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Mary challenges the rich and powerful and liberates the poor and oppressed

Mary’s life and her role in Jesus’ ministry have not been adequately highlighted in the Gospels because the main focus of the evangelists was the person and mission of Jesus.

Mary challenges the rich and powerful and liberates the poor and oppressed

By Sister Patricia Santos RJM
The Blessed Virgin Mary continues to be a source of consolation and strength to people of all religious traditions, especially to women, the poor and other marginalized persons.

However, Mary is often idealized, spiritualized and portrayed as a humble, obedient and submissive woman to be venerated and imitated by women and others on the margins. This offers only a partial glimpse of the historical Jewish Mary of Nazareth who needs to be reclaimed as a strong woman of courage and resistance, resoluteness and resilience, holiness and gumption.

Mary’s life and her role in Jesus’ ministry have not been adequately highlighted in the Gospels because the main focus of the evangelists was the person and mission of Jesus. Although Mary’s appearance is only sporadically presented by the evangelists in relation to Jesus, it is crucial in showing her function in bringing forth Jesus, initiating his mission and ensuring its sustenance and continuation.

The evangelist Luke makes Mary an active participant in the mystery of the incarnation. She can thus be considered the first disciple and theologian, actively engaged in contemplation and action to make the reign of God present in and through her life. The Angelus and the Joyful mysteries of the Rosary are developed from Luke’s Gospel.

Mary’s fiat at the Annunciation (Lk 1:26-38) was a courageous daring consent in faith to co-operate in God’s salvific plan for humanity. She pondered, questioned and discerned before saying that final yes to give flesh to the “Son of God”. Overshadowed by the Spirit, Mary was totally receptive to God’s active involvement in her life.

She was empowered with the Spirit and grace to collaborate in the historic mission of Jesus who came to bring fullness of life to all persons. In Mary we see the ultimate meaning of redemption for us and for the Church. As graced beings we are invited to live, move and have our being in God, taking for our model Mary who never lost sight of the divine presence within her. Mary accompanied Jesus in his mission, and was a strong support to his disciples, both men and women.

In the account of the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth (Lk 1:39-56), we find a woman attentive to the promptings of the spirit as well as attentive to the needs of others. Without being preoccupied with her own condition, she hastens to assist her cousin Elizabeth.

The Magnificat sung by Mary takes the form of the hymn of Hannah in 1 Samuel2:1-10. Mary’s Canticle is more than just a joyful hymn of praise; it brings out a yearning for justice and liberation. By putting the hymn on the lips of Mary, Luke shows Mary as heralding and proclaiming the liberating message of Jesus before he proclaims it in his mission statement (Lk 4:18-19) and in the beatitudes (Lk 6:20-26).

It represents a new paradigm, announcing God’s preferential option for the poor and challenging the proud and the powerful. The values of the world are being subverted for the values of God’s kingdom in the person of Mary.

Mary, a poor simple woman, can be considered to some extent metaphorically, if not historically, a migrant woman, since she was always on the move, either fleeing from danger, or following her Son as a disciple. The poor, the migrants and the marginalized, thus, find it easy to identify with Mary. A significant point for consideration concerns the apparitions of Mary.

Why did Mary appear to poor young children and women and not to theologians and clerics? The apparitions like Mary’s canticle speak of an economic, political, social and religious liberation in favour of the oppressed. They reveal the place of the poor, women and the lowly in the plan of salvation.

While Mary has been an object of controversies and conflicts down the ages, apparitions and popular devotions to Mary continue to play a significant role in the religious imagination and piety of many people. Marian shrines draw people of all religious traditions to participate in Marian devotion with much faith, hope and love.

Some people are willing to undertake pilgrimages, make any number of novenas, say as many rosaries as possible to win Mary’s favour and intercession. Yet, they find it extremely difficult and time consuming to do something concrete to bring about change in society. This encourages a childish dependence on Mary expecting her to respond to their every need.

The pilgrimages to the shrines of apparitions must lead to pilgrimages of inner faith to accept and follow God’s will in one’s life. Mary shows the way to integral liberation of the human community by sharing in the liberative mission of Christ.

Marian devotion provides a space for women and others on the margins to gather together to pray, lament and draw strength to cope with the trials and difficulties they daily encounter. This common space can also serve to engender hope, enthusiasm and commitment to challenge the traditions and systems in the church and in society that dominate and oppress and to work together for the flourishing of all persons.

A renewed visualization of Mary as an attentive seeker, an assertive disciple, a comforter of the disturbed and disturber of the comfortable, could energize those who are marginalized, oppressed and on the margins of society to join together and participate in their own liberation and in the liberation of their oppressors.

Mary thus continues to be a challenge to the rich and powerful, a comfort to the poor and lowly and a liberating force for all on the margins of society and religious institutions. Along with Marian devotion and piety, contemplation on the liberated and liberating Mary must lead to enthusiasm and commitment among all persons of goodwill to raise their voices against oppression, injustice and discrimination in the church and society and stand with and for the weakest and the poorest.

(Sister Patricia Santos RJM is a member of the Congregation of the Religious of Jesus and Mary, Pune Province and is currently a lecturer of theology at Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth, Pontifical Institute for the Study of Philosophy and Religion, Pune. Her research interests include women and gender studies, psychology, spirituality, liberation and feminist theologies.)

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