When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
— The Gospel of Saint John (19:25-29)
That is the last Gospel passage about the Blessed Virgin Mary. She isn’t in episodes of the Risen Christ appearing to His disciples. Nor is Mary in the Acts of the Apostles, even at the Descent of the Holy Spirit, although she is often depicted among the flame-crowned disciples in Pentecost images. This writer’s own parish in Loyola Heights, Quezon City, is dedicated to Our Lady of Pentecost.
Yet in so many ways, Mary is the key to reaching Jesus, just as He is the Way, the Truth and the Life leading to our Father in heaven. And that’s because the Catholic faith, unlike other major religions and even some Christian denominations, germinates and thrives not in the realm of abstract theology, though it may seem that way from countless religious tracts and Mass homilies.
Rather, Catholicism is at heart and at bottom a faith of deep and lasting personal ties among and with God our Father, His Son and our Brother Jesus, Their Love the Holy Spirit, the Son’s mother and the Spirit’s spouse Mary, the saints and the angels, and all people as children of God.
In the most essential passages of the faith, the divine is depicted not as immense power, great knowledge or even perfect goodness. Instead, “God is love” and “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
Thus, if a Christian is not a friend to God and His children, then he or she isn’t really following Christ or living by His Church’s most crucial tenet, instructed by Jesus Himself: “Love one another as I have loved you.” More than ritual and rhetoric, tradition and theology, the believer must manifest God’s love by being close to Him and caring for others. Indeed, prayer and worship are first and foremost an expression of love for God and gratitude for His love and mercy toward us.
For so long, many got it wrong
A religion of love for the Creator and His creatures may sound easy, compared with a faith of strict observances and complex concepts. Yet in fact, many people may find it easier to follow clear rules and tenets than build a heartfelt relationship with an unseen God and often distant others. Going to Mass and communion every day may seem demanding, but at least, one can be sure to keep such a routine. Not so assured as clockwork is embracing God and reaching out to our fellows from the depths of our heart and soul. This writer and believer certainly found ritual far easier than relationship.
No wonder Jesus had to remind worshippers to leave their offerings and make peace with their neighbors before proceeding with the temple sacrifice. Too often, Christians are content to perform religious rites and contemplate theological truths, thinking that they can outweigh the two greatest commandments: Love God and love your neighbor. No way. Indeed, Jesus would set aside the Sabbath ban on all activity to heal the sick.
Recent homilies underscore this core truth of our faith. At the first Saturday Mass for the Blessed Virgin last weekend, Fr. Timoteo Ofrasio pondered Mary’s final moments with her dying son, as recounted in the opening quotation. No grand spiritual concept or principle. Rather, two simple words from the Lord about who Mary is to us, and who we are to her and her Son.
“The liturgy cherishes this scene during the Easter season in order to remind us that Christ made Mary our Mother when He gave John to her as a son,” explained the professor of systematic theology. “Since that first Good Friday, Mary has been the Mother of all Christians and of the Church.”
In short, our faith, first and foremost, is personal, not theological.
Wear Jesus and nurture Him inside
A week before, in the Saturday mass after Easter, Fr. Tim recalled the week-long rites for the newly baptized in the early Christian Church. After wearing white since Sunday to symbolize their new life as disciples of Christ, the new Christians set aside their baptismal gowns and take their place in the congregation as full-fledged believers. But they must maintain the pristine life they have entered on Easter day.
“In Baptism they have put on the new man,” says Fr. Tim. “St. Paul, in his Letter to the Colossians, says: ‘Put on therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, patience’ (Col 3,12). Yes, even more, in Baptism they have put on Christ Himself: ‘For all you who have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ’ as the Letter to the Galatians says (Gal 3, 27). … Isinuót na natin si Cristo. Hindi natin Siya maaaring hubarín.”
For his meditations podcast yesterday, titled “Mary the Holy Soil,” Benedict XVI combined the two reflections on embracing Mary and enveloping ourselves in Jesus. The Pope Emeritus said the Blessed Mother was the soil in which the Word of God took root and germinated into the fullness of the Divine made human. Benedict added that we too are meant to be holy soil in which the seed of Christ must be planted.
“Man can be fruitful soil for God’s Word,” the German theologian counseled. “To be soil for the Word means that the soil must allow itself to be absorbed by the Seed. Mary’s maternity means that Mary willingly places her own substance, body and soil, into the seed, so that new life can grow.”
And just to make sure we don’t again get all theological and forget the all-important personal, the soil is every believe—from Mary down to you and me—and the Seed is Christ Himself, Who seeks to dwell in us, so as to grow, flower and bear fruit as new and eternal life and being in every human soul.
Letting Jesus absorb our being and grow in us? Hardly a formula for strict control of one’s own life and soul.
Exactly. Say hello to God, and get set for a whole new relationship in oneness with Him. There’s no other way. No other truth. No other life. Amen.