The Madonna of the Roses (1903), by William-Adolphe Bouguereau
Watching Canada’s moral compass lose its needle, the American public square lose its peace, and other parts of the world lose their equilibrium as the Storm winds continue to pick up speed… the first thought on my heart this morning as a key to getting through these times is “the Rosary.” But that means nothing to someone who does not have a proper, biblical understanding of the ‘woman clothed in the sun’. After you read this, my wife and I want to give a gift to every one of our readers…
WHILE the world reels under overwhelming changes in its weather patterns, economic stability, and growing revolutions, the temptation for some will be to despair. To feel as though the world is out of control. In some ways it is, but only to the degree that God has permitted, to the degree, often, of reaping precisely what we’ve sown. God has a plan. And as John Paul II pointed out when he said that we are “facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-Church…” he added:
This confrontation lies within the plans of divine Providence —Cardinal Karol Wojtyla (JOHN PAUL II ), at the Eucharistic Congress, Philadelphia, PA; August 13, 1976 “We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-Church, of the Gospel versus the anti-Gospel. This confrontation lies within the plans of divine Providence; it is a trial which the whole Church, and the Polish Church in particular, must take up. It is a trial of not only our nation and the Church, but in a sense a test of 2,000 years of culture and Christian civilization, with all of its consequences for human dignity, individual rights, human rights and the rights of nations.” —Cardinal Karol Wojtyla (JOHN PAUL II ), at the Eucharistic Congress, Philadelphia, PA; August 13, 1976
When he became Pope, he also pointed out the means by which the Church would triumph over the “anti-Church”:
On this universal level, if victory comes it will be brought by Mary. Christ will conquer through her because He wants the Church’s victories now and in the future to be linked to her… —POPE JOHN PAUL II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, p. 221
This statement, and several I have made here, have sent many of my Protestant readers into a tailspin, not to mention fellow Catholics who have been raised in Evangelical influences or without proper instruction. I too was raised among many Pentecostals and the “charismatic renewal.” However, my parents also held fast to the teachings of our Faith. By God’s grace, I have been fortunate to experience the living dynamic of a personal relationship with Jesus, the power of God’s Word, the charisms of the Holy Spirit, and at the same time, the sure and unchanging foundations of faith and morals as handed on through the Church’s living Tradition (see A Personal Testimony).
I have also experienced what it means to have a mother—God’s Mother—as my own, and how this has brought me closer to Jesus faster and more effectively than any other devotion I know outside of the Sacraments.
But that’s not how some Catholics see it. From a reader:
I see in the Church that what I believe is an inordinate emphasis on Mary has diminished the supremacy of Christ because, quite frankly, people don’t read the Bible and study to know Christ and make Him known—they practice Marian devotion and put more credence in an apparition or “visit” in their room from the blessed Mother than the One who is described as “the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form” “the light of the Gentiles” “the express image of God” “the Way the Truth and the Life” etc. I know that is not the intent—but it is hard to deny the result.
If Jesus deferred to anyone—it was to the Father. If he deferred to any other authority it was the Scriptures. To turn others to JESUS was John the Baptist’s role and that of all the seers and prophets in the world. John the Baptist said, “He must increase, I must decrease.” If Mary were here today she would tell her fellow believers in Christ to read the Word of God for direction and knowledge of Christ—not to her. It sounds like the Catholic Church says, “Turn your eyes upon Mary.” Jesus himself on two occasions had to remind his followers that those who “heard the Word of God and kept it” were on the right path.
She deserves our reverence and respect, of course. So far, I do not see her role as teacher or guide outside of by her example… “ God, my Savior” is the way she referred to God in response to her great blessing as she worshipped. I have often wondered why a sinless woman would call God her Savior. Especially when you consider that the revealed name of her child was Jesus—(you shall call his name Jesus, for He will save His people from their SINS.)
To sum it up today, I will share an incident at a Catholic school. The teacher asked if anyone in the world had never sinned and if there was anyone, who was it? The resounding answer came “Mary!” Perplexed, my son raised his hand and with all eyes on him he said, “What about Jesus?” To which the teacher replied, “Oh, I guess Jesus was sinless too.”
First, let me say that I agree with my reader, that Mary would tell fellow believers to turn to God’s Word. This is in fact one of her biggest requests, alongside learning to pray from the heart in a personal relationship with God—something she has continually implored at a world famous apparition site currently under Church investigation. cf. On Medjugorje But Mary would also say, without hesitation, to turn toward the Apostles who were charged with teaching the Scriptures see The Fundamental Problem , and thus giving them the proper interpretation. She would remind us that Jesus said to them:
Whoever listens to you listens to me. (Luke 10:16)
Without that authoritative voice of the Apostles and their successors, a very subjective reading of the Bible would happen, and Christ’s Church, far from being served, would become divided. Let me answer my reader’s other concerns, for the Blessed Virgin has a significant role to play in coming times that grow more stressful by the day…
STEALING CHRIST’S THUNDER!
Probably the biggest objection many Catholics and non-Catholics alike have regarding Mary is that there’s too much focus on her! No doubt, images of thousands of Filipinos carrying statues of Mary through the streets… or the throngs descending on Marian shrines… or the sober-faced ladies thumbing their beads before Mass… are among the many images that pass through the skeptic’s mind. And in some cases, there may be some truth to this, that some have emphasized Mary to the exclusion of her Son. I remember giving a talk on coming back to the Lord, on trusting in His great mercy, when a woman came up afterward and chastised me for not saying a word about Mary. I tried to picture the Blessed Mother standing there pouting because I had talked about the Savior rather than her—and I couldn’t. I’m sorry, that’s not Mary. She’s all about making her Son known, not herself. In her own words:
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord… (Luke 1:46)
Not her own greatness! Far from stealing Christ’s thunder, she is the lightning that Illuminates the Way.
SHARING POWER AND AUTHORITY
The truth is, Jesus is to blame for seemingly diminishing His own supremacy. My reader is upset because the Catholic Church teaches that Mary has a definitive role in crushing the serpent’s head. “Jesus is the one who conquers evil, not Mary!” come the protests. But that’s not what Scripture says:
Behold, I have given you the power ‘to tread upon serpents’ and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you. (Luke 10:19)
The victory that conquers the world is our faith. (1 John 5:4)
This is to say that Jesus conquers through believers. And wasn’t Mary the first believer? The first Christian? The first disciple of Our Lord? Indeed, she was the first one to carry and bring Him to the world. Should she not also, then, share in the power and authority that belongs to believers? Of course. And in the order of grace, she would be the first. In fact, to her and no one else before or since was said,
Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.(Luke 1:28)
If the Lord is with her, who can be against? Roman 8:31 If she is full of grace, and is a member of Christ’s Body, does she not share in a pre-eminent way in the power and authority of Jesus?
For in him dwells the whole fullness of the deity bodily, and you share in this fullness in him, who is the head of every principality and power. (Col 2:9-10)
We know that Mary has a prominent place, not just from theology, but from the vast experience of the Church throughout the centuries. Pope John Paul mentioned this in one of his last apostolic letters:
The Church has always attributed particular efficacy to this prayer, entrusting to the Rosary… the most difficult problems. At times when Christianity itself seemed under threat, its deliverance was attributed to the power of this prayer, and Our Lady of the Rosary was acclaimed as the one whose intercession brought salvation. —Pope John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 40
I’ll address in a moment why, after her Assumption into Heaven, she still has a role to play in human history. But how do we ignore the Holy Father’s words? How can a Christian simply dismiss this statement without regarding the well-documented facts and basis for such a claim? And yet many Christians do because they feel that such statements “diminish the sovereignty of Christ.” But then what do we say of the great saints of the past who cast out demons, performed miracles, and founded churches in pagan nations? Do we say that they diminished the supremacy of Christ? No, in fact, the supremacy and omnipotence of Christ has been even more glorified precisely because He has worked so powerfully through human creatures. And Mary is one of them.
The chief exorcist of Rome, Fr. Gabriele Amorth, recounts what a demon revealed under obedience.
One day a colleague of mine heard the devil say during an exorcism: “Every Hail Mary is like a blow on my head. If Christians knew how powerful the Rosary was, it would be my end.” The secret that makes this prayer so effective is that the Rosary is both prayer and meditation. It is addressed to the Father, to the Blessed Virgin, and to the Holy Trinity, and is a meditation centred on Christ. —Echo of Mary, Queen of Peace, March-April edition, 2003
This is precisely why Mary has always been and continues to be a powerful instrument of God in the Church. Her fiat, her yes to God has always been “centred on Christ.” As she said herself,
Do whatever he tells you. (John 2:5)
And this is precisely the purpose of the Rosary: to meditate, with Mary, upon the life of her Son:
The Rosary, though clearly Marian in character, is at heart a Christocentric prayer… The centre of gravity in the Hail Mary, the hinge as it were which joins its two parts, is the name of Jesus. Sometimes, in hurried recitation, this centre of gravity can be overlooked, and with it the connection to the mystery of Christ being contemplated. Yet it is precisely the emphasis given to the name of Jesus and to his mystery that is the sign of a meaningful and fruitful recitation of the Rosary. —JOHN PAUL II, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, n. 1, 33
Some “Bible-believing” Christians object to the notion that the saints have anything to do with human activity once they are in heaven. Ironically, there is no scriptural basis for such an objection. They also believe that the apparitions of Mary on earth are demonic deceptions (and no doubt, some of them are a fallen angel appearing as “light” or merely the imagination of so-called seers).
But we see in Scripture that, even after death, souls have appeared on earth. Matthew recalls what took place at the death and resurrection of Jesus:
The earth quaked, rocks were split, tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen were raised. And coming forth from their tombs after his resurrection, they entered the holy city and appeared to many. (Matt 27:51-53)
It is unlikely that they just “showed up.” It is more likely that these saints announced the Resurrection of Jesus, adding to the credibility of the Apostle’s own witness. Nonetheless, we see how the saints have appeared on earth to converse even in the Lord’s own terrestrial life.
And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him. (Matt 17:3)
While Moses died, the Bible tells us that both Elijah and Enoch did not die. Elijah was tak en away in a fiery chariot while Enoch…
…was translated into paradise, that he may give repentance to the nations. (Ecclesiasticus 44:16)
The two witnesses, then, shall preach three years and a half; and Antichrist shall make war upon the saints during the rest of the week, and desolate the world… —Hippolytus, Church Father, The Extant Works and Fragments of Hippolytus, n.39
And of course, Our Lord Himself appeared in a brilliant light to Saul (St. Paul), bringing about his conversion. So there is indeed biblical precedent demonstrating that the saints remain “one body” with the Church. That just because we die, we are not separated from the Body of Christ, but enter more fully into the “fullness of him who is head of every principality and power.” The saints are in fact closer to us than when they walked on earth because they are now in a fuller union with God. If you have Jesus in your heart, do you not also, through the life of the Holy Spirit, also have a deeper union then with those with whom He is one?
…we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses… (Heb 12:1)
In the expression “Blessed is she who believed,” we can therefore rightly find a kind of “key” which unlocks for us the innermost reality of Mary, whom the angel hailed as “full of grace.” If as “full of grace” she has been eternally present in the mystery of Christ, through faith she became a sharer in that mystery in every extension of her earthly journey. She “advanced in her pilgrimage of faith” and at the same time, in a discreet yet direct and effective way, she made present to humanity the mystery of Christ. And she still continues to do so. Through the mystery of Christ, she too is present within mankind. Thus through the mystery of the Son the mystery of the Mother is also made clear. —POPE JOHN PAUL II, Redemptoris Mater, n. 2
So, why does Mary appear on earth as she has for centuries? One answer is that the Scriptures tell us that the Church of the last times will see this “woman clothed in the sun,” who is Mary, a symbol and sign of the Church. Her role, in fact, is a mirror image of the Church, and another key to understanding her unique and prominent role in the plans of divine providence.
A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. (Rev 12:1)
TOO MUCH ATTENTION?
And yet, my reader feels too much attention is given to this woman. Yet, listen to St. Paul:
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. (1 Cor 11:1)
He says this on several occasions. Why not just say, “Imitate Christ”? Why draw attention to himself? Is Paul stealing Christ’s thunder? No, Paul was teaching, leading, and guiding, providing an example, a new way that needed to be followed. Who followed Jesus more perfectly than Mary? When everyone else fled, Mary stood beneath the Cross after having followed and served Him for 33 years. And thus Jesus turned to John and declared that she was to be His Mother, and he her son. This was the example Jesus wanted the Church to follow—full and total obedience in a spirit of docility, humility, and childlike faith. It was Jesus who in a way said, “turn your eyes upon Mary” in this last act from the Cross. For in turning to her example and maternal intercession and intervention (such as at the Wedding at Cana), Jesus knew we would more easily find Him; that He could more easily change the water of our weakness into the wine of His grace.
And to her He seemed to say, turn your eyes toward My Church, My body now on earth whom you must also mother, for I am not just a head, but a full body. We know this because, from the first century, the Christians held the Mother of God in the greatest esteem. The Gospel writers (Matthew and Luke) likely sought her out to retell the accounts of the virgin birth and other details of her Son’s life. The walls of the catacombs contained paintings and icons of the Blessed Mother. The early Church understood that this Woman was prized by God, and was indeed their own Mother.
Does this take away from Jesus? No, it highlights the super-abundance of His merits, His generosity toward His creatures, and the radical role of the Church in the salvation of the world. It glorifies Him, for the whole Church has been raised to a greater dignity through His sacrifice:
For we are God’s co-workers. (1 Cor 3:9)
And Mary was the co-worker “full of grace.” Even the Angel Gabriel said, “Hail!” So when we pray “Hail Mary, full of grace…” are we Catholics giving too much attention to Mary? Tell that to Gabriel. And we continue… “blessed are thou among women…” It is interesting how many Christians today are interested in prophecy—but not that one. For Luke recounts what Mary proclaimed in her Magnificat:
…from now on will all ages call me blessed. (Luke 1:48)
Everyday, I am fulfilling prophecy when I pick up the Rosary and begin to pray with Mary to Jesus, using the very words of Scripture that fulfill her prophetic utterance. Do you think that is one reason it is a blow to Satan’s head? That, because of this little teenage virgin, he has been defeated? Because of her obedience, the disobedience of Eve has been undone? Because of her continued role in salvation history as the Woman clothed in the sun, her offspring will crush his head? Genesis 3:15
Yes, that is another prophecy, that there will be a lasting enmity between the devil and a woman in the times of her offspring—in the times of Christ.
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers… (Gen 3:15)
At the wedding of Cana, Jesus purposely used this unusual title of “woman” to address His Mother when she pointed out that they had run out of wine:
Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come. (John 2:4)
And then, He listened to her anyway and performed His first miracle. Yes, she is a Woman who holds sway with her Son, just as the Queen mothers in the old testament held profound influence over their kingly sons. His use of the title “woman” was deliberate, to identify her with the “woman” of Genesis and Revelation.
Too much attention? Not when attent ion to Mary means a deeper and more profound attention to Jesus…
BY HIS MERITS
My reader asks why a sinless woman would need “God my Savior.” The answer is simply that Mary could not have been sinless without the merits of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection. It is basic theology among nearly every Christian denomination that what Christ achieved on the Cross is an eternal act that extends throughout all of history and into the future. Hence, Abraham, Moses, and Noah are all in Heaven despite the fact that the triumph of Calvary was hundreds of years later. Just as the merits of the Cross were applied to them who were predestined by God in their particular roles in salvation history, so too were they applied to Mary before Christ’s birth for her particular role. And her role was to allow God to take flesh from her flesh and blood from her blood. How could Christ take habitation in a vessel stained by original sin? How could He be the spotless and unblemished Lamb of God without the Immaculate Conception of Mary? Thus, from the very beginning she was born “full of grace,” based not on her own merits, but upon her Son’s.
…she was entirely a fit habitation for Christ, not because of the state of her body, but because of her original grace. —POPE PIUX IX, Ineffabilis Deus, Apostolic Constitution solemnly defining the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, December 8th, 1854
She was saved by Him, but in a powerful and distinct way because she was to be the Mother of God, just as Abraham was saved in a powerful and distinct way through his faith when his aged wife conceived, making him the “father of all nations”. Soo, Mary is the now the “Lady of All Nations” a title approved for Our Lady in 2002: see this link.
Her pre-eminent title is Mother of God. And this of course is what her cousin Elizabeth called her:
Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? (Luke 1:42-43)
She is the “mother of my Lord”, who is God. And again, beneath the Cross, she was given to be the Mother of all. This echoes back to Genesis when Adam named his wife:
The man called his wife Eve, because she became the mother of all the living. (Gen 3:20)
St. Paul teaches that Christ is the new Adam. 1 Cor 15:22, 45 And this New Adam declares from the Cross that Mary is to be the new Mother of all the living in the spiritual rebirth of creation.
Behold, your mother. (John 19:27)
After all, if Mary gave birth to Jesus, the head of the Church, does she not also give birth to His body, the Church?
Woman, behold, your son. (John 19:26)
Even Martin Luther understood this much:
Mary is the Mother of Jesus and the Mother of all of us even though it was Christ alone who reposed on her knees… If he is ours, we ought to be in his situation; there where he is, we ought also to be and all that he has ought to be ours, and his mother is also our mother. —Martin Luther, Sermon, Christmas, 1529.
So it is clear that Evangelical Christians have, somewhere along the way, lost their Mother! But perhaps that is changing:
…Catholics have long revered her, but now Protestants are finding their own reasons to celebrate the mother of Jesus. —Time Magazine, “Hail Mary”, March 21st, 2005
And yet, as I said earlier, the mystery is deeper than this. For Mary symbolizes the Church. The Church is also our “Mother.”
Knowledge of the true Catholic doctrine regarding the Blessed Virgin Mary will always be a key to the exact understanding of the mystery of Christ and of the Church. —POPE PAUL VI, Discourse of 21 November 1964: AAS 56 (1964) 1015.
Much of the writings here on the last times are based on this key. But that’s for another time.
Another common objection to Mary that Protestants point out are a couple of Bible passages where Jesus appears to put His Mother down, thus seemingly dismantling any notion of a further significant role for her. Someone in the crowds shouted out:
“Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!” but he said “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” (Lk 11:27-28) Someone told him, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, asking to speak with you.” But he said in reply to the one who told him, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?”And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Matt 12:47-50)
While it may appear that Jesus is reducing the role of his Mother (“Thanks for the womb. I don’t need you now…”), it is quite the opposite. Listen carefully to what He said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” Who is more blessed among men and women alike precisely because she heard and obeyed the word of God, the word of the angel?
I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word. (Luke 1:38)
Jesus underscores that Mary’s blessedness does not come from merely a physical relationship, but above all a spiritual one that is based on obedience and faith. The same can be said for Catholics today who receive the Body and Blood of Jesus. The physical communion with Our Lord is a special gift, but it is faith and obedience that opens the heart to receive the blessedness of the gift of God’s Presence. Otherwise, a closed heart or a heart with idols nullify’s the grace of the physical contact:
…if there is anyone else in such a heart, I cannot bear it and quickly leave that heart, taking with Me all the gifts and graces I have prepared for the soul. And the soul does not even notice My going. After some time, inner emptiness and dissatisfaction will come to [the soul’s] attention. —Jesus to St. Faustina, Divine Mercy in My Soul, diary, n. 1638
But Mary reserved herself totally and always for God. Thus when Jesus says, “whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother,” it is to say, there is no one among yo u who is more worthy to be my Mother than this Woman.
A LITTLE TESTIMONY
Yes, there is more I can say about this Woman. But let me conclude by sharing my own experience. Out of all the teachings of the Catholic faith, Mary was the most difficult one for me. I struggled, as does my reader, with why this virgin was given so much attention. I was terrified that in praying to her I was breaking the first Commandment. But as I read the testimony of saints like Louis de Montfort, Blessed Mother Teresa and servants of God such as John Paul II and Catherine de Hueck Doherty and how Mary brought them closer to Jesus, I decided to do what they did: consecrate myself to her. That is to say, okay Mother, I want to totally serve Jesus by being totally yours.
Something incredible happened. My hunger for the Word of God increased; my desire to share the faith intensified; and my love for Jesus blossomed. She has taken me deeper and deeper into a personal relationship with her Son precisely because she has such a deep relationship with Him. Also, to my amazement, strongholds of sin that dominated me for years, struggles that I seemed powerless to conquer, began coming down quickly. It was unmistakable that a Woman’s heel was involved.
This is to say that the best way to understand Mary is to get to know her. The best way to understand why she is your Mother is to let her mother you. This, above all, has been more powerful for me than any apologetic I have read. I can tell you this: if devotion to Mary had in any way began to pull me away from Jesus, to distract my love from Him, I would have dropped her faster than a heretical potato. Thanks be to God, however, I can exclaim with millions of Christians and Our Lord Himself: “Behold, your mother.” Yes, blessed are you, My dear Mother, blessed are you.
First Published February 22nd, 2011.
Some of you don’t know how to pray the Rosary, or find it too monotonous or tiring. We want to make available to you, at no cost, my double-CD production of the four mysteries of the Rosary called Through Her Eyes: A Journey to Jesus. This was over $40,000 to produce, which includes several songs I’ve written for our Blessed Mother. This has been a great source of income to help our ministry, but both my wife and I feel it is time to make it as freely available as possible at this hour… and we’ll trust in the Lord to continue to provide for our family’s needs. There is a donate button at the bottom for those who are able to support this ministry.
Simply click the album cover
which will take you to our digital distributor.
Choose the Rosary album,
then “Download” and then “Checkout” and
then follow the rest of the instructions
to download your free Rosary today.
Then… start praying with Mama!
(Please remember this ministry and my family
in your prayers. Thank you so much).
If you would like just the songs to Mary and Jesus from Mark’s Divine Mercy Chaplet and Through Her Eyes, you can purchase the album Here You Are, which includes two new worship songs written by Mark available only on this album. You can download it at the same time:
|↑1||“We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-Church, of the Gospel versus the anti-Gospel. This confrontation lies within the plans of divine Providence; it is a trial which the whole Church, and the Polish Church in particular, must take up. It is a trial of not only our nation and the Church, but in a sense a test of 2,000 years of culture and Christian civilization, with all of its consequences for human dignity, individual rights, human rights and the rights of nations.” —Cardinal Karol Wojtyla (JOHN PAUL II ), at the Eucharistic Congress, Philadelphia, PA; August 13, 1976|
|↑2||cf. On Medjugorje|
|↑3||see The Fundamental Problem|
|↑5||see The Seven Year Trial – Part VII|
|↑7||a title approved for Our Lady in 2002: see this link.|
|↑8||1 Cor 15:22, 45|