Mary, Mother of the Church and mother of the domestic Church

According to the “Catechism,” “The family is the privileged setting where every person learns to give and receive love.” The family — based on the permanent union of one man and one woman in Marriage — is threatened by a culture of death that promotes isolation from God. It takes extraordinary effort for families to foster a “culture of life” against such pervasive threats, yet that is precisely its mission as St. John Paul II advocated throughout his papacy. 

Pope Benedict XVI on the occasion of the Fifth World Meeting of Families stated, “The family is a necessary good for peoples, an indispensable foundation for society and a great and lifelong treasure for couples. It is a unique good for children, who are meant to be the fruit of the love, of the total and generous self-giving of their parents. To proclaim the whole truth about the family, based on Marriage as a domestic Church and a sanctuary of life, is a great responsibility incumbent upon all.” More recently Pope Francis proclaimed the family to be an “icon of God’s love” and recommends looking to Our Lady with “assiduous and persevering prayer” recognizing her maternal presence in the practical circumstances of life.

The Christian family is called to be a domestic Church and school of holiness where the faith is passed down to each generation. The Most Holy Trinity is the source of God’s self-giving love. God Who is love, created the human family to be a living reflection of this triune love. We can look to the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph as the archetype of every human family. Mary’s journey of faith began at the Annunciation and continued in her Visitation to her cousin Elizabeth. 

Mary’s attentiveness to the Word of God prompted her to pronounce her “Fiat” and through the words of the angel, leave promptly in obedience to serve her pregnant elder cousin. Her self-forgetfulness about her own needs, while ever mindful of the Christ Child in her womb and magnifying the great things the Lord has done in her, is a model for all. Mary is present to assist any person, any family and any nation in dire need of a Queen Mother to direct its paths to the Heart of Christ. We need only to approach Our Mother’s Immaculate Heart, the throne of grace, with faith and confidence, and imitate her generous response to serve the needs of others.

Mary and Joseph in obedience to the just laws of government authority enrolled their family in the Roman census. Though denied entrance at the inns, the family was glad to find a poor stable of Bethlehem which served as the humble reception room for the King of Heaven. Mary made even a difficult situation pleasant by her confident presence uniting the family together in faith and trust in God’s providence. 

Yet, in order to flee the sword of Herod and his unlawful dictate to kill the unborn, Joseph, attentive once again to the Word of God through the angel of the Lord, took the Holy Family and escaped by night to Egypt, in order to flee persecution. Their detachment from all things, save the will of God, enabled them to survive and return to Nazareth after several years. The Holy Family overcame challenges to their safety and survival by their unity and dependence on the will of the Father for all their needs and their discernment to obey in everything except sin. Here we can reflect that laws that sanction killing of the unborn or the elderly must not be obeyed, but rather we must work to take in persons and families in need like good Samaritans trusting in God’s providence.

In the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the family traveled joyfully together to worship God. In a time of sorrow, when Mary and Joseph lost Jesus, they sought Jesus for three days. The persistence of family prayer and hope in God while still doing their part in searching for Him was rewarded in finding Jesus in the temple doing the will of the Father. This encourages us in times of darkness and trial to never give up hope, but rather to pray with more earnestness while continuing to do the will of God as it is made known to us daily. It also emphasizes the need to worship God together as a family on the Lord’s day and to spend time as a family deepening bonds of love and faith through prayerful reading, rest and wholesome recreation.

In Nazareth, the Mother of God reveals the dignity and nobility of motherhood and Marriage by her faithful love, constant presence and loving service. The Virgin of Nazareth serves her Son and her chaste spouse Joseph by Divine charity as she worked at ordinary chores as Joseph labored to provide for the Holy Family as a carpenter. As she fed the hungry, gave water to the thirsty, and performed all the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, Mary’s heart continued at prayer and thanksgiving, pondering the marvelous works of God. In the heart of the domestic Church, the family, Mary is love. It is not so much by her activity, but primarily by her being and presence. 

By her interior life of prayer which animated her every earthly activity, Mary did the will of the Father. Having lived 30 years in the domestic Church, Jesus at the outset of His public ministry, exalted Mary, not for her unique privilege of being made the physical Mother of God, but above all for hearing the Word of God and following it in her life. Scripture records, “As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore You, and blessed are the breasts that nursed You.’ But He replied, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and obey it’” (Lk 11: 27-28). 

This Lenten season let us strive to make our families domestic Churches, attentive to God’s Word in prayer and in faithful obedience to the Father’s commands. Let us take up the holy Rosary anew to meditate on the life of Christ and obtain the graces we need as a family. In this union of hearts, we will be victorious in our discipleship with Jesus, by imitating and having recourse to Mary, the personification of holiness in the Church and our loving Mother. 

In my next column we will meditate how the Mother of the Church at the Annunciation teaches the mystical Body of Christ to accept the cross and surrender to the will of God. 

Anchor guest columnist Grace Small and her husband Bill are parishioners of St. Vincent’s Parish in Attleboro and have recently made their solemn profession as Third Order Franciscans of the Immaculate on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. They are also attending classes with TINE at the Pastoral Center in Braintree, toward a certificate in Catechetical Studies.

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