This morning, as we celebrate a Votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the occasion of the annual CMSWR Assembly and on the cusp of the Year of Faith, the Scriptural readings of the day could not be more appropriate.
We can discern in these readings the image of Mary, the Mother of the Incarnate Word and the supreme model of fruitful consecrated life; and we can discern in them our own vocations to consecrated life and apostolic fruitfulness as the Church prays earnestly for authentic renewal in professing and spreading the faith. Let us briefly explore these themes.
II. The Image of Mary
We begin with the Gospel, the parable of the sower. All of us have reflected on this Gospel many times and no doubt we have examined our consciences accordingly. Have we allowed the comings and goings of daily life, even those that arise from our service to the Church, to choke off all opportunity truly to be a hearer and a doer of the Word? Have we heard the Word of God but hardened our hearts like the stony ground onto which some of the sower’s seed fell? Has it been the case that prickly, possessive, rebellious side of our human nature choked off the Word of God from bearing fruit in our lives? To what extent have our souls been fertile soil in which God’s Word can germinate? This passage readily lends itself to a soul-searching lectio divina.
Yet today’s liturgy gives us the opportunity to encounter this parable from the perspective of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Sinless from the moment of her conception, fully cooperative with the abundant graces and privileges God showered upon her, lovingly attuned to the saving plan of God, Mary conceived the Word of God in her heart before she conceived Him in her womb, as many of the Fathers of the Church like to say, especially St. Augustine. The soil of Mary’s soul was so fertile, so full of grace, that in the power of the Holy Spirit she conceived the Person of the Word, the Eternal Son of God who took flesh in her womb and was born into human history. How utterly Mary fulfilled what her Son our Lord would teach: “Blessed are they who have kept the word with a generous heart and yield a harvest through perseverance.” How we rejoice to say each day: “Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus”.
No other human being has been or will be sinless from the moment of conception, none will remain entirely sinless throughout their lives, and none will enjoy the privileges which the Holy Spirit lavished upon her. Yet Mary’s prayers, her example, and her loving maternal presence inflame our hearts with hope as we ask the Holy Spirit to cultivate our “interior soil”, the very ground of our existence, with all the virtues both supernatural and natural that will make them both receptive to the living Word of God and effective in bearing witness to it within our communities, among the baptized, and among the un-churched and the lapsed. Mary, who leads us to Jesus, prompts us to open our hearts to the Holy Spirit, so that our hearts might be capable of receiving the Word of Life and Love, and bringing forth a rich harvest, not only for ourselves but also those we serve. Indeed, Mary who was poor, chaste, and obedient – and fruitful – helps us see how a life wholly consecrated to God bears abundant and lasting fruit!
III. Mary Assumed Body and Soul
Not only do we find Mary’s image in the Parable of the Sower, we can also find traces of the mystery of Mary in Paul’s words to the Corinthians. Like Jesus, St. Paul is also using images of sowing and reaping, but in this case his words seem to be reflective of what Jesus teaches in John’s Gospel: “Unless the grain of wheat falls to the ground & dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (John 12:24).
And we may say to ourselves, Mary did not die; the Fathers of the Church spoke of “Mary’s dormition”. Contrary to what St. Paul says in our first reading, Mary was not sown corruptible and raised incorruptible; nor was she sown dishonorable only to be raised honorable. Rather, the Church teaches and we profess that Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven where she is reigns as Queen of Heaven and Earth. Is it the case, then, that Mary’s image slips through our fingers as we read this passage from Paul?
We can think that only if we ignore the sword of sorrow that pieced the sinless, fertile, heart in which Mary stored the living memory of the mysteries of the Kingdom of God. We can lose sight of Mary in St. Paul’s words only insofar as we do not journey with Mary to the foot of the Cross, where the intrepid Virgin shared in the Lord’s passion and death, his gift of self, more fully than any other human being ever has or ever will. As the last Adam poured out his life upon the Cross, Mary, the new Eve, stood beneath the Cross – both the Mother of God and the Mother of the Church. No one more than Mary bears the image of the heavenly one.
What does this mean for us except that as we prayerfully consider the vocation of the consecrated life in these days and its role in the new evangelization – Mary is our exemplar of how consecration and mission mutually reinforce each other; Mary is also our powerful intercessor as we ask for the grace to be wholly receptive to the Word of God but also as we seek the courage we need to undergo that death to self which is so necessary for seed of God’s Word to germinate and bear fruit. At length it is the Cross which tills the soil of our hearts such that when we truly die to self our labors bear a rich harvest of grace for ourselves and to whom we have been sent in our various ministries.
Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church, pray for us!