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Monthly Reflection by
Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

I have come to set the earth on fire" (Lk 12:49) - Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

Prayer of the Month

Monthly Reflections

"MOTHER MARY - STAR OF DISCIPLESHIP" - Fr. Augustine Vallooran V.C.

In this month of May, let us reflect on the life of Mother Mary who lived her life doing God's Will - she is the best example for us to truly be a disciple of Jesus. Mother Mary is the "Star" of discipleship. What is a star? A star is the most luminous light in the horizon and Mother Mary is the most privileged of all the disciples of Jesus. She was the Mother and she was truly a devout disciple too. A star also shows us the way and Mother Mary leads us on our way to become disciples of Jesus. That is why Vatican II speaks of Mother Mary as the first believer and the best believer. When God wanted to save the world, it was to Mother Mary that God turned to because as soon as man and woman sinned in Paradise and Paradise was lost. Life was to become a valley of tears for humankind. At that very moment, God promised a Saviour to be born in the world to save humankind and restore Paradise back to earth for them. In the plan of God, the Saviour was to be the Son God becoming man. For the Son of God to become man, God needed a woman in whom the Son of God could be conceived as man - for this, God chose Mary of Nazareth. Therefore in one sense, we could say that with Mother Mary, the history of salvation begins!

"I Am The Lord's Servant" (Luke 1:38)

God spoke to Mother Mary and she accepted God's Word. The Word revealed to her that she was to conceive and bear a son. She did not understand much. How could a village girl from Nazareth understand the great wisdom of the mind of God? And she said it in so many words, "How can this be? How can I bear a son?" and the Angel said two things. Firstly, the Angel said this was God's plan for the salvation of humankind. Secondly, the Plan of God would be done in the Power of the Holy Spirit. That was enough for Mother Mary! She said if this was God's Plan and the plan was done through the anointing of the Holy Spirit, "Here, I am, the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to Thy Word."(Luke 1:38) It was at that moment that salvation began! She accepted God's Word most perfectly and thus as Vatican II tells us, she became the "titan' of the Church. In other words, what you and I should be doing in our lives in following Jesus. As Mother Mary accepted God's Word, we need to accept God's Word. As Mother Mary lived God's Word, we need to live God's Word!

The Church has promulgated TWO beautiful dogmas of Mother Mary - the dogma of "Immaculate Conception" and the "Assumption into Heaven" - that Mother Mary was conceived without sin. Because of the merits of the redemption of Jesus, her Son, she was preserved from all sins even from the first moment of her conception. At the end of her sojourn on earth, she was taken up to heaven, body and soul. She was not corrupted in the mud of the earth. In fact, it is sin that corrupts. In Mother Mary, there is no sin at all! There is nothing corrupted in her body and mind. She was a woman full of grace - that is the way the Angel addressed her, "Hail Mary, full of grace!" (Luke1:28) At no time in her existence, was she under the slavery of satan. At no time in her life, has she ever consented to sin. So she was full of grace - her body and mind was filled with grace. As the poet, Woodsworth said, "A solitary boast of a tainted nature". Human nature was tainted by sin but Mother Mary was not - she was taken up to heaven, This is our Mother - a Star of discipleship!

"The Lord Is With You And Has Greatly Blessed You" (Luke 1:28) Why do we call Mother Mary the Star of Discipleship? Firstly, Mother Mary is the one who teaches us how to be disciples. Let us see what Jesus Himself said about His Mother - an event recorded in all the three Gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke. In Luke 8:19-21, "Then his mother and his brethren came to Him but they could not reach him for the crowd. And He was told, ‘Your Mother and brethren are standing outside desiring to see You', but he said to them, ‘My Mother and brethren are those who hear the Word of God and do it.'" In the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, as they report this event, they had a had an extra sentence - a question Jesus asked, "Who is my mother? Who are my brethren?" It is because of this that some people misinterpret this event - as if Jesus was indifferent to His Mother! In fact, Scripture scholars will tell us that Jesus was not indifferent to His Mother. It was the opposite - Jesus was giving a great honour , a great glory to His Mother! "Who is my mother?" People thought of Mary as the Mother of Jesus because she conceived Jesus and brought Him up. Jesus was saying "No!" not only because of that that she became My mother - a mother par excellence! It was because she heard God's Word and did it. That is why she became My mother and that is what every one should be doing. Every one who follows Me should hear my Word and do my Word. In other words, Jesus was presenting His Mother as the Star of discipleship. Jesus was telling the people in the crowd how to be a disciple like His Mother. Jesus was saying, "As My mother heard God's Word; as My mother did God's Word, so you should be hearing God Word and doing it." So Mother Mary shows us the way how we should be doing it.

How did Mother Mary hear God's Word? The Word of God was given to her that she was to conceive and bear a son. She did not understand a thing. She never understood anything with her mind and intellect. St. Luke tells us this in Luke 2:50 - Mother Mary was in the Temple…..She had come running back because Jesus was missing. Mary and Joseph came back to the Temple and found the boy Jesus speaking to the elders and high priests and Mother Mary asked Jesus, "My son, why did you do this? Your father and I were searching for you. Jesus replied her, "Why did you look for me? Didn't you know I must be in my Father's house?"(Luke 2:48-49) Mother Mary did not understand anything. Yet do you know what she did? It is noted in Luke 2:19 - "Mother Mary kept the word in her heart and pondered over it." That is the way God's Word is to be heard. Perhaps that is the difference between us and M Mary - there are many things we have not understood in the Word and there are many things we have not understood in our life! Why are things going wrong for us? Many things we have not understood - but not understanding, what do we do? We keep it all in the head. Mother Mary kept it all in the heart!

"For Your Heart Will Always Be Were Your Riches Are" (Matthew 6:21)

What is the difference between the head and the heart? The head is all the thinking. How do I think? I think in the light of my experiences. I think in the framework of my ideas. I think in the limitations of my knowledge. Thinking is always limited because my knowledge is always limited and we go on thinking and keeping it all in our heads till it breaks! There are many people whose heads are ‘broken' - they become desperate, they have self-pity, then they become depressed and suicidal. They are ‘broken'. But Mother Mary kept it all in her heart. What is the difference? Heart is where God lives! According to the Bible, the heart is the "dwelling place of God" and whatever I do not understand, I need to keep it all in my heart. I need to ponder over it - what is God trying to tell me? I am waiting upon God.Head is my thinking - in my pride and self-righteousness. Heart is my humility - I do not know. I am waiting upon God to reveal to me what it means to me in my life. This is how God's Word is to be heard - not by the head but by the heart!

The Word of God has THREE layers in its meaning. Every word in the Bible has it. First we have the ‘Historical' layer. The most superficial layer of the meaning of the Word is the ‘Historical' layer about something that happened in history about 2,000 years ago. What happened? I enquire with my head and understand. For example in Luke 19:1-9, there is the event of Zacchaeus climbing up the tree and Jesus coming to stand under the tree and calling him down. Then Jesus went to his house and declared salvation. There is a historical nucleus to that event. In fact, every event in the bible, every word in the Bible has a historical setting. The ‘Historical' layer is understood by the head - I read, I hear lectures; I go through commentaries and I understand the historical meaning.

There is a deeper meaning for the Word of God i.e. the ‘Theological' meaning. What is the theological meaning? What does that particular event mean in terms of our salvation? Say for example, what does it actually mean - the story of Zacchaeus? It means Jesus is the Saviour of the world! Jesus is the Saviour of the world and that is given to us in Luke 19:10 - Jesus said, "The Son of Man has come to seek and save the lost." That is the theological relevance of that event. Even the ‘Theological' meaning is understood by the head. I read about it, I hear about it and I understand what is the theological relevance of the Word of God. But then, there is a deeper meaning for the Word of God.

It is called the "Mystical" layer of the meaning of the Word. When we say ‘mystical', we mean in the context of my relationship to my God. What does this event mean to me today, at this moment? In my relationship to God, what does the event of Zacchaeus mean to me at this moment in my life - of Jesus going to a sinner's house and blessing and saving that family and declaring salvation? What does that event mean to me today at this moment? That is the ‘mystical' layer of the meaning of the Word of God.

Well, what does it mean to me? That depends on what God is speaking to me. What does God want to tell me now at this moment? What does God speak to me? I need to wait and listen to what God is speaking to me. That will differ from person to person. That will differ from time to time. That will differ from experience to experience. For example, I could be feeling a sense of being lost; I could be feeling a distance from my God. I did not pray today. I think God is far away from me or maybe I am aware of sin in my heart. I know that I have offended God by my sin. That is the moment I hear God speaking to me that He has come in search of the lost - I accept Him as my Lord and Saviour of my heart. At that moment, my Jesus is coming to save me from my sin. Or perhaps, my wife or my husband may have done something wrong and I could be angry with that person. That is when I read this particular event and I understand God is merciful; God forgives; God saves us from our sins. I judged my husband; I condemned my children - that is not what I must be doing! I must be like God - understanding and forgiving and leading that person to salvation. I must pray for them. As I said, the ‘mystical layer' of meaning will differ from time to time, from person to person and from experience to experience. But I wait for it - not with my intellect and what I think. No! It is what is given to me in my heart. This is a layer of meaning that becomes my salvation. That is what God speaks to me. I wait for God to speak to me.

That is why St. Augustine tells us that "the Word of God - the Bible - is a love-letter that God has written to me." What is the importance of a love letter? It is a great personal message. It is a very personal message to me from the one who loves me. It could be my mother, or father or my friend - someone who loves me writes to me a personal message. A love letter is not about political facts or historical figures. No! A love letter is what my friend has to tell me. It could be a word of love to comfort me, to correct me, it could be a word to encourage me and to strengthen me. When I read that love letter, that person who wrote to me comes clear before me. He comes before me so real and when I read, the words will stand out of the paper. I will be deeply touched and consoled and guided and strengthened and encouraged by it - this is the Bible, a love letter that God has written to you! Thus, therefore every time I pick up the bible to read, I must be willing to listen. It is the Word of God - it is God speaking to me. As St. Paul says, "It is active and living"(Hebrews 1:2) a word God speaks to me today about this moment and this experience.

"Listen To My Excellent Words; All I Tell You Is Right" (Proverbs 8:6)

What should I do as I hear the Word from the mouth of God as God speaks? That is what Mother Mary teaches us - how to hear the Word. We should hear with the heart and ponder over the Word. The Word of God being poured into our life experiences; The Word of God becoming our experience of God's Comfort and Love in my heart - God giving me life! Mother Mary teaches us to hear God's Word. That is what Jesus said, "My mother is the one who hears God's Word and then does it." We should not only hear God's Word but to obey God's Word. Mother Mary teaches us how to obey God's Word. She gave her life to our God when she said, "Here am I your handmaid. Let it be done to me according to your word." She made a total surrender to the Word of God - that God's Word can be done in her; that God's plan can be carried out in her life. We must understand that it was not an easy decision - she was signing her own death warrant in fact. Do you know why? It is because when the Angel spoke to her, Mary was betrothed to Joseph and they were not living together. That is when she would conceive and bear a son. Obviously, everything would be seen on the outside and people would know! According to the Law of Moses, to be found with child when a woman was betrothed and not living together with a man, was a terrible crime -a crime for which the woman would be stoned to death. Mother Mary will most likely had imagined that stones would be thrown at her body. He body could have been bruised like a prostitute and yet she said "If that is God's Will. Let it be done to me." She took a great risk in obeying God's Word. If that is what God wants of me, "Here I am!" I surrender my life in the hands of God She accepted God's Word completely, She did not weigh the consequences nor count the costs. She made a total surrender to God's Word. That is how God's Word is to be obeyed - total surrender in the hands of God - the come what may, no matter what happens!

What happened after that? She was accepted by Joseph and by her family but did that solve all the problems? No! She has a child, Jesus. She knew what this child is all about. She knew about the Word of God and she knew Jesus was the Saviour of the world. From the prophecy of Isaiah she knew the Son of God would have to be 'the suffering servant of Yahweh'.(Isaiah Chapter 53) That means He has to die in order to save the world. He was to be tortured; He was to be wounded in order that the wounds of humankind could be healed. He has to take upon Himself the sins of humankind so that humankind could be saved. She knew it well and she knew her Son would do it well - because to do it was to be the suffering servant of Yahweh. She knew her Son was born to die. All of us were born to live but her Son was born to die. She knew it well and every time she saw her Son growing up, she would imagine the Son of Man is to be tortured, is to be wounded, is to be crucified. How terrible for a mother to endure these thoughts!

Let me give you a little imagery…a mother, an ordinary mother and her little son. The little boy became sick and the mother took him to the doctor. The doctor ran all the medical tests and it revealed a fatal fact that the little son was having blood cancer - a type of cancer that cannot be healed. In a year's time, that little son would die. The mother never expected such terrible news and she was shattered! She had expected him to have had a little fever only as he was such a healthy and handsome little boy. But now the mother knew that this boy was to die in one year's time. What would be the state of mind of that mother? The mother would perhaps not even tell her husband - the poor man! Why should she make him feel as shattered as she was? That secret she would keep in her heart and ponder over that. Whenever she sees her son smiling, she would smile with her son but she would go back and behind doors, she would shed tears. That smile - just for one more year - then the smile would vanish forever. His mother would get admission for her son in the best nursery class and she would take him and him over to the class to the teacher. The teacher would tell the mother, "Your son is so handsome, so dear and he does everything so perfectly well." She would smile but again behind closed doors, she would cry once more because in one year's time the little son would be dead. Just imagine the heartbeat of such a mother who keeps that secret hidden in her heart!

"All Things Are Done According to God's Plan And Decision" (Ephesians 1:11)

Mother Mary was like this! Her son was growing up and at the age of thirty, He goes for His public life. Mother Mary would kiss him, hug him and send him off. Mother Mary would know that was the beginning of the end. Simon Peter would come running to her and say, "Oh! Your Son is so great. Today He fed 5000 people with just 5 loaves of bread. What a glorious thing it was!" Mother Mary would smile and she would go behind the door and weep. How many days, how many months would she have like this? Mary Magdalene would come running to her and say, "Mother Mary, I was such a sinner and it is Your Son who saved me." She would weep and Mother Mary would smile at her. Then she would go behind the door and weep too. Soon there comes the terrible news -that her son, Jesus, was arrested. She knew that would happen one day and the unavoidable has happened! Mother Mary would run and see Her Son on the way to Calvary. It is a sight that no mother should see. The heart cannot take it to see a son tortured like that - abandoned, despised and reviled by everyone. Crawling in the mud of the earth, like a worm, shivering under the weight of the Cross, and the procession reached Calvary. I imagine to myself that Mother Mary had a dream or desire perhaps that at the end of this journey, Jesus would be spared from death.

I say this because there is a precedent to that. Mount Calvary has on the other side, Mount Moriah - which is where centuries ago, Abraham went with his son, Isaac Cross on His shoulder and Isaac also had a wood - firewood - on his shoulders. On the way, Isaac would turn and ask his father, "Dad, where are we going?" Abraham would have answered, "Son, we are going to offer a sacrifice." Isaac would ask, "Dad, I have the firewood; you have the knife to kill the victim and the fire to burn the victim but where is the victim? Abraham would miss a heartbeat. He could not say to his son, "You are the victim to be stabbed and to be burnt as a sacrifice." Abraham only replied, "God will provide." That is always the faith of Abraham. When they reached the top of Mt. Moriah, Abraham with shivering hands picked up the stones and built an altar. Abraham spread the firewood on the altar and Isaac was standing nearby, watching and wondering where the victim would come from in that rocky place. When the altar was ready, Abraham called for the boy and laid him and tied him up on the altar, took the knife and raised it up to deliver the fatal blow. At the last split second, God intervened and God said, "Abraham, do not kill him. It is not the boy that I want. It was you that I want - your undivided heart! Abraham untied the boy, held him close to him and came back. Abraham lived for many more years and he died a happy death laying with his head on the lap of Isaac. Mother Mary knew this story. It had all happened centuries ago on the other side - at Mount Moriah. Mother Mary had the worries of a mother - can my son carry the Cross? Will my son be wounded on the way? When this procession reaches the top of Mount Calvary, will my son be nailed to the cross? Will God intervene at the last moment and give my son back to me? I will take him back to Nazareth. I will pour oil into his wounds and he will be healed. It will take a long time but that is okay. I will nurse my son to health; I will live with Him in Nazareth and I will die laying my head on his lap." Any mother would have this desire. Mother Mary perhaps had that desire. However, God who showed mercy to Abraham did not show that mercy to Mother Mary. For Mother Mary, Gad gave the shattered, wounded, bleeding and dead body of her Son in her lap. Yet Mother Mary said, "Here am I, Your handmaid. Let it be done to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38) That is the way Mother Mary did God's Will. That is the way Mother Mary obeyed God's Will till the last moment - not weighing the consequences and not counting the cost. On Mount Moriah, Abraham became the "Father" of all believers, On Mount Calvary, Mother Mary became the "Mother" of all believers.

"Let It Be Done To Me According To Thy Word" (Luke 1:38)

Jesus gave us his Mother when He bent down and told John "Here is your Mother." (John 19:27) John accepted her. The Fathers of the Church interpret this passage beautifully. They asked, "What does this mean? Jesus telling John, Here is your mother" - John who was in tears not understanding, not able to comprehend the meaning of it all. How did Mother Mary take it on Mount Calvary? Mother Mary - Her heart was pierced as Simeon has prophesised, "A sword will pierce your heart" - yet she did not complain. She did not shout at anyone. She offered Her pierced heart with the broken body of her Son to the Heavenly Father and thus beneath the Cross, Mother Mary became the co-Saviour. Why do I use the word co-Saviour? I use it in the light of Colossians 1:24 , and when St. Paul says, "I rejoice!...Through my suffering in my body, I complete what is lacking for Jesus in his suffering body the Church." There is something lacking in the suffering of Jesus. Why did St. Paul say this that "something is lacking in the suffering of Jesus? Can anything lack in the suffering of Jesus? Well, theologians have an interpretation. They speak of ‘objective salvation' and ‘subjective salvation'. That means from the part of Jesus, for salvation of humankind, the suffering was complete - perfect BUT we have not accepted the fruit of the Love of Jesus! Therefore from our part, our salvation is not complete - it is still waiting to be completed. And that's why St. Paul says, "There is something lacking in the suffering of Jesus and that is to be completed in my suffering." That is what Mother Mary did - in offering Her own pierced soul with the broken body of her Son to the Heavenly Father, she was completing what was lacking in the suffering of Jesus for salvation of humankind.

Mother Mary shows us the way in our moments of sufferings - to become like Her beneath the Cross, co-saviours of Jesus, completing what is lacking in the suffering of Jesus through our sufferings. Thus she became ‘Blessed' and that is what Elizabeth told her, "Blessed are you because you believe!"(Luke 1:45) This word "Blessed woman" is to be taken in the background of what happened to Eve, the first mother. She was a cursed woman. She brought a curse to the whole of humankind because she disobeyed God's Word. And now here stands a Mother - a Mother that making our lives blessed by obeying God's Word totally.

This is our Mother - a Mother who teaches us how to be a disciple; how to hear God's Word; how to obey God's Word; how to wait upon God for the anointing of the Holy Spirit and how to accept our sufferings and become co-saviours with Jesus, our Saviour.

Let us pray:

O God, we thank You for Mother Mary. Your gift to us to show us the way - the Star of discipleship - on how to become a disciple after Your Heart.

We also surrender our lives into the Hands of God. O Mother, You became a humble handmaid of the Lord, ready to obey God's Word. Pray for us, O Mother! Intercede for us that we may also become disciples as You were - the most committed disciple of Jesus. Help us to be bright stars leading others to Jesus!

O God, thank you for giving us such a great Mother! In the moments of our distress, in the moments of our doubts, in the moments of our heartaches, we will look at the face of our Mother Mary - a great Light - who would lead us the way to trust in God and to commit our life totally to Him.
Amen

 
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