232. Beyond the Blue Plaster Statue: An Advent Reflection on the Most Beautiful (and Most Fragrant!) Woman Who Ever Lived

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Icon of the Theotokos (Mother of God).

Creator created

God so humbled

Enclosed in the womb of a poor young girl

Crying out, God, God, you are crazy!

And with enflamed desire

I go searching for who this young woman is

Who joined the Lover to the beloved

Looking at her from her head down to her feet

So the more I look at her the more she gives me delight

Pregnant in appearance

She shows me…

(adapted from a poem of Saint Catherine of Sienna)

 

Who Is This Woman?

The modern mystic Caryll Houselander expresses the sentiments of Many church-going folk with regard to Mary:

“When I was a little girl, I was told …, ‘Never do anything you cannot imagine our Lady doing … If you do, she will blush.’” From then on, preventing our Lady from blushing “became an obsession … since I could only imagine our Lady leaning on a cloud-bank or being a plaster statue.” Eventually, I “broke down and sobbed with boredom and despair … Such was the conception of our Lady imposed on me by a pious upbringing.” Sadly, it’s “a very common one – to many Catholics she is unreal, and even worse, unattractive …No wonder, for nearly all we are taught of her is … the pious guess-work of [the overly sentimental]” (Mother of Christ, p. 31).

Later in life, she heard a “remarkable nun” correcting a girl who believed Mary wouldn’t even have known about sex because of her “innocence” and “purity.” The nun exclaimed, “Stuff and nonsense! When our Lady was 15 she knew the facts of life from A to Z, the gospel proves it.” That began Caryll’s search “for the real Mother of God.” What she found was a woman “consumed by the fire of love,” a woman who “is not only human; she is humanity.” She is what it means to be human …

Glorious Things Are Said of You!

What can we say of Mary? She is the most beautiful of all God’s creatures, the sole boast of the human race. In her, we see the fulfillment of all God’s plans for humanity. In her, we see the fulfillment of rightly ordered eros, of human desire for Infinity being forever filled with the Infinite. In her, we see the embodiment of the bride who, representing the whole human race, gave her “yes” to God’s marriage proposal with such totality that she literally conceived eternal life in her womb. In Mary, we see the ecstasy to which we are all called in the eternal wedding feast. In her, we see the City of God, the gates of heaven opened, the “holy of holies,” the “bridal chamber” where the marriage of heaven and earth is forever consummated!

When we understand the indispensable and unrepeatable role Mary plays in salvation history, in keeping with the Tradition of the Church, we recognize whispers of this “woman,” throughout Scripture. She’s foreshadowed by Eve and all the noble women of the Old Testament; she’s spoken of in the law and the prophets; she’s seen in the Wisdom literature and in the Song of Songs; she’s seen as the fulfillment of the ark of the covenant, the tabernacle, the tent, the temple, the house of the Lord. Thus, to “enter the courts of the Lord,” is – in the deep, mystical sense of Scripture to which the Church invites us – to enter the mystery of Mary. For she is the Lord’s dwelling place; she is the “City of God”; she is the embodiment of the “land” espoused by God (see Is 62:4); she is the “fertile soil” in which the Word of God takes root and produces an abundant harvest (see Ps 67:7 and Mt 13:8).

When our eyes are opened to these mystical treasures, we cannot but see the mystery of Mary “everywhere” in the Scriptures:

Glorious things are said of you, O City of God!

Glorious things are said of you, dwelling place of the Most High!

Better is one day in your courts, O Lord, than thousands elsewhere!

I would rather rest at your gates than dwell in the tents of the wicked….

One thing I ask, this alone I seek, to dwell in the house of the Lord all my days, to

gaze on the beauty of the Lord and contemplate his temple….

(see Psalms 27, 84, 87)

Without Mary we could never truly understand the spirit of our faith. That “spirit” is none other than the Holy Spirit, the eternal, immortal seed of God that “fell like dew from heaven” upon the fertile soil of Mary’s “garden” (see Lk 1:34-35; Mk 4:8). The divine wind “blows where it wills,” as Jesus said (Jn 3:8), and we know that it wills to blow on Mary! The Church hears Mary’s response to this mysterious wind in these famous words of the bride in the Song of Songs: “Awake, O north wind, and come, O south wind! Blow upon my garden, let its fragrance be wafted abroad. Let my beloved come to his garden, and eat its choicest fruits” (Song 4:16).

Saint Louis de Montfort tells us that within Mary’s fertile garden there are “untold riches, beauties, rarities, and delights. … There are flowerbeds … diffusing a fragrance which delights even the angels” (True Devotion 261). As followers of Christ, we too are called to enter this “garden of fertile delights” and be “born again” of Mary, our spiritual mother (see Jn 3:3-13). This is how we become true apostles of the new evangelization: we must sell everything and buy the fertile field (Mary) in which the treasure of Christ is buried (see Mt 13:44). And we must dwell permanently in this “new Eden,” this “paradise of fertile delights.” 

“But how difficult it is for us sinners to have the freedom, the ability and the light to enter such an exalted and holy place,” remarks de Montfort (True Devotion 263). “Some,” he says “– the great majority – will stop short at the threshold and go no further. Others – not many – will take but one step into its interior. Who will take a second step? Who will take a third? Finally who will remain in it permanently” (True Devotion 119)? “That soul will find God alone in his most glorious garden” (Secret of Mary, p. 17). 

Mary, star of the New Evangelization and Ravisher of Hearts, pray that this Advent, we would have the grace to enter your most glorious garden, find God there, and share the infinite treasure we have found with the world. Amen.

Question: What new insight have you gained through the above reflections on Mary?Please share your insight on Facebook and TwitterTo learn more, watch this trailer and then listen to the talk (CD) (MP3) called “The Secret of Mary: Where Heaven and Earth Kiss.”