill that body. It was a contest between body and soul. The body so strong, the soul so desirous to see God.” If in this month of August we want to follow Mary’s example all the way into heaven, how great it is for us to consider her identity as one killed by love… a martyr to Charity. Most of us will never be asked to offer up a martyr’s gift by blood, but like our Lady, we can so give ourselves over to loving Christ that one day, when God allows it, our body will yield to our soul’s desire to be with him forever; and our journey to him will be swift. How do we do it?

Let’s consider three moments from Mary’s life: The Annunciation, The Visitation, the Way of the Cross.

At the Annunciation we know that Mary first and foremost received the Love of God, both in his words and in his Word. “Hail full of grace, the Lord is with you, blessed are you among women… you have found favor in the sight of God. And behold, you shall conceive in the womb and bear a son, and shall call him Jesus.” (Lk 1:28-ff) As St. John tells us, “the love of God consists in this, not that we have loved him, but that he loved us first.” (I Jn 4:10). And having received that love, having perceived it, she contemplated it, “she cast about in her mind what she was to make of such a greeting.” (Lk 1:29). Contemplation of the love received is always a first step in the Christian life because, as St. Jean Vianney tells us, “we can love what we have perceived.”  

Having received the Love of the Father in the Spirit, and having contemplated that Love, Mary decides how to reply to it in the Visitation. Her response is two-fold: first, she sets off to the hill country to serve her cousin in need (Elizabeth) (Lk 1:39-ff). It’s at this point that she utters Scripture’s most beautiful hymn of praise, the Magnificat. It’s the song of a young woman’s love: excited, exultant… and like all young love, it is desirous. Service, sharing what God has done for us, and fanning the flames of desirous love; I see this so beautifully on display in our high school and college campus ministries. When young people begin to contemplate the Lord just a little bit, they want to jump up and serve him in their neighbors… and as they do, as I hear their laughter, their praise at Eucharistic Adoration, their trust in confession/counsel, what I hear is an every-day form of the Magnificat. Like Mary, they run after God, they pursue him with ever greater intensity… sometimes almost recklessly… but always in love.

Finally we come to the Way of the Cross. All Christian experience must lead through the Cross, and Mary’s was no different. No longer an excited teen, Our Lady’s love, like the rest of her, has matured. The desire for God is still there, but strong, focused, persevering… and thank God for that mature love. This love is a love of choice, not convenience. As she watches her son take the abuse of the crowds, Mary feels every blow, winces at every mockery, weeps with every drop of blood that he leaves on the road. In an experience totally devoid of consolation, like Christ, she chooses to keep on loving… chooses to believe that the source of her love is still there, supplying her heart with the grace to go forward and attend Jesus in all things.  

In the long years that followed, Mary’s love, proven to the utmost, would be a strong support to the nascent Church and the Apostles… and one day, when the Lord allowed, the fruits of her contemplation, desire, and gift were finally realized. She passed on, directly into the glory of the Father who had loved her first and the Son she so desired to see again.  

Take time each day to perceive and contemplate God’s love for you… Fan the flames of that love by sharing its story with others and serving them… And choose each day no matter what to persevere. We are all capable of becoming martyr’s to Charity and sharing in Mary’s eternal reward. We return to where we began, Newman’s reflection:

“It was surely fitting then, it was becoming, that she should be taken up into heaven and not lie in the grave till Christ’s second coming, who had passed a life of sanctity and of miracle such as hers… Who can conceive that God should so repay the debt, which he condescended to owe his mother, for the elements of his human body, as to allow the flesh and blood from which it was taken to molder in the grave?”

Lord, my house is sinking.  What am I to do?

So… my Rectory is sinking. Well, not the whole house actually, just one corner of it. Nothing quite so dramatic as say… the sinking of Venice, mind you. That kind of drama would at least add an aesthetic quality to the whole experience. No my situation is much more banal. It seems that for several years an unnoticed downspout clog has caused water to collect under the corner of the Rectory, softening the soil. As Jesus himself pointed out, houses don’t do well when not built on solid rock. Hence, the half inch crack in my basement foundation wall, and the gentle (but menacing) bowing of a steel I-beam running under the length of the Rectory.  
I’m neither an architect, nor an engineer… the experts with whom I’ve spoken tell me the situation needs to be addressed, but it’s safe… for now. That last little phrase, “for now” runs through their assurance like a half-inch foundation crack… tiny, but menacing.

The day after the engineer’s visit, I went downtown to check in with the Finance Office at the Chancery (i.e. “local church headquarters”). I wanted to review the coming year’s budget with the powers that be and make sure they are well aware of this developing engineering situation… Anytime the word “engineering” is involved, count on the solution being expensive. And the thing is, we don’t have the money. Few parishes do these days and mine is among the tiniest of them. We get by remarkably well – all things considered – but slight upsets threaten disaster.   

Whether it’s little old me as Administrator of this lovely parish, or the whole Church trying to survive in the circumstances of the world… or you in the drama of daily life… we are, all of us, in a boat that constantly threatens to take on water (c.f. Mk. 4:35-41). Our situation isn’t actually that unusual, if you think about it… Human beings are always in a fragile state. A tiny clot in our blood can kill. The smallest fraying of the thinnest membrane in our hearts can mean death. A priest from Northern Nigeria told me last year that -there- people fear to sleep…because they never know when a team of militants may come to burn their church and village to the ground. Even in peaceful Edens like central Italy, one never knows when an earthquake may strike. So really, fragility shouldn’t shock us.

Prayer over the last two days reminds me of what Jesus told the Apostles in the boat that stormy night, “Why are you faint hearted? Have you so little faith?” In today’s morning prayer we read from Psalm 57, “in you my soul has taken refuge till the storms of destruction pass by.” and later, “They laid a snare in my path… but fell in it themselves.” The Divine Author speaks in the indicative… He is making a statement, confident. These surges of worry, that are -ultimately- about our lack of control don’t have to entrap us… We are safe in God’s hand… certainly no worse off than people anywhere in the world. In his book, “The Power of Silence,” Cardinal Sarah writes beautifully about how we tend to drag the noise of the world (i.e. these worries) into our prayer life, but they are only surface noise… they need not distract us from the grand silence of God which can claim and renew our souls. “Claim me once more as your own, Lord, and have mercy on me.” This is the Church’s confident refrain (c.f. Evening Prayer).  

Lord, remind me today that I… and ‘you-and-I’ are more than the mere circumstances of daily work, daily responsibilities…Remind me Lord that such circumstance, such noise doesn’t need to disturb the ever developing Grand Silence in which you are my refuge. “The light from on high shall break upon us…to guide our feet in the way of peace.” (Lk 1:68-79). Amen.