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Monthly Reflection by
Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC
"I dwell with the crushed and the dejected“ (Is 57:15)

- Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

Prayer of the Month

Monthly Reflections

"The Mother of Jesus was there" (Jn 2:1) - Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

The evangelist St. John introduces the ministry of Jesus with the miraculous event at the wedding banquet in Cana - where the Lord turned water to wine. St. John specifies that this was the first miracle that Jesus performed. This first miracle was worked in order to save a family. It is with this manifestation of glory that the beloved disciple testifies further that here “the disciples began to believe in Jesus.” And there is something still significant in the account: “The mother of Jesus was there; Jesus also was invited to the marriage, with his disciples. When the wine failed, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’” (John 2:1-3) Though Jesus was there it was Mother Mary who had sensed the dire need of the family and sought to address the situation.

“The Prayer Of A Righteous Man Has Great Power” (James 5:16)

In the Jewish wedding banquets those days, wine was a very important item. In fact, there was a great symbolism attached to it. Wine signified the love in the marriage that would begin that day. If the wine served was tasty and sweet, the guests would be happy and with a smile on their lips they would bless the couple, telling them: “So sweet will be the love in your marriage.” If however, they ran short of wine, the atmosphere would completely change and so would the interpretations. Therefore calculations never failed. Special care was always taken to provide plenty of wine for all to drink and make merry. So it was the unimaginable, in fact, what one could have never afforded to risk - that had taken place at Cana. The wine jars had become empty! A dark cloud was forming and soon the celebrations of the wedding would have a dismal end. With this horrifying prospect before them, no one knew where to turn to.

But Mother Mary knew where to turn to. She turned to Jesus and presented to Him the situation: “They have no wine.” Surprisingly Jesus turned back to his mother and retorted, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:4) The pain of that family was the concern of Mother Mary. Strangely, it does not seem to be the concern of Jesus. Here arise some big questions that have left the theologians wondering - “Jesus was there. Was He not concerned about the need of the hour? Did He not care for what could happen to that family?” The family was in deep trouble. They stood helpless before this nightmarish situation. It does indeed seem a very valid question: “Did not Jesus care? Or was the loving care of Mary greater than the loving care of the Son of God?”

Many great thinkers have struggled to comprehend this confounding situation. But in this mystery is also a precious revelation of faith that God offers us. God has come down to man as the son of a mother. And because of the loving compulsion of the mother, the Son of God performs a miracle – turning water to wine! It is in the context of the family and through loving interventions that the Sovereign God shall descend into humankind with salvation in His hand. He is sovereign and all-powerful. And yet He is love and love operates in and through relationships.

"It Is Not Good That The Man Should Be Alone” (Genesis 2:18)

The prominence that Mother Mary has in the Church has been widely questioned down the ages. Many have asked and are still asking, “Why pray to Mother Mary? What has She to do with our salvation? Is not God enough for us? Is it not enough that I go straight to God?” There is a real confusing thought arising here. This confusion is caused by the two trends of thinking. We can describe these two philosophies as two visions of life - ‘Individualistic’ and ‘Communitarian.’ In the individualistic vision of life, the individual “I” is at the centre, and all the thinking revolves around me. It is ‘I and my wife’, ‘I and my children’, ‘I and my destiny’, ‘I and my career’… So in continuation I work out my salvation with my God as ‘I and my God’. This is predominantly a Western type of thinking.

In the Eastern type of thinking, it is altogether different. There is a communitarian vision of life. I am no longer at the centre here. There is my family, my community, my parish, my church having a central and decisive role in my living. And it is not “I going on my own to God” for there are no lone-rangers in this journey to salvation. I go to my God with my family. God comes down to me in my church and in the community. I do not consider myself as an isolated identity separated from the community. So when I come to pray, I am not just praying on my own, for myself. I am not just offering to God my pain and my concerns. I am offering to God the pain of everyone in distress. I stand before God as an integral part of the whole of humanity.

Many of the Western thinkers, however, are strangers to this communitarian vision of life. And in the heat of reformation in the Middle Ages, the individualistic philosophy reigned over the thought patterns in the society. Therefore the reformer said “It is I and my God. For my salvation, everybody else is irrelevant. I have to work out my personal salvation.” But the Catholic Church has always affirmed the conviction that when “I stand before my God, it is not I standing alone. I stand with the whole church and indeed with all of human race. I open my heart wide to hold the pains and sufferings and trials of the whole world.” And so when my son is sick, I come to God praying not only for my son, I open my heart to reach out to the many parents around the world who are similarly burdened by the pain of their children suffering. I pray with all of them. I place the sickness of my son with the sickness of all the children and the concerns of all the parents - a communitarian dimension of prayer and salvation prevails.

“Those Who Believed Were Of One Heart And Soul” (Acts 4:32)

In the Divine perspective, we are never to stand orphaned and alone. We are placed in a family. In the Kingdom of God, there is a family. Even our God is not an individual but is a community of the three Persons of the Trinity – Father, Son and Spirit. And we are made to reflect this image of God. God my Father, who loved the world and me so much, sent His only Son as my brother and as the brother of all human beings to win our salvation. Then the Father again gives us the Holy Spirit as our constant companion to dwell within us - that we may never be desolate. There is a Father, a Brother, and the Holy Spirit living with us. So also there is a mother, Mother Mary, and brothers and sisters who are now glorified in heaven and who at one time were like me, struggling in this world of sin and had yet remained faithful to God. They are my inspiration. Scriptures clearly support this as the argument for our salvation - “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1) And that is why the Catholic Church proclaims in the creed of “the communion of the saints.” Therefore in my struggle for salvation, I am not alone.

Empowered with the love of a mother and the support of a community, together we go to God. As God came down to us as the son of a mother, we approach Him similarly with our Mother holding our hand and leading us to Jesus. The Mother who received Jesus into her womb and brought Him to us, will receive us into Her heart and into Her prayers and bring us to Jesus. It is in this vision of a communitarian dimension of salvation that Mother Mary becomes important. She is the mother always by my side, a key presence in my movement towards salvation.

That is why the Oriental Churches address Mother Mary as the Morning Star. In the early hours before sunrise, this star appears in the dark sky and declares the advent of the great star, the sun. St. John presents Jesus the Saviour as the true Light who shines in darkness and which the powers of darkness are not able to overcome (ref John 1:5). But for the Son to descend to human existence, the great Light to dawn upon the world, God the Father approached Mary, a virgin girl from Nazareth, wanting her to be the Morning Star. In Her, the Son of God will be conceived. Then He will be born as a man, the Saviour of humanity. In Mary you see the Morning Star that lights up our way to Jesus. As it was at Cana where Mary guided the family to the salvation of Jesus - “Do as he tells you to” (John 2:5), she leads the Church to her Son. Pope John Paul II has beautifully affirmed this teaching of the Eastern Churches presenting Mother Mary as the Morning Star, going ahead of the pilgrim, leading us to God.

“The True Light That Enlightens Every Man Was Coming Into The World” (John 1:9)

This description of Mother Mary as the Morning Star also clears up for us the way to understand the Marian teachings of the Catholic Church. The declaration of Mother Mary as the Immaculate Conception is to be understood in the context of the communitarian dimension of salvation. It was purely by the merit of the unblemished sinless Son of God, Jesus, the great and true Light of salvation, that She was conceived without sin. There is something beautiful in the explanation science offers about the morning star. The morning star that shines in the horizon before sunrise is really the planet Venus. The planets are not stars and therefore planets have no light of their own. This planet Venus shines as the reflection of the light of the sun rising in the east. Similarly, Mother Mary was conceived without sin as the reflection of the Light that was coming to the world - Jesus the Son of God and Saviour of humankind!

God bestowed this great privilege to Mary because it was out of Her flesh that Jesus the Son of God was to take His own flesh as man. And God required that flesh to be untainted. So the famous English poet Wordsworth sings of Mother Mary as the “Solitary boast of a tainted human nature.” And she is indeed our boast, our rejoicing – for I have a mother who was chosen by God to be conceived and born without sin. The Angel addressed her - “Hail Mary, full of grace!” (Luke 1:28) She was always filled with grace. There was no moment in the life of Mary when there was a shade of sin to discount grace. When the angel Gabriel brought the message of God, she could without hesitation respond “Here am I, the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) She was able to give a perfect consent and wholehearted cooperation to God for the salvation of humankind. Hers was a life of total obedience to God. She was full of grace! Again here we see Her as the morning star, reflecting the light of Her Son, the Son of salvation. For Jesus, when coming to the world, gave to the Father His word of perfect obedience, “Here I come, to do your will, O God.” (Hebrews 10:7) All the time, the one concern of Jesus was to do the will of the Father. His food was to do the will of the One who sent Him and to speak the words whispered to Him by the Father. All that He said and did was always conforming to His love and faith commitment to His Father. The fruit of love and faith is obedience. It is in this path of obedience that Mary stands, pointing us to the Light. This great Mother had no will of Her own. Even in the difficult times when nothing made sense, she persevered, holding on to the Word of God.

“A Sword Will Pierce Through Your Own Soul” (Luke 2:35)

When the Angel presented the call to be the mother of God, She accepted the incomprehensible relying on the Word of God. When the boy Jesus was lost in the Temple of Jerusalem during His first Passover pilgrimage, His parents after an anxious time of searching, found Him unconcerned about the trauma He had caused them. The gospel adds a note here that His mother did not understand His response (Luke 2:51). She did not need to understand anything. She placed it before God in the sanctuary of prayer in Her heart with the confidence that God would accomplish His purpose in all these life situations. When Mother Mary saw Jesus carrying the cross on the way to Calvary, innocent yet despised and condemned by all, She definitely did not understand much. Surely Her heart was pierced by the questions “How could this happen to my son? Why did they do this to him?” Yet even in this dark painful moment of incomprehension, Her heart was all the time whispering, “Here am I, your handmaid. Let it be done to me according to your word.”(Luke 1:38) That is why She is the blessed woman! She did not understand and yet she held on to the faith in the word given to Her by her God. When Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth, scriptures record that “Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women… Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.’" (Luke 1:41-45)

She is blessed because She believed. Here Mary stands in sharp contrast to Eve who doubted and who by her doubt, plunged the whole earth into darkness. Eve disbelieved, was cursed and this curse was carried through the generations. On the other hand stands Mary, as the blessed woman, because She believed and She brought that blessing of salvation to all generations. By her faith, She has become the Morning Star heralding the great Light of salvation.

Mary is our Mother. She stands by us even when everything else goes wrong. Our calculations can fail and our minds would fail to understand; temptations would overwhelm us and we could become so desperate that there is no way clear before us. At every such moment when we feel we do not where to turn to, we must remember we have Mother Mary o n our side to show us the way. This is the great hope we have that we will never be abandoned on the dark highways. The Morning Star will be there shining in the horizon for us - leading us to Jesus!

“Behold, Your Mother” (John 19:27)

There is this little reflection I remembering reading which goes this way: I came home one evening drenched in the rain. My brother said, “Why did you not take an umbrella with you?” My sister said, “Why did you not wait for the rain to stop?” My father was a little more upset as he scolded me, “You refuse to learn a lesson unless you yourself suffer cold. You must learn things the hard way, isn’t it?” My mother, wiping my head with a towel said, “Stupid Rain.” In the moment of distress, often what we need is not an advice or a scolding but the gentle touch of understanding. And this is what the mother’s heart is made for.

There is a beautiful testimony of an American priest who was serving as chaplain in the American Army. He was ministering to the soldiers in Vietnam. He recalls an incident in the war. He noticed a soldier who was wounded fatally and was dying. So the chaplain went near him and saw the soldier’s lips moving. He bent down to catch what this dying soldier was saying. And he could hear very clearly the words: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now, and at the hour of our death. Amen.” Praying it, the soldier breathed his last.

There are moments when we do not understand and maybe we are so hard pressed that we cannot even think. In such moments we shall whisper that simple prayer the Angel lead us in – “Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with you. Pray for us. Put in a word with your son. My heart is empty. My family is in deep trouble. I am helpless Mother, you be my help. I do not know where to turn to. O Mother, you hold my hand and lead me.” And the Mother will be there to lead me to the light as she whispers to my heart - “Do what He tells you to!” (John 2:5)

LET US PRAY

O Lord God, in Your great generosity You have given us Your own mother as our Mother to care for us and love us. Thank you for the confidence You give us as You adopt us into Your family of love. In the moments when calculations fail and darkness is all we see, Your Mother will be there by our side to point us to the Light of Your Son Jesus, our Saviour.

Pray for us O Holy Mother of God! Amen

 

 
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