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Saturday, August 23, 2014

DINNER WITH THE SAINTS: A Whimsical Conversation on the Queenship of Mary

By Susan Fox

“So Bathshe’ba went to King Solomon, to speak to him on behalf of Adoni’jah. And the king rose to meet her, and bowed down to her, then he sat on his throne, and had a seat brought for the king’s mother; and she sat on his right. Then she said, “I have one small request to make of you; do not refuse me.” And the king said to her ‘Make your request, my mother; for I will not refuse you.’” (1 Kings 2:19-20)

Pope Saint John Paul II says
grace before our meal 
Aug. 22, 2014 -- Imagine we are at a sit-down dinner with the late Pope Saint John Paul II. He is about to explain why he chose the motto for his papacy, “Totus Tuus.” It is shortly after he became pope in 1978. 

The pasta is delicious, the red wine -- Italy’s best. But you look up and think, “Totus Tuus?” Why that means “totally yours” in Latin. Why did he pick that motto?
The longer version is “I am all yours, my Queen and my Mother, and all that I have is yours.” And you can almost imagine yourself even further back in time with another queen mother --- Bathshe’ba – who is requesting a favor from her son, King Solomon.

And he responds: “Make your request, my mother; for I will not refuse you.”

With fork in hand, the pope very casually explains that passage from the Old Testament, and points out simply that since God entrusted Himself to the little virgin from Nazareth, why should we ourselves fear to do so?

The pope understands that belonging totally to the Queen of Heaven, means belonging totally to its King. And isn’t that the point of our Baptism in Christ? To belong to God? For Mary never withholds any gift from Her Beloved Son. And if a flawed human being, such as King Solomon, would not refuse his own mother’s request, what would the King of Heaven do, faced with a request from his mother, Mary?
So passionate about the religious
life, St. Bernard of Clairvaux
drew 30 of his friends and
relatives into the monastery with
him, including his widowed
father, uncles and brothers.
If we recognize the Mellifluous (honey-tongued) Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) as a guest at our dinner table, we will be told: “Just as Mary surpassed in grace all others on earth, so also in heaven is her glory unique. If eye has not seen or ear heard or the human heart conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him (1 Cor 2:9), who can express what He has prepared for the woman who gave Him birth and who loved Him, as everyone knows, more than anyone else?"

As the conversation goes on, Bernard, the sweet-talking Cistercian monk, tells us about relying on the Queen of Heaven: “God has wanted that we obtain nothing if not through the hands of Mary.”

Whoops, over there at the end of the table, Saint Philip Neri wants to say something: “Believe me, there is no more powerful means to obtain God’s grace than to employ the intercessions of the Holy Virgin.” Pretty strong testimony, yes? Many others throughout the centuries have said the same.

Actually, in his personal life and his pontificate, Pope John Paul II profoundly understood that entering a deep relationship with Mary is the Key to a deeper relationship with each Person in the Community of Persons known as the Holy
Trinity. Perhaps even Bruce Springsteen unconsciously alluded to this humble relationship with God as the Key to "Life Itself.” “You were life itself, rushing over me, life itself, the wind in the black elms. Life itself, in your heart and in your eyes -- I can't make it without you.”

If we invite the 17th century priest, St. Louis Marie de Montfort, to dinner -- and I know that Pope John Paul II would like that --  he would tell us Mary had a profound and unique relationship with God Himself! She was Daughter of the Father, Mother of the Son, and Bride of the Holy Spirit.

In that context, the Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven was perhaps not such a formal affair. It was more like a Family Picnic. After all, one usually has a very comfortable relationship with one’s father, son and husband.  Entering into relationship with Mary allows us to develop and understand our own unique relationship with each Person of the Blessed Trinity. And someday, hopefully, when God crowns us with glory, we will feel the same sense of intimacy with Him.

Author of True Devotion
to Mary
: St. Louis Marie
de Montfort
Working in a chemical factory in Poland in his youth, Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II) read and studied, True Devotion to Mary written by the priest baptized in Montfort. The French priest Father Louis Marie coined the phrase the pope so loved, “Totus Tuus.”  The pope’s copy of that spiritual classic had worn pages stained with chemicals, but it remained by his bedside during his lifetime.

I know that some think of Mary as a female incubator -- something to be discarded after she gave birth to Jesus Christ, perhaps remembered briefly in a Nativity Scene at Christmas. But let me ask this question, “Which God ordered us to ‘Honor your father and your mother?’” Was it a Hindu god? Did Baal order us to honor our mothers? Did one of the 886 gods of Shintoism order us to honor our mothers?

No, it was the Judeo-Christian God who ordered such. And He so loved the world that He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into the world -- not to condemn it, but to save it.

And God actually chose, created and designed the mother that He would honor, the Mother of His Son, Jesus. He had it in His mind to create her from the very beginning. Proverbs foreshadows her coming: “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His ways, before He made anything from the beginning. I was set up from eternity, and of old before the earth was made.”(Proverbs 8: 22-23)

Eight centuries before the Birth of Jesus, Isaiah prophesized: “The virgin shall be with Child.” And the Child’s name would be Emmanuel. It means “God is with us.”

Mary, a human being herself, became God’s sole entry point into human history.  “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” could never be said, if Mary had not agreed: “Be it done to me according to thy word.” Why? Because that is the way God wanted it.

God passionately wanted to dwell with humankind. That is the message of the Old Testament.  “I will be your God, and you will be my people.”  (Lev. 26:12, Gen. 17:8, Exodus 6:7, Exodus 29:45, Jeremiah 7:23, Joel 2:27, Rev. 21:7)

He wanted to get close to us. How close? Very close. With the Israelites, the best He could achieve was to wall Himself up into a golden box to be carried around with them in the desert.  Bumpy ride. There was resistance.
The Annunciation

But with Mary, Daughter of Zion, God found no resistance. “Word” in the phrase, “Be it done to me according to Thy Word,” is better translated as “Voice.” When the Angel Gabriel spoke to the virgin from Nazareth and asked her to become the Mother of the Most High, Mary recognized the “Voice” so profoundly that God’s Own Voice was received and bore fruit in her human body. Aha! God had found a means to enter the world and dwell with mankind. “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14)

Now let us include as the pope’s dinner guest a friend of mine from Seattle. I’ll call her “Ruth.” (She has a sensitive job.) We are both 61-year-old Catholics, so, of course, over cocktails and oysters, we entered a deep conversation on the Woman of Genesis 3:15.

As if she was giving me a deep dark secret, Ruth said with lowered voice that she had discovered that if we think of God as an Artist, Mary was His greatest masterpiece. Mary is the greatest Masterpiece of God’s Creation.

Not only that, but she said in a deep whisper that I had to believe her because Bishop Saint Irenaeus of Lyons said the same thing. Saint Irenaeus is a follower of St. Polycarp, a disciple of the Apostle John the Evangelist himself.

So let’s get St. Irenaeus, third generation Christian, to be present at our dinner, shall we? Speak up Irenaeus! “Even though Eve had Adam for a husband, she was still a virgin... By disobeying, Eve became the cause of death for herself and for the whole human race. In the same way Mary, though she had a husband, was still a virgin, and by obeying, she became the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race.”

Forget superstars. Who cares about Guardians of the Galaxy, or radioactive Spiderman, or Captain America?  We got the Mother of God in our human family, and she saved the whole human race by one act of obedience and humility, her fiat: “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me according to thy VOICE.”

That’s why the Catholic Church calls Mary the New Eve.   Adam and Eve’s original sin of disobedience plunged the whole human race – their children – into death, sickness, and a very real weakness for sin.

It was a very dark moment in human history. But when the consequences of their actions were spelled out, in Genesis 3:15, God suddenly offered hope. Speaking to the serpent He said: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel."

With Genesis 3:15, the New Eve and the New Adam enter the stage of human history: Mary, The Woman, and Jesus, Her Offspring. Together they cooperated in the redemption of mankind. Together, they crushed the serpent’s head – all resistance to God. Though redemption is won solely through the divine action of Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, Mary – as a human being – cooperated in our redemption. Kneeling at the foot of the cross, she received all mankind as her children when her Son pointed to St. John, and said, “Behold, your son.”  Her obedience paved the way for Christ’s Incarnation, Death and Resurrection – God’s dwelling with His people.

The old prophet Simeon alludes to this at Christ’s circumcision in the temple: “And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, ‘Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed -- and a sword will pierce even your own soul -- to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.’” (Luke 2:34-35)

That prophesy was fulfilled when the New Adam – a sign to be opposed --  hung on the cross and died, while Mary, the New Eve – heart pierced with sorrow – watched. 
Jesus' Mother & St. John
the Evangelist at the
foot of the Cross
No, she didn’t just watch, she agreed to it. She cooperated. This relationship is further foreshadowed in the Old Testament. When the Israelites confessed their sins, they brought an animal sacrifice to the temple. They literally explained what they did wrong based on what they brought to be killed. The male unblemished lamb was sacrificed for public sin. The female ewe lamb was sacrificed for private sin – so that the (private) thoughts of many might be revealed.

Mary’s husband, affectionately known as St. Joseph, is dining with us tonight on the Feast of her Queenship. He is a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her. So when he recognized she was with child, he thought to divorce her secretly. (If he had fathered her child that never would have entered his mind.)  But when he had thought about this plan, an angel appeared to him in a dream, and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. "She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins." (Matt 1: 20-21)

What’s that you say, Joseph? You want me to the tell the people not to be afraid to take Mary into their homes? Or sorry, that was St. John the Beloved Disciple. He received Mary as his Mother at the foot of the cross. “Then He (Jesus) said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother!" From that hour the disciple took her into his own household. (John 19:27)
Mary, Queen of Angels
Father Louis Marie wants to say something as well: "Mary has the authority over the angels and the blessed in heaven. As a reward for her great humility, God gave her the power and mission of assigning to saints the thrones made vacant by the apostate angels who fell away through pride. Such is the will of the almighty God who exalts the humble, that the powers of heaven, earth and hell, willingly or unwillingly, must obey the commands of the humble Virgin Mary. For God has made her queen of heaven and earth, leader of his armies, keeper of his treasure, dispenser of his graces, mediatrix on behalf of men, destroyer of his enemies, and faithful associate in his great works and triumphs."

What an interesting dinner conversation. I wish we could do this every night. But tonight is special, the Feast of the Queenship of Mary.

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