Saturday, June 8, 2013

Mary, Mother of Deacons

Today is the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Naturally enough, when we hear this title we immediately think of her Immaculate Conception--about Mary's freedom from sin from the moment of her conception. However for me, I think that the most important thing about the Immaculate Heart is not what it is free from, but with what it is filled...

A heart for service

In the first chapter of Luke's Gospel, he recounts that immediately after receiving the news of her own vocation as the Mother of the Lord, "Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth" (Luke 1:39-40). Mary's first reaction on receiving her call from God was to reach out to others and, in doing so, to bring the joy of Christ to them: 
"And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:43-45)
Mary had faith not only in God's plan for her, but in his plan for Elizabeth. Though the angel never asks her to go, she instinctively understands that she has an important role--that she is not only a receiver of grace, but an instrument of grace. In a similar way the reception of Holy Orders, though it is a great gift of grace, is not primarily about receiving but about giving. This is true for bishops and priests as well, but that call to service is most immediate for the deacon. We are called to 'make haste' is reaching out to those in need, in following in Mary's own footsteps to reach out the lowly and help God to raise them up as Mary proclaims in her Magnificat.

A heart for sacrifice

There is an almost liturgical quality to John's description of Jesus's Crucifixion. It begins by describing the arrangement for the sacrifice:
"Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala" (John 19:25). 
Jesus, the Great High Priest, is not alone in his sacrifice. Of course, he alone can make the sacrifice--no one can do it for him and no one can offer it with Him. Yet he is not alone. His mother and the other women are by his side as he offers the great gift of his Body and Blood for the life of the world. As he is lifted up to draw all people to himself, they stand in the place of the offering and beckon the world to join him.

I had the privilege today of serving with the Archbishop during my ordination mass. While I stood behind him during the Eucharistic Prayer as he offered up the Body and Blood of the Lord in that one-same-sacrifice of the Cross, I couldn't helping thinking of that scene in John's Gospel. I could add nothing to the sacrifice and yet there I was standing in the place of offering, standing under the Cross with the Blessed Virgin and the holy women. As deacons we are called to have a heart for Christ's sacrifice: to have a true devotion to the Eucharist that draws people toward the altar. Like Mary, we are to draw people toward her Son.

A heart for the Gospel

After the events surrounding the birth of Jesus, Luke says that "Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart" (Luke 2:19). In the same way, after finding Jesus teaching the teachers of Israel in the temple, she "kept all these things in her heart" (Luke 2:51). The Greek verb sumballousa in Luke 2:19 that is translated "reflecting" literally means 'thrown together' and implies a comparison and weighing of facts. Mary's "reflecting" is not a simple reminiscing about things that happened. Rather it is a kind of struggling to make sense of what she has seen and heard, an attempt to understand a divine plan that she cannot fully comprehend. Mary not only opens her Immaculate Heart to be filled with the Good News, she struggles to understand it.

Deacons are called to be heralds of the Gospel, to help people apply the Good News in the concrete situations of their lives. Yet to do this effectively, we have to follow after Mary in struggling with the Gospel. We must not look at the scriptures as set of platitudes to be offered, but a set of challenges to accept. We have to contemplate God's word not simply as an academic exercise, but as a means of drawing from them God's plan for us and for the people we serve.

Mary, Mother of Deacons

So, in a very special way, Mary is the Mother of Deacons. Her Immaculate Heart, joined in love to the Sacred Heart of her Son, is the prototype against which we should strive to conform our own hearts: filled with love of service, filled with love for Christ's sacrifice made present in the Holy Eucharist and filled with the contemplation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Mary my Mother,
Our Glorious Lady of the Angels,
Intercede for me with your Son
that I too may come not to be served
but to serve,
and to give my whole life in that service.

Pray that I may join my heart to His
by allowing Him to make my heart like yours.
Through Christ Our Lord.

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