Contemplating Our Lady: Virgin, Mother and Advocate

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During the springtime, I find myself more readily disposed to contemplate the "things that are above." The appearance of colorful and fragrant blossoms after the cold, grey winter causes me to reflect on new life and renewal. The change of temperature, ushered in by the returning warmth of the sun, draws me to more deeply wonder at God's creative power and His intricate design of the natural order. The longer days prompt me to contemplate Christ, Our Light, especially during this season of the Resurrection. The spring is when we should think of Our Lord's words, "See, I make all things new" (Rev 21:5).

During this season in which we meditate on God's triumph over sin and death, I invite you to consider more intentionally another aspect of our salvation, or rather, a person, whom God has involved in His plan for our redemption: Mary, the Mother of God. Dear sisters and brothers, I welcome you to contemplate this woman with me throughout May, a month that has been traditionally set aside as Mary's month. Though she is adorned by many titles, I encourage you meditate upon three: Virgin, Mother and Advocate.

The term "virgin" is strange to many people in our culture. Virginity is almost exclusively associated with persons who lack sexual experience. Though it was something lauded and respected by former generations, today, when having sexual experience is supposedly linked to maturity, autonomy and the promise of happiness, virginity is viewed as naive and even mocked. The thought of intentional virginity, as a means of living out a call to chastity, is an oddity. "Why would anyone choose to remain one?" many ask.

Though Our Lady did not have relations with Joseph before or after the birth of Christ, her perpetual virginity is about so much more than this. In her, we see to the deeper meaning of the word: "virginity" points to those who have a clean heart. "Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God" (Mt 5:8). This is not to say that the marital embrace is unclean - no, God included it in His original plan for creation in the Garden - and we know that it is good! Rather, to be clean of heart means to have an undivided heart, to seek God in all that we do and pursue.

Mary, as virgin, is a model for all of us - single, religious or married - to seek God first above all things, and to use Him as the horizon against which we measure everything else. If virginity is associated with innocence, let us celebrate it, for in Mary we see a glimpse of how God intended things to be in Eden. In the Garden, innocence and ignorance were not the same thing - rather, we were free to love as God loves. In his Wednesday Audience from April 22, 2015, Pope Francis prayed that Mary's example would teach all men and women of today to "live according to the harmony with which God created us in love." To imitate Mary Immaculate is to become more of who God calls us to be.

Mary has as much to teach us in her motherhood as in her virginity. While we could (and should) set aside time to meditate upon what life was like for the Holy Family in Nazareth - how Mary lovingly raised Christ, faithfully walked with Him to Calvary and witnessed His Resurrection - we must also consider how she acts as our Mother today, in each of our lives. At the foot of the Cross, the Lord Jesus entrusted us, His Church, into her care. This means that Mary extends to us the same gentle touch that she offered to Jesus. She waits for us to share our joys and troubles with her. She longs for us to ask for her advice and counsel. She wants to comfort us as we carry our own crosses. From the Lord Jesus, our Brother, we are given a mother who anticipates our needs and who wants to offer us every remedy, every balm, by pointing us to her Son.

By her own life and witness, Mary perfectly models for the Church how to be a tender mother to all. In his catechesis on the maternal love of the Church, Pope Francis enumerated three ways in which the Church is a mother to her children: 1) she teaches and directs them; 2) she offers them patience and mercy; and 3) she prays for them (cf. Pope Francis, General Audience, Sept. 18, 2013). In looking to the Mother of the Church, the Church herself can extend maternal care to others.

Lastly, I invite you to reflect more deeply on Mary as our Advocate. In the Jewish tradition, the people approached the Queen with their needs and petitions, trusting that she would bring them to the King and plead with him on their behalf. Interestingly enough, the Queen was the King's mother, not his wife. In a Judeo-Christian tradition, Mary preserves this role as Queen and Advocate, laying before her Son our needs, hopes, desires, and petitions. What better advocate to have than the one who is "highly favored" by God?

Mary's intercession for her children is deeply relational and personal. Though spared from the stain of original sin, she sympathizes with our human frailty, and intimately knows the hearts of each of her children. Just as a mother knows better than a child what he or she truly needs, when we ask for her intercession, she presents God with petitions that are reflective of what will truly satisfy us. How freeing it is to trust in her perfect advocacy!

May you draw closer this month to Mary, Virgin, Mother, and Advocate, and may you experience a spiritual springtime and a personal renewal by imitating her!

Follow Bishop Loverde on Twitter @Bishop_Loverde.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015