This topic is one that has been the subject of much reflection for me over the past several months after having read Chiara Lubich’s “Mary, the Transparency of God.” Unfortunately I do not have her text in front of me as I write this reflection because at present I am in the midst of a ten week pilgrimage to the Holy Land. This idea that Mary is a harbinger and echoer of the divine returned to me in her role of always pointing to Jesus as I reflected on the life of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph here in the land where they walked and lived.
Many times in the gospels Mary acts as either a harbinger or echoer of the divine voice. In her Magnificat, Mary recounts God’s goodness toward Israel and echoes the hymn of Hannah while also foretelling that all generations would call her blessed. In the Gospel of John and the Acts of the Apostles, we discover the emergence of the Church’s early devotion to (and presence of) the Mother of God.
At the Wedding Feast of Cana, Mary told the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to do. It would be later on Mount Tabor when the voice of God would proclaim that this is my beloved son, listen to him. Mary acts as a harbinger of the divine voice by instructing us to listen to Jesus by doing whatever he tells us.
In Mary’s acceptance of God’s will for her life by her fiat, may it be done unto me according to your word, she foreshadows how The Lord taught us to pray: “Thy will be done.” Mary’s own prayer is in concert with the future teaching of her son–and so she acts as a harbinger.
Recently I had the opportunity to attend Mass in the Chapel of St. Helen at St. Catherine Church (the Franciscan Church next to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem). In the Chapel of St. Helen, ancient murals adorn the walls. As I looked at one, it brought me back to this point of previous reflection of Mary as harbinger and echoer.
The mural depicted Jesus, who was at the center, and flanking the regal and teaching Christ were Mary and John the Baptist. Both Mary and John the Baptist have their hand outstretched, as if they are pointing to or presenting Christ to the world. I found this to be a great point for further reflection.
Parents are filled with joy and wish to share with others the joy that consumes them about their children. Whenever a child is born, the parents present them to those who wish to see the child. While one may not use this language, individuals participate in the action of beholding. Parents say to others, “Behold my son/daughter” or “Look at my child.” Mary presented the child Jesus to so many in the first few weeks following his birth. The magi and shepherds came to behold the child. In the temple, Mary presents the child to Simeon, who again beholds Christ and realizes that he may now be dismissed. Mary constantly revealed people to her Son, encouraging them to behold He who is both son of God and son of Mary.
Then consider John the Baptist, who flanks Christ in the mural. It was he who proclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God.” Like Mary, he now presents Jesus to the world for his public ministry and prepares the way. He directs attention to Christ and in response others begin to follow Christ after being invited to follow Him.
Finally, at the foot of Cross, there Mary stood with the beloved disciple. Jesus from the cross proclaims, “Behold your mother, behold your son.” In this handing over of Mary to John and John to Mary, Jesus presents his mother anew. She has been given new children, not only John, but the entire Church. This exhortation of beholding turned full circle. First, Mary can say to others, “Behold what they have done to my son.” And when Jesus was taken down from the cross, Mary beholds her dead son, the savior of the world. Just as she held the newborn king thirty three years earlier, now she holds a deceased king who will live forever. Secondly, Jesus returns the action of beholding back to His mother by asking us to take Mary into our homes. He wishes for us to behold His mother, and with her help, we will behold Him in our meditation and in His presence in the Eucharist, Confession, and the Church.