Light and Life – Nov-Dec 2018, Vol 71, No 6 – A Publication of the Western Dominican Province
At Cana, Mary tells the servants to “do whatever he tells you,” and they fill the water jars to the brim. The gospel is a story told about us, so Mary is not merely speaking to the hired hands at a wedding reception; she is speaking to us. When our Holy Father visited Ireland in 1979, he prayed to Mary, “We wish to do what your Son tells us… to carry out and fulfill all that comes from him…as our forefathers did for many centuries….” Thus, what Mary might tell us first about following God’s will is to embrace it, without considering the cost – or the consequences.
And if embracing God’s will leads to suffering? Our faith tells us Jesus took on our flesh and went through every moment of our life. Not so we would not have to, but to show us how, and how “to get it right.” In the Incarnation, God’s Word came to look like us, which means we look like Him. All our images of Mary present us a beautiful portrait, but she would be the first to remind us, “Beauty isn’t simply as Beauty does; Beauty is only as Beauty does.” If we look like Jesus, we must act like Him, even if – perhaps especially if – this means following His example of suffering. In His moments of greatest suffering, in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross, Our Savior has bound Himself most intimately to us. Mary’s words to “Do whatever he tells you” are more than an instruction that will save a host from the embarrassment of failing to provide adequately for his guests’ refreshment. These words are a command to imitate Our Savior by embracing the suffering He endured for our salvation.
Our Blessed Mother was no stranger to this suffering. When she said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word,” (Lk. 1:38) Mary acknowledged her willingness to surrender – to give up – to God’s will. When we consider Mary’s response to the angel, we probably most often think of the joy she experienced when she visited her kinswoman, Elizabeth, and then gave birth to Our Savior. However, the additional consequences of her surrender have led to our naming her “Our Lady of Sorrows.” These painful events include the flight into Egypt, encountering Jesus on the way to Calvary, and witnessing His death and burial. We may, occasionally at least, consider suffering a punishment for sin. But if Mary suffered, she who was sinless from the first moment of her existence, we must adopt a different view of suffering.
Mary’s words at the Annunciation show that nothing in our spiritual life is done automatically or mechanically, without personal participation. We are not mere tools in God’s hands, and grace never deprives us of our freedom. However, God, too, is free, and He can withdraw from us – if only momentarily – and allow us to suffer, that we may realize just how infinitely deep is the abyss of our human infirmity. The value of this abandonment is unquestionably hard to acknowledge at the time, but it is a sign of God’s regard and trust, and evidence that He intends to bring something from the experience, something far greater than the pain we undergo.
Were we to ask, what might Mary say about the moments of suffering that occasionally befall each of us? She would undoubtedly begin her reflection by reminding us that suffering invites us to throw ourselves on God’s mercy, even if we can discern little or no evidence of that mercy. She would remind us that our moments of suffering should not be moments of despair, but rather of revelation, for when we come face to face with our weakness we learn to embrace the true Humility that is the remedy for Pride and Self-conceit. Mary will assure us that wherever we find Gethsemane or the Cross we will find ourselves. God already knows our inner dispositions, so suffering teaches God nothing, but it teaches us a great deal about ourselves.
If we asked Our Blessed Mother to continue, she might tell us that God allows us to suffer to remind us of our weakness. St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that if we did not have bodies we would be faced with the same choice as the angels at the moment of creation – aware of how magnificent our minds are, and just how wonderful our existence would be if we were subject to no one but ourselves. Suffering is a reminder how very much we need God’s mercy and love. Mary might also suggest that God allows us to suffer to strengthen us. Experience teaches we are apt to extend ourselves physically only so far as we must. In the last century two Dominican theologians observed, “The same…is likely to happen in the soul when no demands are made of it….”
Mary tells us, “Do whatever he tells you”; if we take her words seriously, we will find ourselves at the Cross. With her, who was the first to take these words to heart.
He has raised up for us a mighty savior, born of the house of his servant David. Luke 1:69
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