A Marian Posture Amidst Today’s Crisis
by Brad Bursa
Director of Evangelization & Discipleship – Archdiocese of Cincinnati and St. Gertrude Parishioner
In these days, everything and nothing seems to be in motion. There is a lot of noise, confusion, concern, and panic. There is also waiting and staying home. Civil authorities are scrambling to respond to the ominous circumstances. They rely upon science, statistics, experts, legal processes, and so forth. They are a concerned but steady voice – saying what needs to be said for the common good of society. Medical experts and researchers press, around the clock, for answers which do not come quickly enough. Humanitarian efforts are underway to assist the poor and vulnerable. The media plays its usual games – calming and confusing. Ordinary citizens hasten to stores where they keep to themselves, eyes pressed to the floor, quiet. Then they hurry home to sit and watch the news. Economists question and muddle over options. The hourly employee stares into a future that is now an abyss – floating on nothing but uncertainty. These are frantic and gloomy days.
The sense of dread lurking beneath the surface of everyone’s life marks the collapse of the illusion of invincibility. Everyone is suddenly reminded of the fragility of existence.
This darkness is a real darkness.
In the midst of such darkness, such uncertainty, such pain, such death, does the Church have a particular contribution to make? Or, does she simply echo the voices of all the others – valid as many of them are? Does the Church provide an alternative to the frenetic activity and constant buzz, or simply further contribute to it? Can the Church provide a unique answer to how one is supposed to be during this time – one that says something other than providing a reminder to wash hands, distance socially, work from home, and so forth? How can the Church find her voice today? What does she have to offer the world as parish doors close and Masses are prayed privately by priests?
Certainly, one could proffer many answers to such a query.
The Catechism has a simple line that may provide a foothold: “At once virgin and mother, Mary is the symbol and the most perfect realization of the Church” (CCC, §507). How is Mary’s virginal fruitfulness, her immaculate motherhood most perfectly realized in the time of her greatest darkness – at the foot of the Cross?
The answer is simply: In silence.
But, it is a rather pregnant silence.
Scripture places no words on Mary’s lips during this time of sadness, confusion, chaos, and death. She is simply there, with Him in the midst of it – gazing upon Him. And, this gaze in the midst of painful darkness, is her unique offering. This silent gaze is this moment’s perfect realization of her virginity and motherhood.
Yet, as John’s Gospel reminds us, she is not at the foot of the Cross alone. Other women are present, and one disciple. It is Mary, to whom this beloved disciple is given, who, precisely with her embrace and with her gaze, enables this disciple to stand in front of the painful mystery of the Cross. Mary helps humanity stand in front of the mystery of reality – painful as it often is, and painful as it is now. Mary helps humanity stand in front of the mystery of reality and receive the most hidden, most profound, most radical gift it has ever received in the midst of, and because of its own depravity and fragility – the self-offering of the Word itself.
Perhaps this is what the Church, in all of her members, at least at her spiritual core, has to offer the world in the midst of this present darkness. Perhaps the Church finds the strength to contemplate, like Mary, the Lord’s mysterious presence in the midst of sadness, confusion, and chaos. Perhaps the Church silently offers to hold God’s broken, beloved humanity in her arms and close to her heart, while inviting this same humanity to look on, to pierce through what appears to be nothing but pain and sadness, to find the life and light breaking through the midst of it (cf. Jn. 1:5).
In perpetually assuming this Marian posture, the Church will have something to offer the world that is not merely repeating the message of the civil authorities, the medical professionals, those who wish to provide new virtual resources, and so forth – valid and necessary as these messages and resources are in our time. Instead, she has a theological contribution to make – a testimony that echoes the Word for the world in the midst of a crisis, a testimony which can only be borne in silent contemplation before the mystery of the Cross of Jesus Christ present before us today.