Saturday I will preside at my first ever Quinceanera, the traditional Mexican liturgy at which young women dedicate their lives for Mary. This is my brief homily.
I’ve been thinking what a good thing it is to dedicate yourself to Mary and what that might mean—and not just for you but for all of us. We should all dedicate ourselves to Mary!
Ten things about her come to mind, ten things we should try to emulate.
- Mary uses her head. She asks questions. She thinks.
“How can this be?” she asks the angel who comes to her (Luke 1:34), and later, Luke tells us, she “reflects” on all these things in her heart (Luke 2:18). She “ponders” (Luke 2:51). In many of the paintings of the Annunciation she is holding a book. She is the figure of the reader, the thinker, the ponderer.
- She doesn’t define herself by wealth or status or prestige.
She calls herself a “lowly servant” in her great prayer, the “Magnificat,” and she was. She wasn’t of a noble family. She wasn’t famous. Foreshadowing her son’s teachings in the Beatitudes, she proclaims that to God prestige and status and power are entirely unimportant. In Christ, all the old hierarchies have been reversed, and now it’s the weak who are “lifted up” and the hungry who are “filled” (1:47-55).
- She doesn’t define herself by how she looks.
There are so many paintings and statues of Mary that when we think of her we have a kind of standard image of what she looks like. But the scriptures don’t describe her appearance at all. We have no idea whether she was tall or short, pretty or plain, and it’s clear in any event that this isn’t what matters to her, as it doesn’t matter to the angel who comes to her. What Gabriel says isn’t that she’s pretty or slim. It’s that she is “full of grace” (Luke 1:28).
- Her identity doesn’t depend on her relationship to a man.
This is one of the great insights of recent theology, that in being called a “virgin,” Mary is presented as a woman in her own right, a woman with value of her own apart from whatever prestige or authority her husband might confer on her. Of course, she is married to Joseph, and that certainly matters, and her most important relationship is to the man her son grows up to be. But that’s just the point: she is defined first and most of all by her relationship to God, and in that sense, contrary to all the assumptions of her own time and still, unfortunately ours, she is free. She is herself.
- She understands that life isn’t easy, that it’s full of challenges and even suffering.
She knows that “a sword will pierce” her side (Luke 2:35), and it does, in her sorrow and her grief. She and her family have to flee from Herod and go to Egypt, and then back, and they come back into the hardship of an ordinary life in poor first century village. At the end, she must witness the Crucifixion, the public execution of her son by the state. And she doesn’t run from this. She doesn’t try hide from the truth of hard things can be, as we so often do.
- She is strong and courageous.
She doesn’t hesitate to obey God, even in the face of persecution or social stigma or violence. She doesn’t let others push her around.
- She cares about others.
She “hastens to the hills” (Luke 1:39-45) to visit her pregnant kinswoman, Elizabeth. At the wedding in Cana she sees that “they have no more wine” and asks her son to help them (John 2:3).
- She is a leader.
“Do whatever he tells you,” she tells the waiters in Cana (John 2:5), as she tells us, and they obey. In Acts we are told that she is with the disciples after the Ascension (1:14), and tradition tells us that she was one of the leaders of the early Christian community.
- She is willing to live with unresolved questions—is willing to live with complexity—doesn’t think she has to have everything figured out.
“How can this be?” she asks the angel, and yet she decides to say yes anyway. She takes the leap. Twelve years later, the little boy Jesus is lost for three days, discoursing with the rabbis in the temple (Luke 2:41-52). When Mary and Joseph finally find him, he says, “do you not know that I must be in my father’s house?” and they’re stunned. “They didn’t understand what he said to them,” Luke tells us, and yet they remain committed anyway. They love him. They care for him.
- In all this Mary trusts in God. She surrenders to God. She is open to grace—“may it be done,” she says to the Angel (Luke1:38).
She is no doormat. She is no weak and retiring girl. But her whole life is oriented towards God—her whole life is oriented towards her son—not towards anything else, not towards the trivial and the material and the merely social. That’s what gives her her strength and her courage: her faith.
What does it mean to be like Mary? To be brave. To be kind. To read and to think. To love. To give. To lead.