January 1, 2023 Essay: Mary, Our Model of Discipleship

Dec 21, 2022

Our Church inaugurates the New Year with the solemnity of “Mary, the Holy Mother of God.” Is this an antiquated celebration, or one that can have real meaning for us as disciples of Christ?

Mary was first a human being before she became a plaster saint. She was a young woman, around fourteen years of age, when she heard the voice of God asking her to become the mother of God’s son. How remarkable it is that a young, Jewish, Palestinian peasant would have a faith sufficiently rich and deep that she could discern a call from God to her! Mary had to wrestle with the call that she heard, but ultimately Mary said “Yes” to what God asked of her. Her “Yes” only made sense if Mary had a profound experience of God’s goodness, steadfast faithfulness, and enduring love both in the life of her people and in her own life. Only such an experience would have given Mary the confidence to believe that God would help her to fulfill all that her “Yes” required of her.

Never forget how much Mary’s “Yes” did demand of her. The birth of her son did not unfold uneventfully but was fraught with real peril. Soon after successfully giving birth to her son, Mary, Joseph, and her son had to flee to Egypt to escape the murderous intentions of King Herod. Think of how hard it must have been to live as refugees in a foreign land – and remember that when you see the migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers who have risked everything to try and cross our borders. When her son set forth to fulfill the Father’s will for him, it could not have been easy for this devout Jewish woman to see her son in increasingly bitter conflict with the Jewish leadership. Even worse was when that same leadership seized her son and handed him over to the Romans, the pagans, for prosecution as an enemy of the Jewish religion. Condemned to die by the Romans, Mary had to stand sentinel as Jesus’ life flowed out of him. Mary’s “Yes” cost her dearly, but she persevered in her “Yes” because she was rooted in her experience of God’s goodness, faithfulness, and love, and was rooted, as well, in a life of prayer. Indeed, the last time Mary is depicted in the scriptures, she is at prayer with the other disciples on the Jewish feast of Pentecost.

In this New Year, each of us has to recommit ourselves every day to our discipleship in Jesus Christ. We have to make a daily “Yes” to God in all that our discipleship demands of us. Has our own experience of God’s goodness, steadfast faithfulness, and enduring love in the life of the Christian community and in our own lives been such that it makes sense for us to say “Yes” to what God asks of us? Do we have the confidence in God that Mary did to believe that God will sustain us in the “Yes” we offer to God? Sometimes that “Yes” will demand much of us: faithfulness to your spouse in difficult times; persisting in love for your child even when your child makes choices you know are harmful; choosing to stand for what is right in the workplace even if it costs you a promotion or your job; standing for what is right in our society even when to do so will result in experiencing hostility, rejection, and perhaps hatred.

In this New Year, may each of us look to Mary as our model of discipleship. Let us ask her each day to intercede for us with her Son so that we will become ever more decisive in the “Yes” we make to God – giving all of ourselves to the God whose faithfulness and love can never fail us.

— Rev. Mark Hallinan, S.J., Associate Pastor