The Courage of Mary

What would you do, if you knew you would not fail?

Today, my church choir and I were reflecting on the meaning of the Gospel as the Catholic Church celebrates the Assumption of Mother Mary. The Gospel reading is from Luke, chapter 1, verses 39 to 56; it tells of the pregnant Virgin Mary visiting her cousin Elizabeth’s home, of the child in Elizabeth’s womb leaping for joy, and of Mary glorifying the Lord.

Someone talked about how much courage Mary, and her ancestor Abraham before her, had to follow the Lord’s wishes – Mary, in conceiving a child before her wedding and while still a virgin, and Abraham, in (almost) sacrificing his beloved son Isaac. For her, what leapt out at her from her reflection on Mary’s life was how Mary always said “yes” to God, even when it was hard to do so.

Mary’s “yeses” have often been a point of deep reflection for me, too, but what leapt out at me today was a different aspect of the Gospel. “And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” Elizabeth asks in wonder. And later, Mary says – not so much in direct reply but in a harmony of wonder – “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for He has looked with favour on the lowliness of His servant.”

The wonder of God’s two servants in those lines struck me today as a glimpse into the source of their courage. I think this speaks more for my lack of gratitude than any lack of providence in my life, but I can think of very few occasions when I have actually been dumbstruck at how lucky I am for something to have come into my life. When I think of one such occasion, I remember the emotion very clearly – heart rising. Heart leaping.

In actuality, we are blessed in so many more little ways than the big moments we remember, which have the capacity to strike us dumb with awe if only we are humble enough to recognise them. Mother Teresa once said that when you are humble, nothing will touch you – neither praise nor disgrace – because you know what you are. I may venture to add that when you are humble, nothing will touch you because you know whose you are.

Mary is magnified in the Church as our Mother, as a motherly figure holding us close to her heart, but she is also glorified as God’s first disciple and as His child. I believe that she had the courage to say ‘yes’ so many times to so many difficult challenges because she knew whose she was. She was humble enough to know that above all, and underlying everything, she was God’s child.

Humility also comes hand in hand with trust, or faith. What would you do if you knew you would not fail? I asked at the beginning of this post. When I think about well-made plans, I realise that the feeling of confidence and certainty that accompany them arise from the level of thought we have given them. We have thought things through so well, prepared for so many contingencies, we know that there is a very, very high chance we will not fail. Science tells us there is no higher percentage of accuracy than that. A freak accident could always occur, and we would fail, but not for want of preparation.

Faith gives us the highest possible, full percentage of accuracy – but only in the plans which He makes, and which He offers to us to accept with the humility and trust of a child. Of His child. Once we say yes with trust, then we have the courage to sail the plan through, knowing with humility that neither success nor failure will touch us. 

PS. That said, I am still finding it very hard to implement this in my daily life. Prayers would be much appreciated!

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