EVANGELIZATION WITH MARY
Rev. Johann G. Roten

We call her our mother Mary, my mother, your mother, our mother, because she brings us together. She gathers us around her Son when we receive his word and share his body and blood. But Mary is not only a gatherer, she is also a sender. She sends us to announce and promote the kingdom of God; she sends us into the mission of her Son.

To be gatherer and sender, these are the two major roles Mary plays in our Church. Today, I would like to address the second: Mary's role as sender or evangelizer. For indeed, there is an intimate link between Mary and evangelization. It is especially at Calvary and on Pentecost that Mary becomes a powerful model of evangelization.

 
[Evangelization of Mary]

The Holy Family
Rembrandt
c. 1958 F.A. Ackermanns
Kunstverlag, München

I

CALVARY AND PENTECOST

In both instances, at Calvary and Pentecost, Our Lady plays a pivotal role. She is Our Lady of Promise at Calvary, and she is Our Lady of Fulfillment at Pentecost.

At Calvary, in the hour of apparent disaster, Mary represents hope. At the foot of the Cross, she stands (with the beloved disciple) for the future church. At Calvary, the mother of the living is about to conceive again her Son. This time, no longer in her heart and body only; Mary now receives her glorious Son to pass him on to the community of his believers. And so, at Calvary, Mary is Our Lady of Promise.

Again, she plays a pivotal role at Pentecost. She is a magnet and beacon for the future pilgrim-church. In the midst of the disciples, she represents fulfillment. She is a coworker and witness of Christ's redemption. Mary is a sign of Christ's presence. In her person, for everybody visible, Christ has set a model of human existence accomplished in faith. And so, at Pentecost, Mary is Our Lady of fulfillment. This is what is meant by the title, Queen of Apostles: Mary is to be Our Lady of Promise and Our Lady of Fulfillment.

Calvary and the Cenacle anticipate and inaugurate–what we are used to calling–the time of the Church, the time when Jesus Christ no longer walks with his disciples, the time when alone and together they have to learn how to be Church—with the Holy Spirit dwelling in the depth of their souls.

The Church's time coincides with the history of all the legitimate traditions to read, explore and implement the very own words and deeds of Christ. I am thinking of legitimate traditions that go with tension, opposition, occasional ruptures and the continuous need for reconciliation. Let me mention only the most sacred and preeminent among these traditions in our Church.

1) The tradition of James or the need for law, history and culture, the becoming of the Church in given space and at a set time; the need for an inculturated Church: for example, the American Church or the Church in Africa.

2) Or take the tradition of Paul: the Church built upon individual vocation and personal commitment; for example, John XIII and Mother Teresa, Church as expression of freedom in grace and constant renewal in the Spirit.

3) And then there is Peter and his tradition: the gubernatorial Church, the Church of structures to identify the masses, the institution (our parishes, dioceses, hierarachy and movements) to assure visible presence and the organization to prevent generosity and care from tiring out too soon

4) Yet, there is no life without love, there is no Church tradition without the tradition of John, which means to remain in Christ's love, to remain and perdure with and against the world, always to remain and perdure in the narrow space between passion and resurrection. Think of the martyrs in body and soul: those of Rwanda and Latin America.

These four traditions complement each other, they deepen and enrich one another, because they are grounded in an even more fundamental tradition, the Marian tradition. Mary is the primitive cell of the Church, on which the incarnate Word can be imprinted without resistance (Witzman). She is the encompassing motherliness of the Church where truth no longer disunites and charity no longer segregates. In all this Mary is blessed because her existence is filled with hearing the word of God and keeping it. She thus establishes the very ground rules of all and any Church life. In her person, the ground rules of hearing the Word and keeping it are embodied as promise and fulfillment. In her, the Queen of Apostles, they all come together.

And it is because of Mary, Our Lady of promise and fulfillment, that Christ her Lord and bridegroom makes a lasting pledge of fidelity not only to the Church of Peter, Paul, John and James, but also in subsequent times to that of all the baptized of salvation history.

Whether this Church stands in Nero's garden on the Vatican Hill, in Alaska or in Timbuktu is not important. What really matters is that the Church will always remain the captive of God's crucified love——and each one of us the happy prisoner of God's possessive tenderness for us.

May Mary, Queen of Apostles, teach us the basics of God's promise and fulfillment.

II

FAITH AS MOTOR OF EVANGELIZATION

But what are the basics of God's promise and fulfillment? What is the basis of evangelization? It is faith. Faith is the very motor of evangelization. Faith is the basis of God's promise and fulfillment. There are three facets of faith to be mentioned:

1. The first of these aspects reminds us that faith is a matter and habit of the heart.

A missioner in Africa was translating John's gospel into the local dialect. He encountered many problems finding a suitable word to fit the word used in the English translation. One such word was "to believe." There was no exact word in the dialect, so he approached one of the natives for help. When he explained his problem, the native replied that his understanding, as he listened, was that "to believe" should be translated as "to listen with the heart."

If my heart doesn't hear the message, the heart will not, cannot respond, and there can never be real faith. Faith is a response to love, and love belongs to the function of the heart. This is what Mary teaches us: to listen with the heart.

2. The second aspect reminds us that faith is a driving force and constant challenge in our life:

The Shushwap region in British Colombia is considered by the Indian people to be a rich place: rich in salmon and game, rich in below-ground food resources such as tubers and roots–a plentiful land. In this region, the people would live in permanent village sites. Yet, the elders said, at times the world became too predictable and the challenge began to go out of life. Without challenge, life had no meaning.

So the elders, in their wisdom, would decide that the entire village should move, those moves occurring every twenty-five to thirty years. The entire population would move to a different part of the Shushwap land and there, they found challenge. There were new streams to figure out, new game trails to learn, new areas where the game would be plentiful. Now life would regain its meaning and be worth living. Everyone would feel rejuvenated and healthy.

Faith gives meaning to life; it makes life worth living. It is a driving force which rejuvenates us. Faith makes us healthy.

Let us never forget that the glories of Mary, the life of the saints, the evangelization of nations and the existence of Christian culture are based on the driving force of faith and its constant challenge to our life style and the habits of our heart.

3. The third aspect or facet of faith reminds us that it is in and through our faith that the word of Jesus becomes reality and is complemented and completed.

Puccini wrote the operas, La Bohème and Madama Butterfly. It was during his battle with terminal cancer in 1922 that he began to write Turandot, which many now consider his best.

He worked on the score, day and night, despite his friends' advice to rest, and to save his energy. When his sickness worsened, Puccini said to his disciples, "If I don't finish Turandot, I want you to finish it." He died in 1924, leaving the work unfinished.

His disciples gathered all that was written of Turandot, studied it in great detail, and then proceeded to write the remainder of the opera.

The world premier was performed in the La Scala Opera House in Milan in 1926, and it was conducted by Toscanini, Puccini's favorite student. The opera went beautifully until Toscanini came to the end of the part written personally by Puccini. He stopped the music, put down the baton, turned to the audience, and announced, "Thus far the master wrote, but he died."

There was a long pause; no one moved. Then Toscanini picked up the baton, turned to the audience, and with tears in his eyes, announced, "But his disciples finished his work." The opera closed to thunderous applause, and to a permanent place in the history of great works.

Jesus sent his Holy Spirit to complete his own work on earth through our faith. Jesus has won the war, but he needs us poor foot soldiers to wrap up and announce the victory.

And so let me remind us that the faith of Our Lady had all of these three qualities:

1) She listened with her heart;

2) The word of God constantly challenged and changed the habits of her heart;

3) Her faith made her the Mother and disciple of Christ called to bring his work to completion.

Each one of us is called to listen with his/her heart as Jesus speaks, to be challenged by the Word of God, and to contribute to the completion of his work on earth.

III

GO FORTH AND SHOW MERCY

Faith is the motor of evangelization. Mercy is the message of evangelization. Mary is a champion of mercy. Her whole existence echoes and embodies the plan of God, which is to go forth and show mercy.

"Go and learn the meaning of these words," says God, "'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' I did not come to call the righteous but sinners." These little sentences are provocative.They state in no uncertain terms that the expression of God's love for us is mercy, that we are all sinners graced with mercy and should therefore go forth and show mercy.

1. There is no way to understand and appreciate God's mercy if we do not first admit the reality of sin, individually and collectively.

A well-known author made the following provocative comment about the contemporary understanding of sin:

No one steals anymore...they simply lift something; No one lies anymore...they simply misrepresent the facts; No one commits adultery...they simply play around; No one kills an unborn baby...they simply terminate a pregnancy.

The reality of sin should not be candy-coated. If God wanted a permissive society, God would have given us ten suggestions instead of ten commandments. Let us call a spade a spade. Calling a spade "an agricultural implement" does nothing to change what it is. It is only by acknowledging the reality of our sin, that we are able to measure God's mercy.

2. The reality of sin takes us to the reality of forgiveness. God takes our sins and literally dumps them into the deepest lake. When God forgives, God suffers from total amnesia. Remember the little poem:

How I wish for a wonderful place

Called the land of beginning again

Where all our mistakes, our sins and our aches,

Could be locked in a case and dumped in a lake Never to surface again.

God's forgiveness makes it possible; we are all called to be citizens of the land of beginning again. Our sins and our aches once dumped into the lake of his mercy never surface again.

3. One of the most exquisite fruits of mercy is the sanctifying character of our daily and ordinary life. "Learn a lesson from the fig tree," says Scripture. "Consider well the fragile beauty of the wild flowers and the lack of anxiety of the sparrows...you are worth more than a hundred sparrows." Again mercy, God's mercy makes it possible. Jesus calls you and me to seek holiness–and the Reign of God–not so much in life's great and exceptional things, in miracles and wonders, as in the simple and daily acts and events of our lives.

Our common phrase "A dime a dozen," meaning something cheap, insignificant, comes from the Japanese Dainidu zen, which literally means a bent nail. Daimdozen is the name for the meditation practice which focuses one's total attention for long periods of time on a bent nail or some other insignificant object.

The monk who created this religious practice wanted to point out that even the small and insignificant objects and situations of daily life are capable of opening one to holiness. But again, it is only thanks to God's mercy that ordinary daily life becomes the ladder to holiness.

4. There is a fourth facet to mercy: the need to be ourselves witnesses of mercy. To be a Christian is to be someone who shows others, in practice, some of what Jesus is like (here mercy).

One day a religion teacher began a class on Jesus by saying to some young children: "Today I must tell you about someone whom you all must meet. He's a person who loves you and cares for you, even more than your own family and friends. He's a person who's kinder than the kindest person you know. He's a person who forgives you, no matter how often you do wrong. No matter what you do wrong, he is always ready to accept you, to love you, and to understand." The teacher noticed a little boy getting more and more excited as he talked. Suddenly the little boy could hold back no longer. He blurted out, "I know the man you're talking about. He lives on our street." Yes, to be a Christian means to show others, in practice, some of what Jesus is like.

In Acts 1:8 we read: "You shall be my witnesses...to the ends of the earth." It is important that Jesus' mercy be proclaimed to the ends of the earth. It is important to Jesus that others recognize us as belonging to him: "By this," says John, "will all people know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another."

May Jesus' mercy in our lives be so strong that we not only recognize the reality of both sin and forgiveness, but also joyfully accept to sanctify and be sanctified through daily reality. It is thus that we will carry Jesus' message of mercy to the ends of the world, and that we will be the authentic sons and daughters of his Mother.

IV

THE KINGDOM SUFFERS VIOLENCE

The life of Mary and her role in evangelization tells us that the kingdom suffers violence. Evangelization does not happen without a good fight. The kingdom of God suffers violence. It would be foolish to believe that evangelization doesn't know any enemies, that it goes unnoticed and unopposed by the devil who sits in many places, but who also sits in the detail.

Scripture takes the existence and influence of the devil very seriously. We find various indications of his influence on human beings and the disposition of their minds and bodies. In Scripture, Satan is called the prince of this world (Jn 12,31), and even the God of this world (2 Cor 4;4). Very frequently, he is designated by the name devil which means "to cause destruction, to divide, to calumniate, to deceive." Scripture mentions angels 148 times in the Old Testament, and 74 times in the New Testament. The two testaments mention the devils 115 times and Satan 33 times.

The devil is a master of deception–among other things–because he so beautifully blends in with ordinary human reality. If the devil doesn't exist, but man has created him, he has created him in his own likeness, remarked Dostoyevsky. The devil is a gentleman, for Shakespeare as well as for Shelley. For Luther he is God's ape: "For where God built a church, there the devil would also build a chapel." Worse still: "If God sends meat, the devil sends cooks." Across the board, the devil seems to have all the good tunes. He knows all the tricks in the book.

Indeed, the devil is very much a part of the tapestry of our daily life, skillfully exploiting the natural course of things, the petty shortcomings as well as many of our innocent pleasures. In particular, the devil sits in the detail as we know and merrily exploits the three F's: forgetfulness, forgiveness, and fear.

1. The devil gets to us through forgetfulness. There is an old saying:

"When the devil was sick, the devil a monk would be; when the devil got well, the devil a monk was he." This old maxim says in effect that, when we are sick or in some danger, we make pious resolutions but forget them as soon as the danger is past. Sickness and danger hold great power to help us remember the end and the purpose of our lives. But we easily forget this insight when the crisis is over. Let us be watchful: the devil might be sitting in the detail and exploit forgetfulness.

2. The devil gets to us through our reluctance and seeming impossibility to forgive.

A former inmate of a Nazi concentration camp was visiting a friend who had shared the same ordeal. "Have you forgiven the Nazis?" he asked his friend. "Yes." "Well, I haven't," he replied. "I'm still consumed with hatred for them." "In that case," said the friend, "they still have you in prison."

It might be that it is again the devil who wears the Nazi cap and the polished boots. For our true enemies are not those who hate us, but those whom we hate.

3. The devil gets to us through our fearfulness and cowardice.

When pain and suffering enter our lives, let us learn how to assimilate them instead of shrinking from them. The peace of Christ is not found in the absence of war, turmoil and stress, but rather in living profoundly in the presence of Christ in the midst of the struggles and troubles of life. How easily we take flight and crawl up in the lap of ease. It is too much fear and too much comfort which are the real enemies of the spirit and the secret friends of the devil. The life of the Spirit is slowly smothered to death by excessive fear and excessive ease.

We expect to do battle with the Prince of Darkness, and to heroically vanquish the huge red dragon. We sharpen our knives and encourage ourselves to be on the ready. Meanwhile, the huge red dragon has become a nasty little rat and busily eats away at the nerve ends of our lifeline with God. The devil sits in the detail, a perfect gentleman, building chapels and sending forth cooks. Let us not be spiritually naive. God will set us free from the power of darkness, but only if we remain wide awake, avoiding fear and forgetfulness, clinging to that Spirit who is now at work in each one of us, and fixing our gaze on the powerful Woman who knows and combats the strategies of evil.

V

BOLD AND WATCHFUL

Each one of us is an evangelizer. Each one of us must stay wide awake, must overcome fear and forgetfulness, and must cling to the spirit that is at work in us. Most important, each one of us is called to live now as if it were the last and ultimate moment of our life.

As one of the most powerful means to ready ourselves for this ultimate challenge, I would like to suggest the recitation of the "Hail Mary," which ends with the well-known words, "Holy Mary / Mother of God / Pray for us sinners / now / and at the hour of our death / Amen."

The gap between "now" and "the hour of our death" lessens with each minute, with each recitation of the Hail Mary. And so this prayer teaches us how to live now as if it were the hour of death--to live fully in the moment given us. Praying in this way, we can practice our death, which is precisely to live now as we would like to die, that is, with holy passion and holy commitment.

There is a story about a leader in the Philippines' rising up against Spain at the end of the nineteenth century that illustrates the importance of preparing for the hour of death in the midst of life.

This leader had tried to mobilize the colonized people of the Philippines, calling them to throw off centuries of Spanish oppression and fight for independence, for the status of a sovereign nation. He had tried to instill in his followers a sense of identity and mission, and a pride in being Filipino.

When he was captured by the colonial government and sentenced to death there was only one thing that disturbed him. The authorities had learned of a superstition among the local people that anyone dying with his face to the ground would be cursed and must be forgotten. The colonizers, therefore, had arranged for this revolutionary leader to be executed in such a way that he would fall face forward into the muddy ground. It was thus that they planned to humiliate the man in front of a large assembly of Filipinos. To this end, the prison warden was commanded not only to tie the victim's arms but his legs as well, so that facing the firing squad he would fall helplessly forward on his face in the mud, unable to turn as he fell down.

The condemned man heard of this plot the day before his scheduled execution. He spent that entire day and most of the night practicing how to spin himself from the waist so that, without moving his legs, he would fall upon his back with his face up.

On the day of execution the prisoner's feet were tied in such a way that no one could see the rope beneath his tunic. He was carried to the spot where he would be fired upon, hours before the crowd assembled so that no one would know that he was unable to move his feet.

At the hour of execution there was, indeed, an immense crowd assembled to witness the event. The charges of insurrection were read, a curse pronounced against the revolutionary and an exhortation made to the crowd to forget about the unrealistic proposal of a sovereign Philippines. The firing squad readied themselves, took aim, and fired. The silence was heavy after the gunshots.

The condemned man received every bullet fired. And then gracefully, like a ballerina, he shifted his weight with his hips, spinning 180 degrees from the right and landed on his back with his face up.

The cheering of the crowd was without end.

By stubborn design and relentless practice this victim of injustice resisted the colonizers' attempt to make him a devil's martyr. We do something similar when we ask Mary to "pray for us now and at the hour of our death." It is our way of stubbornly designing and relentlessly practicing our death.

This is not to be misunderstood as morbid preoccupation with what actually happens in the final minutes of our life, but, rather, it is a way to inspire us to make what we are living for now worthy of our death. It is a way to inspire us to make the world a little better than how we found it, more worthy of what it shall become on the last day. So let us summarize today's Rosary lesson with the fervent and faithful invocation: Holy Mary / Mother of God / Pray for us sinners / now / and at the hour of our death. / Amen.


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