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I’m not sure what you think Mary is like, but I think it’s easy to get her wrong.
Sometimes we think of her as she appears in some statues, demurely lowering her eyes. That’s not quite right, or at least it doesn’t sum her up. She wasn’t a shy person who refused to put herself forward.
Sometimes you see statues of her making a big, bold gesture. That says something true about her, but that doesn’t sum her up either. She wasn’t showy. In this week’s “Extraordinary Story” podcast about the very beginning of Christ’s life, I go into more details about Mary, but also share what we know about what she was like.
It has been said that St. Francis of Assisi was the saint who was most like Jesus in his personality and that Mother Teresa, in our time, was the saint most like Mary.
I like that. If you have ever watched a documentary of Mother Teresa, you have seen that she is a loving, caring woman who can be very tender and sweet with those who are suffering — but that she is also a very forceful, insistent person, who always wants the people around her to bend to the will of God.
That’s because Mary is a queen. The sign of the woman crowned with stars in Revelation 12 is an image of the Church but also an image of Mary.
In her visits to Fatima, we saw her in queen mode, giving the Church marching orders for how to conduct the ongoing war against evil. In Ukraine, she is queen again. She is reminiscent of the Song of Songs: “Who is this who looks down like the dawn, beautiful as the moon, bright as the sun, awesome as an army with banners?”
But she is a not a queen that makes you quake in fear. As Fatima visionary Lucia dos Santos wrote, “the apparitions of our Lady produced in us effects quite different from the angel’s visitations. We felt in both instances the same intimate happiness, peace and joy,” but in the angel’s presence they also felt a fear she described as “annihilation in the divine presence.”
Mary isn’t like that because, as the Carmelite chapel to Mary at the Basilica of the National Conception in Washington, D.C., says, “Mary is more mother than queen.”
To be specific, she is an encouraging mother.
We’re familiar with several types of dysfunctions in mothers: there are helicopter moms who do too much for their children, and aloof mothers who do too little. There are pageant moms who want to show off how special their children are and demand perfection, and there are pushover moms who also think their kids are special, but demand nothing from them.
Our piety can often treat Mary like one of those, but that’s not who she is. Mary is the mother who gives her children trust and freedom — but also enormous responsibilities.
The most famous example is at the wedding feast at Cana, when she notices a situation developing and tells Jesus, “They have no wine.” He answers that “his hour has not yet come,” meaning his public revelation of himself as a miracle worker, a revelation that will lead to his death. She tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you,” putting the situation in his hands while deftly making her own vote clear.
This is how Mary acts in our lives.
She absolutely notices what we need, but she doesn’t take care of our problems for us. She directs us to bring them to Jesus.
That is what she did in the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 3. Jesus’ relatives — his “brothers” in the Bible’s language — thought he was crazy and tried to seize him. It seems that Mary brought them directly to Jesus. He takes the occasion to tell us that we should imitate Mary — that we should be his mother and brother by “doing the will of God.”
This is a lesson she learned when Jesus was missing after their trip to Jerusalem. She looked for him in vain among her relatives and friends. She found him in the Temple, answering the questions the leading scholars had.
So talk to Mary, and learn to imitate her.
To obey Mary the queen, do what she has asked over and over again when she visits: Pray the rosary daily, the ultimate weapon in our battles on earth.
To imitate her at Cana, look at your neighbor and tell Jesus, “My friend has no joy in her life,” then tell your friend, “Do whatever he tells you” — offering specifics from Church teaching and the Bible.
To imitate how she deals with her relatives, when someone in your family doubts Jesus’ identity as Lord of their life, tell them, “Go to the tabernacle and ask him!”
This is what the early Church did, gathering with Mary to pray for the Holy Spirit, and that changed history.