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At the Annunciation, Mary generously and joyously agreed to bid God’s will, to become the Mother of Jesus, the Son of God (Jn. 1.38). Hers was a magnanimous response to God’s invitation, an unconditional yes (fiat) to collaborate with God in His plan to save humankind. Her open willingness to God remains a perennially rich model for us believers to emulate and draw inspiration from. Mary is a constant reminder of what joyful obedience and respect to God’s word should really mean for us Christian believers. We are invited, encouraged, spurred on to be like her, to “keep the Word”, to ponder it and by our lifestyle, to accomplish it (Mother of the Redeemer, 20.7).
Now in the wedding scene at Cana, Mary, having noticed that there was no more wine, with a mother’s confidence she said to the servants: “Do whatever He tells you (Jn. 2.5). The words: “Do whatever He tells you,” reveals Mary’s maternal care. She intervenes between Jesus and the servants, thereby becoming the mediator. She invites the servants to obedience. She encourages them to keep a “true attitude of the covenant”. Israel has entered into a covenant with God: “I will be your God and you will be my people”. True disciples take the Word of God to heart. John Paul II says, Mary points out those things which must be done so that the salvific power of the Messiah may be manifested” (Mother of the Redeemer, 21.4). It was Mary who evoked the first “sign” of Jesus as Cana, that is, the change of water into wine. Cana then became the “beginning” of the self-revelation of the Messiah. The “choice wine” hitherto held back, symbolized the Good News of the Gospel.
At the wedding feast at Cana, Jesus addresses Mary, not as mother, but as “Woman”; “Woman why turn to me, my hour has not yet come” (Jn. 2.4). This appellation suggests that there is now a new relationship between Jesus and Mary, a relationship that goes beyond the blood bond of Mother and Son. In this context Jesus reveals Himself as Messiah. Mary’s role assumes a universal dimension. She becomes involved in the saving mission of Jesus. She is now a close collaborator of Jesus in the work of redemption.
Her spiritual motherhood embraces all human beings. It is on the basis of this new maternal role of Mary that Christians feel privileged to approach her as their spokesperson, their intercessor when they face daunting challenges and a multitude of needs and wants.
The use of the title “woman” by Jesus when He referred to His Mother at Cana, echoes the Old Testament use of the title of “Woman Zion”, “Daughter of Zion”, “Mother Zion”. It was Zion, the Mother of Israel who “called her children back from exile”.
Psalm 86 says:
“And of Mother Zion they shall say: One and all were born in her”. The Israelites of the Old Testament pinned their hope of salvation on the Messianic Daughter of Zion. This symbolic figure of a woman became embodied in Mary as the Mother of the Messianic people, the Mother of the new people of God.
Another text that speaks to the spiritual Motherhood of Mary is in the Calvary narration where Jesus once again addresses His Mother as Woman. “Woman behold your son!” and, to the disciple: “Behold your mother!” (Jn. 19.25). Mary, the woman at the foot of the cross of Jesus, fulfils the promise of the prophets. She is the “new Zion”. She represents the messianic community. She gives birth to the new People of God. Her spiritual Motherhood comes to definitive maturity in her at the foot of the cross, through her sharing in the redemptive love of her son” (Rom. 23.2).
The beloved disciple who welcomes Mary as his own mother, is a symbolic representative of the other disciples of Jesus. But he also personifies fidelity to the Lord Jesus. Christians by their profession of faith, have become the disciples of Jesus Christ. He has shown His love for us definitively by His death on the Cross. Discipleship entails an on-going effort on our part to be faithful to the one who has been so nobly generous in His embrace for all humankind. It is effectively this Jesus who has declared His own Mother to be the Spiritual Mother of the disciple John, and by extension, the Mother of the Human Race. Mary’s Motherhood continues in the Church, the New People of God.
As Mother, Mary summons and directs her children in faith towards Jesus Christ the Supreme Mediator. Her maternal instinct makes her protective of her children. She seeks to bring them closer and closer to Christ the Redeemer. She is exceptionally suited for this role by virtue of being the Mother of Jesus and the “generous companion” in His work of salvation. As Christians we “take refuge under her protection” (Lumen Gentium, 66). We seek in her faith – “she who believed”, a strengthening of our own struggling faith that is caught up in the ever-changing circumstances of life.
The Mother of Mercy Shrine in Magaliesburg is a special place, a fine place, a dedicated place where many who go there will seek to meet the Mother of the Lord and solicit her maternal help, or simply, her maternal company.
+Buti Tlhagale o.m.i.
March 4th, 2017,
Both the Holy Father, Pope Francis and the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference have not declared a Prayer Theme for the year 2017. The Archdiocese of Johannesburg takes advantage of this gap and proposes that 2017 be officially declared “The Year of Devotion to Mary” in the Archdiocese. The Marian Year will run from The Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God (1 January, 2017) to the Feast of The Holy Family (27 December, 2017).
In the Catholic tradition, Mary has always been understood as the “shortest route” to Christ Jesus. This is so because at incarnation, she became “indissolubly joined to Christ” (Mother of the Redeemer, 1.3). But this was all in God’s plan who wanted His Son to be “born of a woman” called Mary (Gal.4.4). Mary, therefore, occupies a “special place” in God’s design for humanity. She is at the very core of this plan. And the plan was simply that, through the death on the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, His Son, men and women be destined to become adopted sons and daughters of God, the Father. God’s plan is to redeem all humanity and lavishly give his “glorious grace” to all.
It was this Mary, “blessed among women” and “full of grace” who was God’s unique choice to be the mother of His Son in order to accomplish His plan to save His children.
An aspect of Mary’s life we seek to highlight in this Pastoral letter is her experience of hardship, pain and suffering. It was her deep-rooted faith, her unwavering trust in God’s promise that gave her endurance and the ultimate victory over her plight. In many ways, a great number of people in our own communities face on a daily basis, a variety of hardships. There are people who suffer deprivation and hunger who live in shacks with virtually no amenities. Children born in these make-shift “houses” are born in conditions of extreme poverty. Mary herself gave birth to Jesus in a stable. There are many families without a fixed address, without a stable home, who are pushed around by the powerful land-owners.
There are also economic migrants, hapless refugees and stateless children who are forced to move constantly because they have no identity documents. This calls to mind the anxiety and the flight of Mary, Joseph and Jesus into Egypt for Herod sought “to kill the child” (Mt. 2.13).
It is therefore with confidence that all those who suffer abuse, discrimination, rejection and deprivation can join Mary in her Song of Praise, (Magnificat) to God, who has looked with favor on His people, who trust in Him. They recall with gratitude that He is “rich in mercy” (Eph. 2.4) and that He scatters “the proud in their conceit” (Lk. 1.50). Mary’s Song of Praise becomes a constant refrain that liberates, resuscitates, “lifts-up the lowly and fills them with good things” (Lk. 1.52). The Year of Devotion to Mary seeks to bring the lived experience of Mary into sharp relief so that we too can blend our varied experiences with hers and draw inspiration, strength and courage from her firm and unshakable “fiat” (yes).
Those who are diseased, impoverished, exploited, imprisoned, rejected or over-burdened can see their predicament through the prism of Mary, the Mother of Mercy. Mary is also the Mother of Sorrows. When her only Son was despised, spat upon, rejected and hanged on the Cross, “a sword pierced her soul”. Pain consumed her. She shared in the “act of self-emptying” with her crucified Son. She stood beneath the cross until her Son died. This, according to Vatican Council was part of God’s plan. (Lumen Gentium … Mother of the Redeemer 18. 1-18.3). In spite of a mother’s pain, Mary persevered because “she believed” (Lk. 1.45). She believed that nothing was impossible to God. She was steadfast. In the end she triumphed. Hence all generations call her blessed. A sterling model for all mothers, for all believers, for all pilgrims.
We declare 2017 the Year of Devotion to Mary to coincide with the building of the Monument of Mercy, at the invitation of Pope Francis. The project of the Shrine of Mary, the Mother of Mercy, is dedicated to Our Lady. We hope it will become a place of prayer, of God’s consolation, a spiritual refuge and a house of mercy to all the pilgrims.
Archbishop Buti Tlhagale o.m.i.
1st January, 2017