In Her and In His Disciples, He is Glorified
Originally posted in Facebook by Fr. Michael Cheong, FMVD
On this Seventh Sunday of Easter, the first reading brings us to the upper room after the ascension of Jesus, where the disciples were praying in wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit. And one interesting detail that the Acts of the Apostles makes is the presence of Mary.
Why is there this sudden mention of Mary, when she is hardly mentioned in most of the Gospels during the public ministry of Jesus? What was her role among the disciples as they waited for Jesus' promise of the Spirit? Who is Mary for us as Christians today as we try to live a life in the Spirit?
Mary has always had an instinctive place in the Catholic Church, with devotions to her recorded since the 1st century after Jesus' death. She has never been meant to replace the mediative role of Jesus between God and us, but for some reason Jesus gave her to us, his disciples, as "mother" (John 19:27) and "model" of faith (Luke 11:27-28). Is it because his mediation is not enough? Certainly, our Catholic faith does not say that!
The teaching of the Catholic Church holds that our devotion to Mary does not stem from necessity but from the superabundance of the grace that comes from Christ. In other words, Christ is the unique source of grace and salvation, by virtue of his suffering, death and resurrection. But His grace was given in overflowing generosity and abundance; in our terms: "more than enough", such that He could share it through someone else, like Mary. It was a choice that God made out of gratuity and not out of need.
Mary has much to say about the God we believe in. Firstly, He is not a stingy God, but a generous one. His love, grace and mercy is not meant to be calculated as we human beings tend to do, but is infinite! Like Moses in the Old Testament, He is not jealous or upset that others may share in his spirit, and be His channels of grace to others, but even happy about it! (Numbers 11:29) God is not only generous to us but even gives us the power from above to be as generous with others, with what is actually His! Remember the parable of the crafty steward? Jesus praised him for using what belongs to his master to be generous to his fellow servants. This is what Pentecost is about. Jesus wants to send us in His place to share His grace to all! He wants to be glorified in us and through us.
Secondly, no human being would deserve that special grace given to Mary. That is what gratuity means: given even when one is undeserving. The grace of being conceived without sin does not come from Mary's own goodness or that of her parents, but from God. Mary recognised this undeserved gift from the very beginning (Luke 1:48). Having Mary as mother and model helps us remember that God loves and blesses us not because we deserve it, but because of the greatness of His love. This love is impossible for us to understand with our minds, but can be shown and shared to us by someone who has personally experienced and lived it. Without Mary's motherly help and testimony, how difficult it would be for us to love those who are undeserving!
With one more week to Pentecost, we touch on the sin of jealousy, something that stops us from loving others and being happy like Mary. Jealousy is very subtle, and has many masks and seemingly good undertakings that cover up our feeling insecure, unfortunate or unloved. In simple words, when I am not happy with my life or with myself, I lash out at others and try to do things to feel better than them, through trying to do better than them or by putting them down by words or actions. Think about it, in moments that you are so happy with your life, could you ever be jealous of anyone?
Jealousy is not an external sin. It is a sin of the heart. That is why it is subtle and goes unnoticed by others and oftentimes even by ourselves! We could sometimes end up hating others without even knowing why! It makes us compare ourselves to others in a way that puts ourselves down in a wrong way and may even lead us to dislike or hate others. "What about me? What about us?" This is the existential question behind jealousy. "Why is it others have more and I or we do not? Why are others better than me?" The problem with jealousy is that it makes us simply incapable of being happy, for others or for ourselves, even if we are the most fortunate people in the world!
The parable of the talents can be good example to understand jealousy. Can you notice how those who invested their talents in complete trust finished their labour with so much joy? And how the one who felt insecure of the master's love was too afraid to invest his gifts and ended up with nothing? It all has to do with the relationship with the Master. When there is no trust or humility in our relationship with God, no gift or blessing could make us happy. Like Lucifer, who was the most glorious and gifted angel in heaven, fell to become Satan because of jealousy.
A good cure for jealousy is to learn how to recognize my own giftedness, that I have been truly blessed by God in my own way, just as Mary had been gifted undeservedly with a special grace. Being in the cenacle with Mary regularly helps me to value my life for what it is and to grow in security in God's love for me. Having Mary's maternal presence helps me to see that my life is not merely for the happiness that this world gives, but that which God gives. Mary helps us to be Christ in this world, to be His disciples of love and charity. Happiness simply grows when we try to love like Jesus, to forgive, to appreciate and to share my gifts humbly to others. There is no jealousy in Jesus when we come close to God through Mary's help. How proud he is of his mother as he is of us his disciples when we let God's glory shine in our lives through our faith and good works!
Jealousy is subtle, and we recognize it when we are unhappy with life. The solution is not to be even unhappier trying to have what others have or do what others do, but to seek happiness in God and to practice charity towards others daily. Being with Mary leads us always to pray and live a more profound existence. As we approach Pentecost, let us ask Mary, "Mary bring me to the cenacle each day, that upper room of my heart, that I may see God's perspective of life, from above."
Fr. Michael Cheong is a Singaporean missionary priest of the Verbum Dei Missionary Fraternity. His current assignment is in Rome, Italy.