The Missionary Heart of Mary
Cl. Romanius Barwa SDB
1. Introduction: Speaking of Mary gives us deep joy and satisfaction. We can speak extensively and write volumes on her and at times equate her even with God. There is nothing wrong in upholding Mary if done with balance. The few scriptural verses which mention Mary in the Gospel speak volumes and testify to her worthiness. However, the problem surfaces when we fail to imbibe her qualities. Lengthy discourses and voluminous writing about her make no sense if we do not live the qualities that we attribute to her. She is not a beauty contest model, an object of admiration alone but rather a model to be imitated. It would be more appropriate if we could follow her example rather than garlanding her with high sounding flowery words. The scriptural references about Mary beautifully portray her as a woman who listened much, pondered in her heart extensively and lived fully. Nowhere do we find her indulging in empty talk but rather she teaches us to talk more through our lives than our words. Perhaps it is this silent communication that vividly depicts her missionary heart. However, the term ‘missionary’ should be understood in today’s context i.e., an attitude of reaching out to the people in need. Just as a missionary dedicates his/her life to others, so did Mary. Now let me highlight a few important elements which summarize the missionary heart of Mary.
2. A Call: There can be no missionary without a calling. In the case of Mary, she receives a direct call from God through the annunciation by the Angel Gabriel. And the seed of her call was planted in the unique grace bestowed on her: the Immaculate Conception. This call of Mary confirms the word of God speaking to Jeremiah that He chooses individuals to be his messengers even before their birth. Mary was chosen before her conception and thus given the grace to be conceived with out original sin. Like Mary our call was planted in our hearts even before our conception. God bestows us with a call that needs to be discerned through the various indicators that God presents to us, such as the movements of the heart, finding joy in helping or living for others.
3. Awareness-Response: A response to a call is valid only when it is done in full awareness, for a response entails total responsibility on the part of the one who responds. Mary, on hearing the announcement that she was chosen to be the Mother of God, felt overwhelmed. Realizing the implications attached she asks a couple of questions to the Angel Gabriel. Mary’s concerns amply demonstrate her inner struggles in trying to comprehend the implications attached to the call. The response to this call was also a defining moment of her destiny. She realized that her “Yes” to the call would demand giving up her freedom, independence, personal plans, dreams and desires. However, after much consideration and in full awareness of the implications she gives her consent to be the mother of God. This response of hers to live for God gives humanity a new perspective to life. It implies overcoming one’s individualistic self-centered life and dedicating ones’ life to the joy of others. Mary’s singing of the Magnificat amply illustrates that there is a different kind of joy which comes from living life for others and perhaps it surpasses the limited joy springing from individualism. Mary is a perfect example to be followed in discerning our call to live for others. To die to one’s egoistic dreams and live for others sounds great but is not painless. However, the life of Mary assures us that a life lived for others has a different satisfaction altogether.
4. Reaching out: The term ‘missionary’ implies reaching out to others. This ‘reaching out’ does not only mean helping people in need. It also signifies coming out from the clutches of our prejudices, biases, laziness, and above all our self-centered life. It is not possible to reach out to others unless we free ourselves from all that pulls us to ourselves. A true missionary is defined by his or her capacity to give of themselves totally for the cause of others. When we consider the life of Mary we witness her inner concern and longing to live and help others. Though she receives the biggest possible favour of being the mother of God, which could have been the reason for her pride and celebration yet in all her humility she hastily reaches out to serve her cousin Elizabeth who was in need of help in her pregnancy. The concern of Mary at the wedding feast in Cana depicts the missionary heart of Mary. She is presented as a woman who perceives the need of others and without even waiting for any request she reaches out to help. Mary was not bothered about her joy and comfort but she received satisfaction doubly in living for others. In the same way each one of us are called by the Lord to assist others. Our community provides the best opportunity to strengthen our missionary heart. We do this by valuing the other brother a little more than ourselves. However, we must keep in mind that a missionary does not reach out to others with his/her own plans and aims but rather owns the aims and aspirations of his/her flock and strives in turning their dreams into reality. It is the dreams of the flock that becomes the dreams of the missionary. Therefore, reaching out to others entails listening, understanding and acknowledging others as they are and helping them to realize the God given purpose of their life.
5. Returning in: Fr. Philip Barjo, my novice master would say this about our Sunday ministry: ‘A true missionary is one who being strengthened by the Eucharistic Lord moves out to shepherd the flock and in the evening returns to the Lord with all the joys and sorrows experienced and offers them to the Lord.’ The title granted to Mary as the ‘Mediatrix’ adequately illustrates her as a shepherd who goes out, in a sense listens to her flock and then returns to the Lord bringing all their cries and petitions. Many people recommend their prayers through Mary to Jesus. Many people even believe that when Mary offers their prayers to Jesus they will be heard for a son always has a soft corner for his mother. In fact, Mary truly listens to the praises and prayers of her children and implores the Lord to bless them. Similarly, every missionary takes the word of God to people. During the day he/she engages himself/herself totally in missionary activities; listens to the problems of his/her flock, tries to alleviate their difficulties in whatever way possible and in the evening returns to the Master. A missionary knows that he/she cannot solve all the peculiar problems of the people. Hence, he/she surrenders to the lord all the difficulties and infirmities of peoples and begs the Lord to bless them. In our community we are already practicing this aspect of the missionary activity and perhaps we could heighten this by listening more attentively to the problems of our brothers and in a special way praying for them.
Conclusion: The life of Mary sets a perfect example of a true missionary heart. Viewing her life we see how she lived for others. It is easy to proclaim that Mary lived for others the problem is when I question myself: Am I living for my brothers or for others? Do I have the strength to listen with my whole self to others? Do I have the courage to put the needs of my brother before mine? Dear brothers, let us implore the Lord for the grace to move from empty praise of Mary to the imitation of her missionary heart.