Again and again, throughout its history, the Church has turned to Mary, the Mother of God. We turn to Mary because she hears our prayers and takes those entreaties to her son who, as a good Jew, would never violate the fourth commandment. Jesus hears his mother and does what she wishes.
We also turn to Mary because she is our model in the Christian life, the perfect disciple. She hears God's word and she obeys.
In his recent encyclical, Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith), Pope Francis compares Mary with the "good soil" in the parable of the sower. "These are the ones who when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance" (Luke 8.15).
It is through obedience to God's word that Mary bears fruit. When the angel came to her, her obedience was perfect because the word was already alive in Mary. Throughout her life, her heart was always in perfect synch with God's word. There was no hesitation, no desire to deviate for even a second from God's plan.
When the angel came to Zechariah, he hesitated in accepting God's will and was struck dumb for the duration of Elizabeth's pregnancy.
In the Old Testament, Samuel anointed Saul as the first king of the Jewish people. But although Saul was king, he still had to be obedient to God's command given through the prophet.
Saul was a pious, religious man. Yet, when he disobeyed a seemingly insignificant command from Samuel and offered a sacrifice before going into battle, instead of waiting for Samuel to return, Saul lost the Spirit with which he had been anointed (1 Samuel 13.8-15).
From that time on, Saul's reign was in chaos. His ability to "bear fruit" had dissipated with his disobedience.
Mary shows us the way to avoid chaos and live in peace - perfect obedience.
Mary was one of Israel's anawim, the poor and humble ones. The poverty of the anawim is both material and spiritual. Because of that poverty, they depend on God to meet all their needs.
In her Magnificat (Luke 1.46-55), Mary identified totally with the anawim. She praises a God who "has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree." She praises God for his mercy, for helping Israel, his servant.
Pope Francis is right to hold up Mary as an example for us today. Today, we are too caught up with our own willfulness; we believe too strongly that we know what is best, that the world will be better to the extent that I can do my own thing and that it would be better still if everyone would follow my directions.
Mary was perfectly holy. No one was better qualified to see with great perception the way of her own life and the way society should go. Yet what is so striking in the Gospels is Mary's silence and her obedience to God's will.
She did not strike forth on her own. She sought to be God's humble servant and nothing more. Yet no life in human history - except that of Jesus - has borne more fruit.
St. John Eudes put it correctly when he said, "The humility of Mary is the heavenly ladder on which God descended to earth."
Theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar is more blunt: "To know God is to fear God and this means to obey."
We chafe at such advice, but it is the only way to peace, harmony and justice. When we follow Jesus, we are on the right path. We stay on that path by obeying as Mary obeyed, even when we fail to see the end of the road.
(This is the first in a series of occasional reflections on Mary, a feature I hope will be a permanent part of the WCR.)