Mary Knew the Ordinariness of Life
Recently I was called on to preach the Monday Miraculous Medal Novena. The topic assigned was Mary and the Poor. My first inclination was to focus on her amazing Magnificat. As I prepared my reflections I remembered that Mary knew the ordinariness of life. Yes, she is the mother of Jesus. But we can not forget that she was a mother in the historical circumstances of her day. She was poor and because of that her faith and yeses are all the more a model for us today.
Mary and the Poor – Let’s not forget Mary WAS poor
I am often in the sanctuary of the Shrine of the Miraculous Medal. Lately, I find myself distracted by the 20-foot paintings of Mary at the Annunciation and the Birth of Jesus above the tabernacle wall and the amazing replica of the Pieta when I look to my left.
In the two huge paintings nothing is out of place. Mary looks completely at peace. There are no wrinkles in her robes. Even the shepherds/peasants seem dressed up.
One could be forgiven for thinking that Mary lived a simple life of relative ease and had everything under control
When I turn to the Pieta, I see a mother who has not aged in thirty years! I wonder whether she might have had an “immaculate complexion”… But she is clearly in pain at the suffering and death of her son.
In both directions, Mary is frozen in time, a time sometime in the late Middle Ages or the Renaissance. Or, more to my point today, she seems to be outside time and the messiness of life. Is that why such paintings are used on Christmas cards?
It then dawned on me that the artist pictured Mary in the circumstance of his imagination rather than the circumstances of a young Jewish teenager 2000 years ago.
Then it hit me. She was herself poor! She faced what so many of us face in life, she was a real person.
The scriptures give us some wonderful insights into her spirituality, but it is only recently that we have we gotten a sense of the historical Mary, the Mary who lived in poverty… just as so many do in the world today.
The circumstances of her life
She belonged to the peasant class. Their life was grinding, with a triple tax burden: to Rome, to Herod the Great and to the temple.
She was probably about 13 or so but she certainly did not have a cell phone or someone to drive her to visit her cousin Elizabeth.
She was a peasant. We forget she walked the hill country of Judea by herself while pregnant, gave birth in a stable using a feeding trough as a crib, as today poor refugees use cardboard boxes and other homemade artifacts as makeshift beds for newborn infants.
When she made a four- or five-day journey on foot to Jerusalem once a year or so, she slept in the open country like other pilgrims. At home she struggled to make do.
She was a mother who lived through the ordinary trials of raising a young boy. (Yes, Jesus was once a young boy who had to grow… in wisdom, age and grace!)
Her mother’s heart may have been bursting with pride that he was drawing people to follow him as he preached the good news of the kingdom to her friends and neighbors. But her mother’s heart broke as she watched him plotted against by the church of her day, unjustly accused, beaten mercilessly … and nailed to a cross.
What did she feel when she saw a confused bunch of men hiding in an upper room while trying to make sense of their disappointment?
All of these forgotten truths about Mary do not show up in most artists imagination.
As I prayed about her real life, I realized more clearly than ever her amazing faith!
She was not a daughter of privilege in her life. I can see clearly now that she knew the messiness and stress of life… she was human, one of us.
She was an ordinary teenager who God looked on in very her ordinariness and choose to be the mother of Jesus. Just as her Son, she had to grow in wisdom, age and grace.
She was not unlike so many women in thousands of villages as they exist today in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Her daily life and labor were hard. With Joseph, she raised Jesus in oppressive circumstances, struggling to pay the taxes by which the rich became richer at the expense of the poor. As with the vast majority of people in world history, most of Mary’s difficult life went unrecorded.
Knowing all this I feel closer to her.
What was different about her? What was different about her was that when God called in the ordinariness of life, she answered with deep faith… not knowing what it would mean and how much her mother’s heart would be broken.
She was one of us. She lived in messy times, she did not understand but she trusted in her God in the ordinary and extraordinary events of her life.
Looking beyond the Christmas card Mary allows me to see more clearly that she is not only the mother of Jesus but why the church constantly reminds us she is a model of faith for today in the messiness of our lives.
Mary and the Poor. Let’s remember that Mary was poor… like us… and models for us responses to God’s call in the ordinariness of our lives.
Mary was faithful in the midst of the ordinariness and confusion of her life.
She said yes in her confusion at the Annunciation… and countless other yeses in the midst of her life.
That both comforts… and challenges me in the ordinariness and confusion of my life.
(For a more in-depth expression of these ideas, visit an article written by former Superior General Robert Maloney, CM in America Magazine. “The Historical Mary”)