If we pay careful attention to these liturgical diptychs we can see that the Church celebrates Jesus with a Feast and Mary with a memorial – thus placing their contributions to our salvation in the correct imbalance. More importantly, however, we should see these doublets as a kind of dance between Christ and the Church. In both memorials of Mary in addition to the great generosity of the human woman herself, the Church invites us to see an expression of the Church at its best. It is in her generous human response that God is most fully honored. Through the centuries the Church has most wisely honored Mary when we have seen her as fully human and acting out of faith, with all the limitations of a human person who seeks generously to discover God’s desire for her. Mary’s heart is the heart of the Church at its most authentic, beating with fragile human hope and courage that is enough – enough for God to accomplish God’s great plan of salvation – if we are but faithful.
Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians that we are nourished with on this lovely feast of the heart of the Church, tells us that he could boast about being a mystic, but he would rather boast about his weakness and difficulties – because it is these, like Mary’s failure of parental attention, that become the perfect setting for the witness of God’s power. It is not Paul’s mystical experiences that make him a great apostle – it is his failures, the “thorn in his flesh” that force him to turn to God to accomplish the work of apostolic witness. It is not Paul’s work that glorifies God; it is Christ’s work through Paul’s limitedness.
There is perhaps no place in the human culture where boasting is not only tolerated but required – as much as it is in a university. So I think I know whereof I speak when I say that if I were to boast of my weakness: the students that left the class with little grasp of the subject, the days that I wasn’t a brilliant lecturer, the essays that didn’t attract scholarly applause, the grant applications that were rejected, the administrative moments when juggled tasks fell all over the office floor, I could boast as extravagantly as Paul. But on those days when the thorns have beaten me up I am not sure I have either the courage or the humility to confidently assert that my weakness is His glory.
What a blessing, then, to have a memorial of Mary’s success at embracing her failure. She lost her child for a few days. I can’t imagine many Mothers bragging about such a thing. But Mary shows us how to be Church by listening to her Son, loving him when he seems unreasonable, and allowing her failure to become the platform for God’s glory. In faith, not righteous certitude, she gave her heart to be a temple for God’s love where she pondered the mystery of His desire for her. Is it possible for us to become the Church that Mary and Paul witness? In our failure perhaps, just perhaps, God’s glory will be shown.
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