LESSON THREE: SAINT
The first indication of greatness is when she is called “full of grace” by the angel Gabriel. Rarely do angels appear to people in the Bible. And no one except Mary is called “full of grace”. The Church has interpreted these words to mean that Mary was redeemed from the moment of her conception, that she lived a life without sin.
The paradox of this great woman is her greatness on the one hand and her humility on the other. The future mother of God lived a quiet, uneventful life at Nazareth, a remote village in Galilee, with her parents (by tradition, Anne & Joachim). When she was a teenager, she was betrothed to Joseph, a local carpenter. It was during this betrothal that her quiet life was turned upside down.
One day an angel called Gabriel appeared to her announcing that she was to be the mother of the promised Messiah while remaining a virgin (Luke 1:35). With great faith she agreed to be the mother of God even though it was difficult for her to understand how she would conceive of the Holy Spirit and not by her husband-to-be, Joseph. She would also have to deal with the issue of being an apparently unwed mother in her Jewish community. Despite these problems, she went to visit her aging cousin Elisabeth to help her during her pregnancy. Immediately, on entering her house, Elisabeth greeted her as the mother of her Lord (the Mother of God). In her typically humble way, Mary praised God in thanksgiving (Luke 1:46). She simply acknowledged the great work of God taking place in her life. After three months with her cousin, Mary returned to her home in Nazareth. But now she would have to face Joseph and her village as her pregnant condition became obvious.
Thankfully, Joseph was told in a dream (Mt. 1:18) of her condition, and took her to his own home as his spouse. When she was about nine months pregnant, they had to journey to Bethlehem for a census. There in a poor stable she gave birth to Jesus. Soon after the birth, Joseph and Mary presented Jesus in the temple for circumcision while Mary would be presented for purification after giving birth. All they could afford was a turtledove for the sacrifice but they offered what they could give. A prophet at the temple told Mary that a sword would pierce her heart as Jesus grew older. Shortly after the visit to the temple, some kings from other countries came to give homage and gifts to Jesus. But the local king, Herod, heard that a possible threat to his kingdom, the Messiah, had been born in Bethlehem. So Mary, Joseph and Jesus had to leave the country for Egypt to avoid the slaughter of infants that King Herod had ordered.
When it appeared that Jesus would be safe in his hometown again, Mary and Joseph returned with Jesus to Nazareth where they lived a quiet life. When Jesus was twelve they visited the temple in Jerusalem. Mary and Joseph lost track of Jesus while they were traveling with many of their relatives. They found him in the Temple talking with priests who were amazed at his wisdom. Jesus finished his discussions and humbly returned to Nazareth where he worked as a carpenter for the next eighteen years. It was a quiet family life until Jesus and Mary attended a wedding.
At the wedding Mary realized that the wedding hosts were running out of wine. She simply told Jesus that they had run out of wine knowing that he had the power to take care of the problem. He then performed his first miracle changing jars of water into wine at Mary’s request. Now their quiet life was over. For the next three years Jesus would become a renowned preacher, teacher, and miracle worker throughout Palestine.
Mary was on the sidelines during Jesus’ ministry. He would point out how his mother and brothers were those who followed the will of his Father. Mary did not seek attention for herself. But she was there when her son needed her the most. When he was unjustly crucified, she was there at the foot of his cross to console him as best she could. As he died, Jesus decided to share his mother with all mankind by telling his mother: “Woman, behold your son” and to the apostle, John: “Behold, your mother.” (John 19:26)
Mary was an anchor of strength for the apostles who feared for their lives after Jesus died on the cross. She was with them when the Holy Spirit gave them strength to forget their fears and to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus. Mary, the quiet, unassuming Mother of God, never wanted to draw attention from Jesus during his life or when the Church was starting. But she adopted everyone as her children as Jesus asked her on the cross. Now, as at the wedding feast when Jesus performed his first miracle, she continues to see the needs of her children and to present them to her son, Jesus. She remains a mother to us all, as Jesus asked her, forever.