On Blessed Mary as an Image of Hope

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Feast of S. Mary the Virgin, 2021

Saint John calls the event of Jesus turning water into wine as the first of the signs of Jesus. And so in the Johannine account of the Gospel, Mary plays a central role from the beginning. John wrote his Gospel account presuming the knowledge on the part of the Christian community of his day of the other three Gospel accounts, as well as  many if not most of the New Testament Epistles by Paul, Peter, and others. In Saint John’s account of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the whole of the good news Who is Jesus, Mary plays a central role. Not only from the beginning, in this the first of His signs, but also at the end, the climax of the Gospel which is the Cross. For it was there, as Mary kept her station of the Cross, while her Son, her Lord, Our Lord was dying, she heard the Son of God’s final teaching: “Woman, behold your Son,” and then to the beloved disciple John who here represents all of the Church, she heard Him say, “Behold your mother.” The scriptural basis for the title given to Mary as Mother of the Church is right here, at the Cross, in this word of Jesus: “Behold your mother.”

The instruction to John is the instruction to the whole Church, is the instruction therefore to us gathered at the foot of the Cross of Christ. We, too, are to behold our Mother. What happens when we behold our Mother, when we behold Mary as our Mother? The dying words of Jesus surely are to be remembered as among His most powerful, most important, most heavenly of instructions. Behold your mother, He instructs all people who are to be His followers. What happens when we follow Our Lord’s command as He would have us do: follow with humility, without guile, without irony, but with our whole heart, as best as we are able? What happens when we obey Jesus and behold Mary as our Mother?

What happens when people do so is true Christian religion. What happens when people behold Mary as our Mother is the true Church of Jesus Christ. That is what happened in history, as recorded in the New Testament: the disciples obeyed Jesus and beheld Mary as their Mother, as Mother of the Church; she was with them at the Ascension of Jesus; she was with them in the Upper Room over the nine days of prayer together; and she was with them as the promise of the Father was fulfilled, and they received the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Just as the Holy Spirit came to Mary through the angel Gabriel by which she conceived Jesus in her heart before she conceived Him in her womb, the Holy Spirit came to the Upper Room Church with Mary present as their Mother and they we finally able to imitate her: after witnessing the whole of the Paschal Mystery of Jesus, they were able to conceive Jesus in their hearts so that they could proclaim Him publicly as Resurrected, as exalted at the Right Hand of God, as Christ the anointed true Messiah – the words of Peter at Pentecost preached to the people of Jerusalem.

These were words Mary had been treasuring in her own heart for over thirty years. The disciples had to experience their annunciation (which was the nine days in the Upper Room, overflowing into Pentecost) before they could begin to grapple with the staggering truth of Jesus, which Mary had been grappling with since her annunciation, when she heard Gabriel’s message: “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And after asking “How shall this be?” she learned: “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.” All the things the Upper Room Church could finally begin to understand and live with as the basis of their prayer life. And the basis of our prayer life.

Brothers and sisters, behold Mary as our Mother means hope. She embodied hope for the Upper Room Church, because they understood that for thirty or so years all she had was hope in her Son. Mary means hope, and beholding her as our Mother means beholding the image, the icon, of hope in Christ. And this is a particularly necessary thing for us, as we all are embarking upon a new adventure with great uncertainty: you all, soon to be in prayer for your next Priest; and me and my family, soon to be with an entirely new group of parishioners and living in the shark-bite capital of the world (not the state, not the country, but the world). Let us throughout these new adventures do as Christians from the beginning have always done: behold in Mary our Mother. In her lives the hope of the miracles of love performed by her Son, starting with the first of His signs, which Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory; and – His disciples believed in Him. In her lives the hope the Christians have treasured through the tough times faced through the centuries of the Church. And in her lives the hope that our two congregations in the Parish of Tazewell County need to get through the uncertainties of the coming months before your next priest starts, and do so not full of despair and worry, but instead, like Mary, full of grace.