Mary and the Word of God

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8/30/2008
As the world’s bishops prepare for October’s synod in Rome on “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church,” there is much we can learn from Mary, the mother of Jesus, about this topic. Let us consider four aspects of Our Lady’s life that serve as a model for approaching God’s word in a life-transforming way.
ATTENTIVE HEARTS Back to Top

“Let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).

Many of us seek God so that he may fulfill our dreams and plans. In contrast, Mary and the saints were the kind of people who, instead of always telling God what to do, listened attentively to God’s word, affectionately wanting to know his heart so they could devote their lives to fulfilling his desires.

We see this loving response, for instance, in Mary’s words at the Annunciation. After hearing from the Archangel Gabriel that God wanted her to become the mother of the Messiah, Mary did not react in a lukewarm manner. She responded joyfully, longing to do whatever her beloved desired of her: “I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).

Pope John Paul II and others have pointed out how in the original Greek of the New Testament, Mary’s words, “Let it be to me,” indicate not a passive acceptance of God’s word, but an active, loving embrace of it. Mary does not simply submit to God’s plan; she longs to fulfill it, “making it her own,” explained John Paul II during a general audience in 1996. She inspires us to approach God’s word with attentive love, seeking to know God’s will in order to satisfy his desires.

INTERIORIZE GOD’S WORD Back to Top

“Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19).

Simply knowing God’s word is not enough. Even if a Christian memorizes the Scriptures and understands every doctrine in the Catechism, he will not necessarily be close to God. Certainly, we must understand God’s word intellectually, but we must also allow it to penetrate our hearts and shape our lives.

Mary is a model for making God’s word our own. When Mary witnessed the amazing events surrounding the birth of her son, the Scriptures tell us that she “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19, cf. 2:51). On a basic level, the notion of keeping and pondering in the heart indicates that Mary sought to understand the meaning of the mysterious events at the dawn of the new covenant (see Gn 37:11, Dn 4:28).

Still, the phrase tells us something more. In the Psalms and wisdom literature of the Bible, to keep and ponder in the heart implies not just a correct interpretation of God’s words and deeds, but a faithful living out of God’s revelation. For example, Psalm 119:11 says, “I have laid up thy word in my heart that I might not sin against thee” (emphasis added). Here, the psalmist ponders God’s word in his heart so that he may live according to that word.

Therefore, we learn from Mary that it is not enough to know God’s word intellectually. We must interiorize God’s word and allow it to shape our lives. We need to take his word to prayer, meditate on it and apply it to the situations we face each day. Like Mary, we should keep the word of God and ponder it in our hearts, so that we may walk in his ways.

THANKSGIVING Back to Top

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior” (Lk 1:46-47).

At Mass, we respond to the readings from Scripture by saying, “Thanks be to God.” But how many of us truly express heartfelt gratitude for God’s word during the liturgy?

When we come to understand something in the Bible or in our Catholic faith, we may get excited. Perhaps we gain a deeper appreciation for a certain Catholic practice or we hear a homily that sheds some light on our own lives or we come to understand a passage in Scripture that previously eluded us. In these moments of insight, do we take time to thank God for his word enlightening our lives?

Mary was someone who took time to do just that. Even though she was a very busy woman — helping her cousin Elizabeth get ready for a baby and preparing for her own child, who was no less than the Son of God himself — Mary still paused to praise and thank God for all that he was doing in her life and for the people of Israel. When visiting Elizabeth, Mary expresses her gratitude in a passage known as the Magnificat. She says, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior…for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name” (Lk 1:46-47, 49). Let us, like Mary, take time to thank the Lord for the ways in which his word guides us and blesses our lives.

SHARING THE WORD WITH OTHERS Back to Top

“Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5).

Finally, our encounter with the word of God is not meant to be a private affair. It is meant to radiate outward and touch the lives of those around us. Mary was not afraid to invite others to hear the word of God and give their full obedience to it as she did herself. We see this at the wedding feast of Cana.

Consider how Mary’s command, “Do whatever he tells you,” has a profound effect on the servants at the feast, inspiring them to trust Jesus in a radical way (Jn 2:5). Just put yourself in the servants’ shoes. The wine has run out at the wedding feast, and Jesus tells them to take the six stone jars for the Jewish rites of purification, fill them up with water and draw some out to present to the steward of the feast. These stone jars would have been used for ritual washings of hands (and possibly feet). Astonishingly, Jesus tells the servants to fill up these very jars with water and present the contents to the steward to serve as drink for the guests.

This would demand a lot of faith from the servants. Imagine what they are thinking: “Fill up these jars? With water? And serve it to the guests? How is this going to solve the problem?” From a human perspective, Jesus’ plan does not make any sense. Yet, Mary tells the servants to place their total trust in Jesus even if they do not understand his plan.

Similarly, we too may not always grasp Jesus’ work in our lives. We may not see clearly where the Lord is leading us. Yet, as John Paul II reminded us, Mary’s command, “Do whatever he tells you,” challenges us to trust him without hesitation. We must do so not only when it makes sense to us, but “especially when one does not understand the meaning or benefit of what Christ asks,” John Paul II said in 1997.

We can now see how Mary’s words inspire the servants to tremendous faith. John’s Gospel, in fact, highlights how the servants respond as faithful disciples. Jesus gives two orders to the servants. First he tells them, “Fill the jars with water,” and the Gospel immediately points out that the servants not only obeyed Christ’s command, but did so perfectly: “And they filled them to the brim” (Jn 2:7, emphasis added). Then Jesus tells them, “Now draw some out and take it to the steward of the feast,” and the Gospel adds, “So they took it” (Jn 2:8). Notice how John the Evangelist goes out of his way to tell us that the servants did exactly as they were told?

Clearly, these servants followed Mary’s exhortation, “Do whatever he tells you.” As such, they are portrayed as faithful disciples, obedient to Christ’s words, and they become witnesses to Christ’s glory and the first of his miracles (Jn 2:11).

Like Mary, let us bring God’s word to those around us, inviting them to “Do whatever he tells you.” Let us do so confidently that they too will encounter Christ’s love and his supernatural work in their lives if they respond to his word with trust and faithfulness like the servants at Cana.

Dr. Edward Sri is provost of the Augustine Institute in Denver, where he is a professor of Scripture and theology. He regularly speaks on Mary and is the author of several Marian books. He is a member of St. Benedict College Council 4708 in Atchison, Kansas.