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Mary-Full of Grace

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About the Author:

The author is a research scholar at the University of Hyderabad. His areas of interest are participatory development, social capital, human rights and natural resource management.  — Team Mangalorean.

The Catholic Church celebrates the day of death of its ordinary members or the Saints as the feast day, because it believes and preaches that the day of death also coincides with the individual?s birth in Heaven. And each Catholic has to be proud of this fact that, in God?s plan, each individual has place in Heaven. This is a general case. But there are three EXCEPTIONAL exceptions. The Church not only celebrates their death (bearing one) days but also their birthdays. Why I use the term EXCEPTIONAL exceptions is because these three individuals were different from other ordinary individuals even before their birth on this earth. The first is John the Baptist (June 24th and August 29th), the scripture says (And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived  a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;){Luke Chapter 1 verse 36}) the second is Jesus himself (Christmas and Good Friday) the scripture says (But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.) {Luke Chapter 1  Verses 34 and 35} and the third, our beloved Mother Mary (September 8th and August 15th ? The Assumption). Their births according to the scriptures were EXCEPTIONAL exceptions. John the Baptist was born when his parents were aged and biologically incapable of bearing children, Jesus was born of a Virgin and Mary?s case was similar to that of John the Baptist. The Church Dogma also states that Mary was taken to heaven in Body and in Spirit (August 15th). Jesus gave his life for the sake of human sins not before he gave his mother as mother to St. John (who Christian traditions believe was a relative of Christ Jesus) and through him, he gave his mother as mother to the whole humanity.

Why is Mother Mary so very revered in Christian traditions? (Roman Catholics, Oriental Churches and of course the Russian Orthodox Church and many other traditional Churches).  To give it a feminist touch, let us say in all religious beliefs, true God is represented a Male character. Does the beautiful, serene motherly looks of BVM counter this claim? Or is our beloved mother really a bridge between we humans and God? This question has been haunting me for very long as many of my friends belong to other Christian faith, who believe in talking to God directly. They kept on questioning me as to why I needed to pray to Mary, when I could talk directly to God without the intersession of any other HUMAN individual. The only answer I had then was to tell them that though we can ask our fathers directly for some favours, we prefer it to be channeled through our mothers. Many of us have done it, haven?t we? But that answer was more from my mind than my heart. For years I have been asking, why Mother Mary? Why Saints? I was looking for a logical answer, rather a radical one. Saints are not the only ones Cannonised by Popes. There is any number of saints, which the Church recognizes in the Litany of the Saints and during the funeral ritual when the priest prays God to allow the deceased to enter the rolls of saints in heaven.

Mother Mary was indeed special and it did not take long before I understood that. Two things attracted me since my childhood and they do attract me even today, Crucifixes and pendants (medals of Mother Mary) and the Rosary (I have many Rosaries and Crucifixes, though I need to confess, that I hardly wear any crucifixes or pray the Rosary). That was outside the Church. But inside the Church, I get attracted to the Tabernacle (it really fascinates me) and the statue of Mother Mary. I take pride in kissing her feet every time I visit the Church, inspite of the comments made at me by my non-catholic friends as being an idolater. I care a damn. Because in no other religious tradition has any founder given any member of his family to other as has done our Lord Jesus.

My fascination towards the Tabernacle was in my younger days because I would find a beautiful piece of art in it, which is away from the reach of common human hands. It was only recently that I discovered that in Tabernacle we worship the living God in the sacrament. We Catholics need to be proud of it. We indeed worship the living God, in the sacrament bequeathed to us by Christ Jesus.

OK there is the Tabernacle and there is Mother Mary, why are we talking about two different things? What is the link between the Tabernacle and Mother Mary? Is there anything in common between the two? I don?t know! Or rather I didn?t know until I attended a Mass presided by the Arch Bishop of Hyderabad, His Grace Marampudi Joji on 29th August 2005 to inaugurate the Festivities to mark the birth of our beloved mother Mary on 8th September. In his homily, His Grace compared the tabernacle with Mother Mary. He said that Mother Mary was the living Tabernacle!!!!! Any idea what His Grace meant? I hadn?t one. He paused. Then he quoted the scripture, ?The Visitation? of Virgin Mary to her cousin Elizabeth. I understood not a single word he spoke. Elizabeth was carrying and so was Mary, so what. Only thing that went into my mind as an academician was the distant similarity. In the former case the society would not believe and in the latter the society would not accept. Oh! Yah! I understood. I understood not what the Arch Bishop said, but I understood that I tried using my brains more than my heart.

He continued ?Mother Mary was the living Tabernacle who moved from place to place.? I felt something that lives moves (except plants and trees) so what? He then said that Mother Mary was the living Tabernacle? The first and the most holy Tabernacle of the Christian faith. She carried the living God in her Womb for nine months! It touched my heart. Why did I not try to understand this simple thing for so long? Better late than never. The tabernacle in the Church is locked so that it is out of the reach of unwanted elements. Mother Mary could have rejected point blank when she was offered to bear Jesus, she did not!! She humbly accepted the will of God and little did she care for the society, which on knowing that the Virgin was carrying would make her life hell. She kept Jesus away from unwanted elements for nine long months in her womb and for longer duration close to her heart after his birth. Indeed Mother Mary was the first tabernacle. And why did my other Christian friends who also break bread fail to understand? Was it because they broke the bread only to commemorate the last supper in accordance with the directions of Christ and not worship it. They do worship the living God, but fail to see or experience the living God in the bread. And the one who has failed to experience the living God in the bread will fail also to revere the vessel or the tabernacle in which the living God is placed in the form of bread. It is beyond their understanding to recognize Mother Mary and that indeed is their misfortune.

This comparison was made in the Year of the Eucharist, or rather I understood the importance of the Eucharist and the living tabernacle during this Holy year was indeed my great fortune.  

At one level if one places her at the helm as the Living Tabernacle one also needs to see her in other perspectives too. These perspectives need to be much focused and very pragmatic. This is needed not merely to counter other Christian denominations who vehemently oppose Marian Devotion. As a learned person if I start thinking rationally about Marian devotion, many a time I experience sensation of electricity passing through my body. I am sure many of us have experienced the same. Why Mary? Is she really needed as a mediator between me and my God? How will one answer it? I find it very difficult to answer. I had something in mind and I went to a colleague of mine who is a believer and calls herself ?Born Again?. We had a discussion on Bible for sometime and I very carefully brought in the issue of Mother Mary, she tried very hard to dodge the issue and I kept on persuading. She had probably no answer for any of my questions. She only said-?God please pardon him for he knows not what he is saying?. I thought for a moment and to be frank, I had no answer at all. I had to passively concede to her. But, why is it beyond human (Catholic) rationale to keep Mary out of picture for long? Is it because we were from childhood taught to honour Mary? Or is it because she was not? If one really gives scope for rational thinking then one will have also to respect the sentiments of atheists who can argue to any extent that there exists no God at all!

What then makes Mary our beloved mother exceptional? This question can only be answered by many of us who have really experienced her love and care. Yes, experience is the key. There are people who have not experienced her love and care or have rather not attempted to seek her help. Why then does Mother Mary attract millions of pilgrims to her Shrines all over the world? Why do people have so much trust in the Mother? I still remember when one of my cousins completed her MBBS, my aunt (her mother) offered a stethoscope made of gold to Mother Mary?s Shrine in Vellankani. Many of us have done similar things, haven?t we? All our material offerings will in no way make our Mother richer in any sense, isn?t she the Queen of Earth and Heaven?

In one of the homilies preached, the preacher took us through a pilgrimage reflecting Mary as an ideal mother. He drew three inferences. The first, in the natural sense of the term; the second in the Biblical sense of the term; and the third in the practical sense.

Firstly like any mother, Mary went through the natural process of motherhood. She was conceived (by the power of the Holy Spirit), she bore that Graceful child for nearly nine months (as the living tabernacle) and she delivered the child like any other mother going through all the pain.

In the Biblical sense she was an ideal mother because she gracefully accepted the will of God to bear Jesus knowing very well that it would be socially disgraceful for a virgin to conceive, she brought up Jesus in the Grace of God. She was his first follower. She was with him all through till his death on the Cross. Remember the marriage party at Cana, did she not request her son to help the hosts?

In the practical sense she was an ideal mother. She shares her pain with grace with all mothers the pain of bearing and delivering a child. She shares her pain of having no place to deliver her child with all those mothers who have no shelter to deliver (as in the humble manger). She shares her pain with all mothers who have to move from place to place in search of giving their children a safe and secure life (her flight with child Jesus and spouse Joseph from Bethlehem to Egypt to secure her son from the merciless king Herod) She shares her pain with all mother whose sons and daughters are lost in the tender age (She and her spouse searched for Jesus when He was twelve years old in the temple of Jerusalem). She shares her pain with all the mothers whose children have faced severe problems in their youth (as we find her encounter with Jesus carrying His Cross on the way to Calvary).And finally she shares her pain with all the mothers who have lost their beloved ones at young age (Her helplessness when Jesus was crucified). She shares her pain with all the mothers who have had to experience the funeral of their beloved children (Pieta or Piad Saibin). Similarly she shares all her joys with mothers who are proud of their childrens? achievements.

If these instances don?t make our beloved Mother truly venerable then nothing does.

And finally going by the rationale, many of our brethrens from different Christian denominations give, venerating Mother Mary becomes more important and relevant. We have ofcourse heard of Bro. Dinakaran-the preacher from South India, haven?t we? Who is he by the way? And why do we need to call him Brother (meaning brother in Christ)? He is afterall a normal human being like you and me! If a normal man who preaches the Word of God be called a Bother, why not a (the) woman who played a crucial role in transforming the Word of God into Flesh not be called Mother? Oh! I will fail to convince any of his least followers on this argument.

If this be the case as it is why then should we not ask our beloved Mother Mary to intercede to God on our behalf? Will it not carry any weight? If Bro. Dinakaran can heal the sick in the name of Jesus, how much more powerful should the most beloved Mother of Jesus be? If the same argument holds good, why then do those people who attend Bro. Dinakaran?s prayer meetings in thousands need his intersession? Can?t they pray to God directly and request for healing or any other Grace? If a normal living man can do wonders in the name of Jesus, imagine what can the Mother do, who bore that Name for nine months in her womb and lived with Him for thirty three years on this earth?

Rationale hardly works in matters of faith. The former is of external value, while the latter is internal in nature. The question I put to every individual who opposes Marian Devotion- Does God love us? If, yes, why?- Because we believe in him, we follow his commandments (we err at times, but its natural) How much more then will he love Mother Mary, who believed in him without an iota of doubt even after knowing well that her yes would bring her great misery- (A virgin bearing a child itself is socially unthinkable). And a mother surrendering the life of her young son on the Cross- In all, she was an epitome of obedience- through out her life on earth and her Queenship in heaven.

Come then, let us all celebrate her birthday with the greatest joy in our hearts and our lives and making our mother more relevant to our lives than ever before. In the Scripture the Mother herself says ?For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed?. (Luke Chapter 1, verse 48) ?Hail Mary full of Grace? help us also to experience the same Grace of God in our lives. Let your birthday renew in us the need to understand and follow the will of God.

Author: Ozmond Roshan DSouza

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