Mary and Jesus are depicted at the Wedding at Cana in this panel of the Maestà altarpiece, painted by Duccio di Buoninsegna in the early 14th century. (Scala/Art Resource, NY)
Growing up in the Chicago area, many of my heroes were local pro athletes: Michael Jordan dunking the basketball or Walter Payton rocketing head first into the end zone. I also turned to male movie heroes, from Indiana Jones and his adventures to William Wallace taking on the English army in Braveheart. These were characters of courage, sacrifice, leadership and success who appealed to my masculine nature. But it took me a while to see Mary as an inspiring model as well.
True Catholic men honor Mary as the mother of Jesus, and admire her purity, humility and obedience. They take Mary as their spiritual mother, pray the rosary and defend her against critics with the loyalty of a son.
But can we relate to the Blessed Virgin Mary as men and find in her inspiration for our lives? With a little prayer and reflection, the answer is “yes.” As the only human person who was “full of grace,” exempt from original sin, Mary models for us more than any other saint the virtues needed for Christian greatness. These virtues apply to men and women alike. Here are just two of Mary’s many virtues that inspire me as a man:
Decisiveness. In an age when many men delay decisions, fear commitment and are quick to entertain themselves yet slow to serve others, Mary can inspire us by her decisive action. She always gave a prompt response to the demands of the moment. When the angel came with the message that she was to be the mother of the Messiah, she was “troubled” and confused as she knelt at the crossroads of salvation history (Lk 1:29). Nevertheless, she gave her unreserved “yes,” accepting Jesus into her womb (Lk 1:38). Then, putting her own concerns aside, she went “in haste” to the hill country to help her pregnant, elderly kinswoman Elizabeth (Lk 1:39). There, she proclaimed her Magnificat, exalting the greatness of God and rejoicing in the coming of his kingdom of love and justice (cf. Lk 1:46-55).
Years later, when the wine ran out at the wedding in Cana, Mary immediately took the problem to her Son, trusting him to do the right thing (cf. Jn 2:1-5). In short, Mary was sure of herself and knew how to get things done.
From her wholehearted “yes” to God, we men should learn also to be bold in faith and action. We must be decisive in our resolve to serve our families, friends, neighbors and parishes. This means not waiting for others to step in, but instead allowing our comfortable routines to be disrupted in order to help those in need.
Perseverance. Mary did not complain, get discouraged or run from commitments when the going got tough. Consider her anguish at the Presentation, when Simeon prophesied that her child would be “a sign of contradiction” and her own heart would be pierced by a sword (Lk 2:34-35). St. John Paul II described this moment as the “second Annunciation” to Mary (Redemptoris Mater, 16). At the first Annunciation in Nazareth, she assented to being the mother of the Messiah; here she received a clearer picture of where this vocation would lead to the pain and loss of the cross.
Yet, ever aware of this impending trial, Mary never became disheartened or backed out. She persevered in her mission as mother of the Messiah and remained with Jesus in his darkest hour on Calvary. By her example, Mary challenges us to remain faithful to our own commitments at home, at work and in the community, no matter how hard things may become or how much is demanded from us. To become better men, we ought to look to Mary, staying faithful to our duties to God and others, even in the shadow of the cross.
EDWARD SRI is vice president of mission and a professor of theology at the Augustine Institute in Denver. He is a member of St. Thomas More Council 10205 in Littleton, Colo. His latest book is Walking with Mary: A Biblical Journey from Nazareth to the Cross (Image Books, 2013).