Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Lord: Chapter 2, “The Mother”

My dear friend,

Maybe you have been to Lourdes. Or heard of Fatima. These are two of the places, there are many others, where the Virgin Mary has appeared—to a teenage girl at Lourdes, to three children at Fatima, and so on. On the Rue du Bac in Paris is another shrine, where Catherine Labouré had a vision of the Blessed Mother.

To Protestants like yourself,* these apparitions and shrines must seem dubious, even laughable. I confess that I’ve had my own doubts about some of them. But I have now been three times to Lourdes, where Bernadette Soubirous (left) saw and heard the voice of the Immaculate Conception, and I have never been anything less than thunderstruck by a presence at Lourdes that I could not explain.

You’ll be happy to know that in The Lord, in his chapter on Mary, “The Mother,” Romano Guardini does not make much of Marian apparitions. But he makes the world of Mary’s faith. “It is this heroic faith,” he writes, “which places her at Christ’s side in the work of redemption, not the miracles of Marianic legend.”

When Guardini contemplates Mary, he sees a mother who enfolds her son. Yet how, like many mothers, she must have suffered! “If we accept the words Jesus speaks to her simply as they arise from each situation, it seems almost invariably as if a cleft gaped between him and her.”

In the temple, where she and Joseph find the twelve-year-old conversing with the elders, His reply sets them back. At Cana, when she tells Jesus that the wedding party needs more wine, He resists her, saying His time has not yet come. When she comes from Galilee to see Him, He all but denies that she is His mother; and at the foot of the cross, “once again she is directed away from him,” to John.

Guardini puts a spin on all this that surprised me: “Everything that affected Jesus affected his mother, yet no intimate understanding existed between them. His life was hers, yet constantly escaped her. . . . ”

That is, like the Apostles, Mary was incapable of totally getting Jesus, though he was closer to her than anyone.

“But,” Guardini adds, “she was capable of something which on earth is more than understanding, something possible only through that same divine power which, when the hour has come, grants understanding: faith. . . . Her faith was greater, more heroic than that of any other human being.”

Which explains better than any vision at Lourdes or Fatima why Catholics venerate the Mother of God, as the most exalted of saints. Unable to understand Jesus, rebuffed by situations, she clings to His side, trying always to enfold Him. We are all the same, or ought to be.

More tomorrow, my friend.

In faith and friendship,

This series of letters continues here with chapter 3.

*This post continues a chapter-by-chapter series on The Lord, in the form of letters to an Episcopalian friend. Scroll back through older posts to see previous letters about earlier chapters.

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