By Fr Donncha Ó hAodha
Down through the centuries the faithful have always struggled to express the greatness and beauty of Mary of Nazareth. Small wonder. She is the Mother of God and of each one of us. She is the Immaculate Conception. She is, as the Liturgy hails her using the words of Scripture, “the highest honour of our race” (Judith 15:9). Our Lady is truly sublime.
At the same time Mary is totally accessible and always lovingly available to her children. In fact it is precisely her holiness which makes her so close to us. As Benedict XVI explained in a beautiful Marian homily:
“The closer a person is to God, the closer he is to people. We see this in Mary. The fact that she is totally with God is the reason why she is so close to human beings. For this reason she can be the Mother of every consolation and every help, a Mother whom anyone can dare to address in any kind of need in weakness and in sin, for she has understanding for everything and is for everyone the open power of creative goodness” (Homily, 8 December 2005).
Our Lady is also close to us in the way she lived her life. There were of course extraordinary moments such as the Annunciation, the Nativity and Crucifixion of our Lord, and the Assumption. Yet most of Our Lady’s days were ordinary days full of normal humdrum duties such as make up the lives of most of us. As St Josemaría Escrivá pointed out:
“We can’t forget that Mary spent nearly every day of her life just like millions of other women who look after their family, bring up their children and take care of the house. Mary sanctifies the ordinary everyday things – what some people wrongly regard as unimportant and insignificant: everyday work, looking after those closest to you, visits to friends and relatives. What a blessed ordinariness, that can be so full of love of God!” (Christ is Passing By 148).
It can be helpful to reflect on the fact that when God became man, He spent thirty of his thirty-three years on this earth engaged in ordinary everyday work and family life. These thirty years were not incidental or insignificant but are part of the work of salvation which Jesus came to accomplish. Mary shares in this “hidden life” of her Son. So can we, when we try to sanctify the bits and pieces of our daily round, trying to do things as well as we can and out of love for God and others.
In recent decades the Church has repeatedly reminded all the baptized of the wonderful truth that all are called to holiness. The white baptismal garment is a symbol of the holiness which we all receive through sanctifying grace in that sacrament and which we are called to grow in throughout our lives, whatever our personal circumstances. As the Holy Father recently taught: “The Lord asks everything of us, and in return he offers us true life, the happiness for which we were created. He wants us to be saints and not to settle for a bland or mediocre existence…. We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves” (Gaudete et Exsultate 1 and 14).
Pope Francis equates holiness with “living our lives with love”. This is, in the words of St Josemaría, what “explains Mary’s life – her love. A complete love, so complete that she forgets herself and is happy just to be there where God wants her, fulfilling with care what God wants her to do. That is why even her slightest action is never routine or vain but, rather, full of meaning. Mary, our mother, is for us both an example and a way. We have to try to be like her, in the ordinary circumstances in which God wants us to live” (Christ is Passing By, 148).