Mary: Icon of Hope

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Light and Life – Nov-Dec 2020, Vol 73, No 6 – A Publication of the Western Dominican Province

 

Mary: Icon of Hope

By Fr. Luke Buckles, O.P.

 

[Fr. Luke Buckles, OP entered the Order of Preachers through the Western Province in 1972 and was ordained in 1978. After receiving his doctorate in theology, he taught at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology (DSPT). In 2003, he began teaching at the University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome where he had done his doctoral studies. In Fall of 2020, he returned home to the Western Province where he began teaching again at the DSPT.]

One of the titles in the Litany of Loreto for Mary is “cause of our joy”. We, the members of the Church, are called to live a life of faith, hope, and charity, and the fruits of charity are joy and peace. Now we are a pilgrim people in the Church moving from age to age in faithfulness to our Lord, the Good Shepherd. When our pilgrimage in hope is complete, we will live forever in charity and the deepest longing of our faith will be fulfilled in seeing the Lord face to face, our deepest hope will be realized and in this we will know eternal joy. During this pilgrimage as we continue to grow in charity, we need to be renewed each day in faith and hope. Taking the inspiration from Pope Benedict in his letter Spes Salvi. “Hope is a key word in Biblical faith—so much so that in several passages the words “faith” and “hope” seem interchangeable.”1 Hope saves because it brings what faith teaches and promises into the present moment.

This paper is a meditation upon Our Lady’s life as a series of ascending ever higher steps in hope in God’s promise which I am calling “icons of hope”. Each step invites her and ourselves with her, to move forward beyond what the human circumstances of that moment, our understanding, or previous experiences would be able to support with just ordinary human optimism. Mary is making these steps with a deep humble “fiat” let it be done to me. At each step this is her response in hope.

The first Icon of Hope: The Annunciation. This is our first meeting with the Blessed Virgin Mary (Luke 1: 26-38) At the mysterious encounter with the angel Gabriel and his greeting we read that: “She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean.” (Lk 1: 29) The angel Gabriel tells her not to be afraid and that she will conceive and bear a son. (Lk 1:31,32) Naturally not being married, Mary wonders how can this come about? “How can this be?” The angel tells her that the power of God will come upon her and her Son will be the Son of God. (Lk 1:36) This is our Lady’s first great step in hope. There is nothing in her life experience or the immediate human circumstances of her life which would permit this to happen. It is only in the power of Almighty God that this miraculous conception and birth will take place. In great hope she answers: “I am the handmaid of the Lord…let what you have said be done to me.” Fiat.

Her hope in the Lord was confirmed in the most intimate manner. The first time she felt the baby Jesus move within her womb she knew in a profoundly personal way that she is a virgin and now she is with child. Magnificat “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit exults in God my Saviour…. the Almighty has done great things for me.” (Lk 1:46,49) Imagine the joy and the peace at the moment of her Son’s birth, the Son of God and the Savior of the world.

The Second Icon of Hope: Nazareth. However, her steps in hope would take her even further into the mystery of divine love and Providence. From the witness of Sacred Scripture there followed the thirty years in Nazareth, the ordinary years, the day-by-day years. Living in a small village the Son of God, the Savior, the Eternal Word, learned how to speak, and the Way, the Truth, and the Life, learned how to walk. The Word “…through him all things came to be, not one thing had its being but through him…” (John 1: 3) learned how to be a carpenter. How can this be?

Our Lady must have made so many acts of hope regarding the meaning of these thirty hidden, humble years in the life of her Son, the long-awaited Messiah. She lived these thirty years of ordinary life in a solitary hope which dwelt in her Immaculate Heart. Eventually, after these hidden thirty years she witnessed her quiet hope to be realized in a great and remarkable manner for all to see. When Jesus began his public ministry, His mother, Mary ,surely heard of the wondrous signs and miracles: the sick were healed, the blind were seeing, the lame were walking, bread was multiplied to feed thousands and she herself witnessed when her son transformed water into wine at a wedding in Cana. Even the dead were revived. Magnificat “My souls proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit exults in God my Saviour…. the Almighty has done great things for me.” (Lk 1:46,49)

The Third Icon of Hope: The Cross at Calvary. We know that the journey of Hope in the life of our Lady would bring light to illumine the darkest moments of human life: moments of suffering unbearable physical pain, injustice, the grief of a young mother standing by the excruciating slow and painful death of her Son. What must have been the thoughts of this young mother. Mary surely and painfully remembered times when her son fell learning how to walk, on this day when she saw him fall three times on his way to the Cross, she was not able to help him up. Maybe she remembered those times as a young boy Jesus wanting something to eat or drink when she was able to nourish his hunger and thirst. Now he thirsts desperately and she is not able to assuage his thirst. Maybe she thought of another widow whose son had been revived. Now, she is the poor widow and Jesus who brought life to the other widow’s son is himself now dying.

What must she have felt when she cradled the crucified and dead body of her son in her maternal arms? How many times she had held him as a baby and a young boy. How can this be? How can this be? Where is his Heavenly Father of whom Jesus spoke “who clothes the lilies of the field and takes care of the birds of the air…” (Mt. 6:25-34) There was no answer. Imagine the darkness surrounding Our Lady the painful first Good Friday night. The silence of the heavy darkness and sorrow of the first Holy Saturday. We do not know what was happening in the hearts of the disciples who fled in fear before Calvary, the sorrow crushing John and Mary Magdalene, but through this long darkness there still burned a small and gentle light of hope in Mary’s heart. Although every human support had been taken away except, the light of hope, which continued to bring to the incomprehensive darkness, the light of God’s promise to save His people through her crucified and buried Son.

In the pilgrimage of our lives we will also be led by the Spirit into the desert, where we are invited to make an act of hope which is not supported by our  physical strength or our limited human understanding. This hope is in the Lord’s infinite love and power hidden in his Providence at that moment of the deserts, the dark nights, in our lives. The saints experienced the most profound spiritual growth not simply by what they accomplished cooperating with the gift of grace, invisibly and freely initiating, sustaining, and completing their good works, but rather in a lived hope through the desert, the dark nights, as St. John of the Cross called them in his writing. There are many examples of this hope in the lives and writings of the saints. Permit me to name three: John of the Cross, Therese of Lisieux, and Thomas Aquinas.

One commentator has said concerning the great mystic, poet and doctor that:

John sees the spiritual life as this universal call to search constantly for union with God. It is a personal exodus from our own captivity to the promised land…. a firm, unrelenting, and enthusiastic search for union with God, which John calls a “better love,” that is, a desire for Christ that is greater than all other desires. This growth takes place principally if not exclusively in the nights, the transitions or crisis periods of our lives.2

St. Therese of Lisieux demonstrated a life of heroic charity, and great patience in her physical and spiritual suffering. Near the end of her pilgrimage she was brought through a profound dark night, a desert in which all she had was her hope in the Lord. She writes:

everything has disappeared…. when I sing of the happiness of heaven and of the eternal possession of God, I feel no joy in this, for I sing simply what I want to believe.3

St. Thomas Aquinas, as he received the Eucharist for the final time before he completed his pilgrimage of hope, was heard to say by those near him:

O price of my redemption and food for my pilgrimage, I receive you. For your sake I have studied and toiled and kept vigil. I have preached You and taught you Jesus whom I now behold veiled, I ask you to grant what I do thirst for that I may see your face unveiled, and that the sight of your glory may be my bliss.4

The Fourth Icon of Hope: The Empty Tomb at Easter. Imagine Our Lady’s joy when she saw her Risen Son for the first time. Everything has been brought to completion in the earthly pilgrimage of her life. All is transformed in the Risen Christ. The light of hope which illuminated her way in ascending each of the great steps enabled her ever more profoundly to offer her fiat. The light of hope which was within her heart through the terrible suffering and death of her son and remained with her to illumine the long dark silence of the first Holy Saturday is now joined to the Eternal Light which illuminates the fulfillment of all hope.

Now, after Mary’s glorious Assumption and Coronation as Queen of Heaven and Earth she prays for us, her children still on our pilgrimage. She prays that each of our steps may be illuminated with that hope which will not disappoint us but will be eternally fulfilled in the Eternal light of her Risen Son. Mary pray for us, that in the most challenging dark nights in our lives, with the light of the hope that sustained you, we may say fiat with you and know eternal love, in our hope fulfilled.


1. Benedict XVI. Spes Salvi. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice. 2007,4
2. Leonard Doohan, The Contemporary Challenge of John of the Cross: An Introduction to His Life and Teaching. Washington D.C. Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1995, 46-7. 80.
3. St. Therese of Lisieux. Story of A Soul. Trans. John Clark OCD,
Washington D.C.: Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1996, 213.
4. Mary Ann Fatula, OP., Thomas Aquinas: Preacher and Friend. Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1993, 268.


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