Tomorrow, May 1 is known as May Day, or here in Hawaii, Lei Day. For the Catholic Church, it kicks off the Month of Mary – a month where we honor the Mother of God, and her fiat to the question of whether or not she would bring Jesus, the Savior, into the world. For the month of May, I am going to try to blog frequently, and spend all the blogging time reflecting on Mary, and how I may grow closer to her, in an effort to grow closer to her Son, the Lord.
Many Catholic women try to find some way to honor Mary during the month of May. I have heard and read about some women establishing “Mary Gardens” in the month of May (I’ll blog about that at some point, I’m sure – until then, you can Google “Mary Garden” and explore that concept). Other ladies will wear skirts or dresses daily throughout the month of May as a subtle tribute to the Blessed Virgin. Others will pray the Rosary daily (much in the manner of a Catholic “adding” something to their Lenten journey every Lent). Whatever is done, it is done to recognize the woman who Christians believe brought Jesus Christ into the world, raised Him, watched Him suffer His Passion and death, and was there when He was resurrected. There are many misconceptions about Catholics, and their reverence and respect for Mary – some of which I will address in this blog throughout the month. But, for now, I wanted to start off with what I felt was a beautiful reflection and description of what Mary means to the Catholic Church.
Taken from The Way of the Lamb: The Spirit of Childhood and the End of the Age, by John Saward [(pp. 146-149) italics provided by myself for what Saward quotes from others] , he writes:
“The Magi found the Child Jesus with Mary his Mother (cf. Matt 2:11), and so do we. It is not human childhood in isolation that is exalted by the Incarnation of the Son of God, but childhood and motherhood together. As Balthasar says:
The Madonna and Child are, for the Christian, the unique, incomparable pair which places every mother and child relationship within the radiance of eternal grace.
We cannot hope to be led by the divine Lamb or learn from Him if we turn away from the human Mother He deigned to share with us. Sadly, Protestantism would not accept the gift of the Blessed Mother, and, by a terrible inevitability, the Maryless Christology became a Christianity without Christ. Already in the nineteenth century, in the early decades of Liberal Protestantism, Cardinal Newman pointed to the tragic irony of the fact that the religion which once threw off devotion to Our Lady in order to give more glory to her Son had now ended up by refusing to worship Him as God.
In The Everlasting Man, Chesterton illustrates from his own memory the strange deformity that comes upon Christianity when Christians will not honor the woman in whose flesh and by whose faith God became man. He writes as follows:
When I was a boy a more Puritan generation objected to a statue upon my parish church representing the Virgin and Child. After much controversy, they compromised by taking away the Child. One would think that this was even more corrupted with Mariolatry, unless the Mother was counted less dangerous when deprived of a sort of weapon. But the present difficulty was also a parable. You cannot chip away the statue of a mother from all round that of a newborn child … Similarly, you cannot suspend the idea of a newborn child in the void or think of him without thinking of his mother. You cannot visit the child without visiting the mother; you cannot in common human life approach the child except through his mother. If we are to think of Christ in this aspect at all, the other idea follows as it is followed in history. We must either leave Christ out of Christmas, or Christmas out of Christ, or we must admit, if only as we admit in an old picture, that those holy heads are too near together for the haloes not to mingle and cross.
Balthasar has his own beautiful metaphor to enunciate the same truth. He speaks of ‘the Christological Constellation’. Christ, the Sun of Justice, the central star, shines with an incomparable splendor, but He does not shine alone. In Heaven, as once on earth, He is inseparable from His Blessed Mother and gives us all His graces through her. The Mother/Son relationship is indestructible.
At the beginning, at the very heart of the Incarnation event, stands Mary, the perfect Handmaid, who ‘let it be done unto her’. She consented both physically and spiritually to a motherly relationship with the person and work of her Son. This relationship might change as Jesus grew and developed His independent personality, but it would never be extinguished.
Balthasar warned on many occasions of the terrible consequences of taking the Child from His Mother.
Without Mariology Christianity threatens imperceptibility to become inhuman. The Church becomes functionalistic, soulless, a hectic enterprise without any point of rest, estranged from its true nature by the planners. And because, in this manly-masculine world, all that we have is one ideology replacing another, everything becomes polemical, critical, bitter, humourless, and ultimately boring, and people in their masses run away from such a Church.
All the gifts of the Redeemer – the grace of Christian good humour, the virtue of childlike hope, the exhilaration of orthodoxy – pass through the love and prayers of Our Lady, the Mediatrix of All Graces. That is why, for the two great men I have been discussing, she somehow sums up in her person the whole of Catholic Christianity. The Queen of Heaven brings everything down to earth. As Chesterton says:
Our Lady reminding us especially of God Incarnate, does in some degree gather up and embody all those elements of the heart and the higher instincts, which are the legitimate short cuts to the love of God.
Balthasar always see the Church in Mary and Mary in the Church. She is not only the Church’s model and Mother, but also in some way the Church’s personification. She is the Kirche Im Ursprung, the Church’s immaculate beginning as well as her glorious final destiny. In words which show both the humility of a child and the chivalry of a knight, Chesterton likewise explains in The Well and the Shallows how Our Lady and the Catholic Church were always in his mind bound up together:
I never doubted that this figure was the figure of the Faith; that she embodied, as a complete human being still only human, all that this Thing had to say to humanity. The instant I remembered the Catholic Church, I remembered her; when I tried to forget the Catholic Church, I tried to forget her; when I finally saw what was nobler than my fate, the freest and the hardest of all my acts of freedom, it was in front of a gilded and very gaudy little image of her in the port of Brindisi, that I promised the thing that I would do, if I returned to my own land.
Those words require no commentary, nor does my already long tale of these unlikely likenesses need lengthening. We have arrived at the main connection. Now at last we know why the likeness between Balthasar and Chesterton is greater than the differences. A common maternal influence kept their shared youthfulness unto death. By the intercession of Virgin Mother Mary, and through the Sacraments of Virgin Mother Church, the Holy Spirit renewed them in the likeness of the Lamb and moved them to tread His little way to the Father. There was a family resemblance. Balthasar and Chesterton are sons of the same Mother.”