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Archbishop Lucas: Mary keeps us focused on the real Jesus

In this week’s interview, communications manager David Hazen asks Archbishop George J. Lucas about the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the history of the church and in the church today, helping us to become better disciples of her Son.

Q: On May 5, the church celebrates the Feast of Mary, Queen of the Apostles. How can this title for our Blessed Mother help us understand our own discipleship?

We know that at the moment of the Annunciation, Mary became the first one to encounter Jesus bodily. No one else had such an intimate relationship with him, as a mother would have with her son. Her relationship with Jesus began during the pregnancy and continues now. She remains the mother of Jesus – he is the Son of God and the Son of Mary. 

She has an essential role, then, in the Kingdom of God and in his plan for our salvation. It wasn’t only that she encountered Jesus before anybody else, but at the moment that she was introduced to God’s plan that she be the mother of the Savior, she began to reorient her life around this reality. She was already planning to be married to Joseph. We don’t know what exactly was in their minds, but we can assume they were expecting a marriage like what most people would have expected in that time.

There was a tremendous upending of all those plans. But Mary accepted Jesus into her life, which is what disciples do, and that began to make all the difference. She accepted God’s will, and made her own choice to follow what God was proposing. God didn’t interfere with her freedom at all, so she gave herself to Jesus and, over time, more and more to his mission.

Because she responded in faith so wholeheartedly to the coming of Jesus into her life, we consider Mary to be the first and best disciple.

Q: Sometimes Mary can be kind of a stumbling block for people who are trying to understand the Catholic faith. It is obvious why she’s important in the history of salvation. But how ought a Catholic Christian relate to her in the here and now, and not just as a distant historical figure?

That’s a great question. I think that she is a stumbling block for some because they have received bad or incomplete teaching about her, but to just think about her from a distance isn’t necessarily all that helpful either. Part of the reason the church dedicates this month of May to Mary, and why she has so many different titles in the church and in the devotion of people over time, is that these all provide opportunities to get to know her personally, and to come into a close relationship with her in the communion of saints. 

Jesus gave her to the Apostle John at the time of the crucifixion, and then gave her to all of us through him. We have come to understand that she is the mother of all of us in the church. She was present as the church began on Pentecost with the coming of the Holy Spirit, and even though we don’t know all the details, we can imagine how she would have encouraged the Apostles and the first disciples. As they were just beginning to undertake the mission that Jesus had given them, I’m sure they appreciated very much the guidance and the motherly care that they would have received from Mary. The disciples were sent out, equipped with the Holy Spirit, to preach Jesus Christ and to introduce other people to him; they knew him well, of course, but they didn’t know him as well as she did.

And so she was able to help deepen the knowledge and love of Jesus in the first disciples. She was able to help them understand Jesus in his integrity, as she would have known him from the very first moment of his life.

I picture her helping those first disciples perhaps from becoming overly pietistic or from presenting a kind of sanitized version of Jesus and his personality and mission. 

Her knowledge of him would have grown during her lifetime. She accepted her role as the Mother of God from the very beginning, at the time of the Annunciation, but she had to grow into it, and as Jesus grew she would have grown with him, in terms of understanding him, understanding his mission and understanding how best to be supportive, how to guide him – all those things which are mysterious parts of God’s plan, that his Son would have come as a vulnerable member of the human family, all the time remaining the Son of God but fully human and receiving that human nature through Mary. They were in that together from the beginning. She knew Jesus, appreciated him, understood him, loved him and could communicate that in a unique way to the disciples at the beginning of the church, and she still communicates Jesus to us now.

She gave birth to him in Bethlehem, as we know, and then was present as the church was born at Pentecost. Now, his living body is the church in the world animated by the Holy Spirit. She took responsibility for helping to protect and nurture that infant church at the beginning. We honor her in the church and have liturgical feasts and private devotions because we understand that she’s still doing that; that is still her mission. 

The church continues to grow and struggle, and we can get disoriented or develop defective or unusual ideas about Jesus that don’t really correspond to who he is truly, or which interfere with our own discipleship, our own witness to him in the world. Going to Mary and asking her intercession and praying with her in the communion of saints helps keep us focused on the real Jesus, who was crucified and now is risen, reigning gloriously at the right hand of the Father and living truly in the world in this body, the church.

Q: The church will celebrate the Feast of Mary, Mother of the Church on the Monday after Pentecost. But we are also planning a particular devotion to Mary during the celebration of the Vigil of Pentecost at ArchOmaha Unite. What form will that take and why?

The 15,000 or so people who will be coming to the ArchOmaha Unite event will notice that Mary will be very prominent that day. 

We can think of ourselves like the original disciples of Jesus, with Mary, waiting for the Holy Spirt. We’ll invite her to intercede for us as we anticipate a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our archdiocese. There will be an opportunity in parishes – as well as for those who will be participating in Unite – to consecrate themselves to Mary in the days and weeks leading up to that event. 

There will be a moment during our celebration on June 8 when we will all make an act of consecration, to simply present ourselves at the feet of Mary, like the first disciples, and count on her continued intercession and guidance as we receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit anew this year.

It is important to remember that Mary is 100% human. In her role as a disciple we can receive encouragement. We know that she was conceived without sin and lived her life without committing sin, but it doesn’t mean she had a perfect life.

She experienced sadness and loss. She also had to grow into a more mature woman, a more mature disciple of Jesus Christ, as we all have to. We don’t think of her as somebody who has it all together by her own nature. She is a human person, a very privileged one and yet had to exercise her freedom to choose to dedicate her life to her Son, Jesus, and to his mission ultimately and to choose to accept more and more of what that would mean.

I find it very encouraging to know that Mary knew a lot more five or 10 years into Jesus’ life on earth than she knew at the beginning. This is the pattern we can hope to follow: to know more, then as a result to love more, and to participate more in the saving mission of Jesus, which is the responsibility and the privilege he gives to every disciple.

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