By George E. Hillman
Each year, on August 15, our liturgical calendar invites us to reflect upon the exemplary discipleship of Mary, the blessed virgin and mother of our Lord. For many centuries the Church has honored Mary because of the singular grace bestowed upon her as the one chosen by God to be the vessel of our Lord’s Incarnation. Preeminently at the Annunciation, and then repeatedly afterwards, the Blessed Virgin practiced radical trust in God by believing his revelation to her, however remarkable. This included risking even the shame that might befall her as the result of an unexplainable birth to a young, unmarried virgin.
Mary’s persistence in trusting God, even in the most extraordinary circumstances, distinguished her as a model of what it means to be a faithful, cooperative, and long-suffering disciple of the Lord. Indeed her witness teaches us how to locate ourselves and our experience within a God-context, especially in the midst of confusion or dilemma Mary consistently points us to God and dares us to embrace his will with full confidence and blessed assurance. Ideally, this faith orientation encompasses all life experiences, of whatever variety.
A genuine look at Mary’s apostolate allows us to recognize the way in which she abandoned herself to the truth of God. This confidence was the primary energy of her life. In all matters, both great and small, she sought to reference her experience of God, “the mighty one who has done great things for me, whose name is holy” (Luke 1:49).
But perhaps most notably, what the Church believes in specifics about Mary’s graced life is also applicable, in general, to all believers. Beginning with Hannah, upon whose song of thanksgiving at the birth of Samuel, the Virgin’s own Magnificat was modeled, believers are continually reminded of their own blessed proximity to God. From the chosen people of Israel, right down to ourselves, we are challenged to appropriate our status as the children of God.
Mary’s song, the Magnificat, enunciates to all an invitation to holiness by persistent determination to live in the light of faith in God, who has “come to the help of his servant Israel, for he has remembered his promise of mercy, the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his seed forever” (Luke: 54-5).
The life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, along with the saintly testimonies of other holy souls, illustrates the profound effect that faith can have upon one’s world view, one’s own reality. Faith in God reorders our sense of justice and our definition of life’s priorities. In the exercise of this faith which we see reflected in the life of blessed Mary, we glimpse a veritable “reversal of fortunes” as “(God) has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.” (Luke 1:52-3)
Hail, Mary, full of grace. Blessed are you among women.
The Very Rev. George E. Hillman was the dean of All Saints’ Cathedral, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.