Mary - Disciple and Evangelist
by Fr. Rufus Pereira
Hearing and Obeying God's Word
It was Luke's aim to write an exact and well ordered account of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, as attested by eye witnesses and ministers of the word. He therefore begins his Gospel with God taking the initiative in sending the Angel Gabriel to Mary, seemingly during her time of prayer, to tell her that she was truly blessed to have been chosen by God for his plan (Jesus in his turn would later tell his Apostles that he had chosen them, and not that they have chosen him, to bear fruit), for God was indeed pleased with her (Jesus would later say that the Father always hears his prayer and that the Evil One has no power over him because he always does his Father's will), and that is why the Lord was with her. Mary's response to this series of amazing divine compliments was, to paraphrase it, a blushing confusion, as she wondered within herself what they meant and where was all this leading to.
The Angel then revealed to her God's plan for the salvation of man, whom he still loved in spite of his unfaithfulness. She was to conceive and bear a son, who will be a great and eternal King, and who will be hailed as Jesus, i.e. Saviour, Mary could not understand why such a great honour should be hers of all the women of Israel, and much less how could that be possible since she was a virgin. The Angel then assured her that it would be by the power of the Holy Spirit that she would conceive and that therefore the child will be holy and special and will be called Son of God. Moreover, she was to know that her own kinswoman, Elizabeth, has, even though old and barren, herself conceived a son, for nothing was impossible to God.
God was not 'waiting' for Mary to say Yes, much less did he have to 'depend' on her to say Yes. He had already chosen Mary precisely because he was confident that she would accept his Word and say, 'Yes, Ecce, Here I am to do your Will'; (just as Samuel had said earlier, 'Lord, I am only your servant; Speak, I am listening'). Therefore her response, "Ecce: Behold the handmaid of the Lord, Fiat: Be it done to me according to your Word" (Lk 1:38), was just the verbal expression of her total surrender to the Lord and her total compliance with his plan, to be carried out through and in her, which is the hallmark of perfect discipleship. The moment she articulated her availability to God's will in general and her acceptance of God's plan in particular, God became man and dwelt among us. The angel then departed, with his mission accomplished so fruitfully, which we recall daily in the Angelus prayer and in the first joyful mystery of the Rosary, the Annunciation of the Lord.
Bearing and Bringing God's Word
You would have thought that the next Gospel Story and the next Joyful Mystery of the Rosary would logically be the Birth of Jesus. But that is only the third joyful mystery. In between is the Second Joyful Mystery, the Visitation of Our Lady, connecting the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word of God with the mystery of the Nativity of the Son of God. If the first joyful mystery and the first infancy narrative portray Mary as the perfect disciple, the second joyful mystery and the second infancy narrative depict her as the perfect evangelist. The Gospel Message seems to be clear. A devoted disciple will like Mary aspire to be an enthusiastic evangelist and, on the other hand, one cannot be a successful evangelist without being a dedicated disciple.
For the very next verse 39 delineates the first step of Marian Evangelism, which entails making personal contact with the person to be evangelized. For after the angel left her, "Mary arose and went with haste to a town of Judah and entered Zechariah's house". Firstly, she arose, i.e., she got up, not just physically, but emotionally, leaving everything else aside as of no or little consequence. You cannot evangelize by watching TV day and night or dozing in an easy chair. You have like Mary to get up and, secondly, get going.
For Mary went with all haste (the literal translation), or, she walked as quickly as she could, or, as I prefer to translate the phrase, 'she ran', as any high spirited young girl would do, from northern Galilee across the rough and unfriendly terrain of Samaria into southern Judea. She was no leisurely evangelist but, to use the title of the life of a well-known saint, 'A Saint in a Hurry', bringing God's love and compassion in her trail, in contrast with today's 'terrorist in a rush' bringing about hatred and destruction in his path.
That is why the celebrated modern painting of Mary, not in the traditional stance of looking heavenwards with hands joined in prayer, but in the startling pose of leaving her house at Nazareth of set purpose, and looking forward with swift steps and eager hands, pictured by an Italian Capuchin priest exorcist friend, is the true portrait of Mary for our times. And, thirdly, she went into Zechariah's house, or rather, she entered the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth, i.e., into their lives, with their joys and sorrows, their blessings and burdens.
Now that the first step of evangelism, i.e., arising, hurrying, and entering, to establish contact, had taken place, the next step was for Mary to reach out to their joyful but broken hearts. For in hearing the good news of her kinswoman having conceived, she must have remembered the bad news of Zachariah being struck dumb because of his lack of faith in God's promise, in spite of being a priest and even having prayed for the gift of a child. She did not have to preach or moralize but her words of simple but genuine greeting brought comfort and assurance to Elizabeth, resulting in her now coming to know by the power of the Holy Spirit that this was no ordinary woman but the mother of her Lord, which she became because of her faith in God's word.
An unexpected confirmation also took place. At the sound of Mary's greeting not only was Elizabeth filled with the Holy Spirit which made her cry out with the joy of recognition of the presence of her Lord in Mary's womb, but the child in her own womb, conceived under the shadow of its father's disbelief and consequent curse of dumbness, was also filled with the Holy Spirit, making it leap for joy. Mary is not credited in the Gospels with having healed anyone, but what happened to John the Baptist while still in his mother's womb at the very sound of Mary's greeting is truly a remarkable healing and miracle. This should make us realize that the second step in evangelism is to bring the forgiving and healing love of God to others, through one's own compassion, in what is called today the process and ministry of inner healing.
Proclaiming and Testifying to God's Word
And only then did Mary open her mouth fully and joyfully to proclaim with praise and thanksgiving the Lord's greatness and goodness, his power and mercy, in having confounded the proud of heart and exalted the lowly in spirit, which is the third step of authentic and effective evangelism. Here again we would not credit Mary with having ever preached. But in a way one of the greatest proclamations (or sermons) in the Bible is Mary's so called Song or Hymn, 'The Magnificat', where Mary praises God's holiness and proclaims his faithfulness, shouting (magnificat) with might and dancing (exultavit) for joy.
She supports her proclamation by her own personal testimony of the great things that the Lord has done for her, in disregarding her lowliness and blessing her forever. The proclamation cum testimony was obviously also meant to inspire her hearers with the hope that as God has done great things to an unknown village girl of Nazareth (as later on he would do to Bernadette of Lourdes and to Lucia of Fatima), he would do great and beautiful things also in their lives. As the hymn goes:
Something beautiful, something good,
All my confusion he understood,
All I had to offer him was brokenness and strife,
But he made something beautiful of my life".
Is that all? Are there only three steps to Marian Evangelization. No. There is one last, seemingly unimpressive, but all the more important step related in just one sentence, in verse 56, the conclusion of the Visitation episode and mystery: "Mary stayed (remained) with Elizabeth about three months and then went back home". The process of evangelism does not end with a big fish caught or a great sinner converted but continues for a certain period in an unassuming way by supporting the person to be faithful and to grow in his daily Christian life with the help of a Spirit-filled fellowship. Is it any wonder then that 'Evangelii Nuntiandi', the 1975 document on evangelization, hails Mary as the Star of Evangelization?
Be with us, Mary, along the way,
Guide every step we take;
Lead us to Jesus, your loving Son,
Come with us, Mary, come.
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