Q: What was Mary's role as a disciple?
A: To understand Mary's role as disciple it is useful to remember that every human being is God's creature, directly (soul) and indirectly (body) the fruit of God's love. This means that we all have -- ingrained in our spiritual genetic code -- a fundamental orientation toward God our maker and perfection. The notion of creator comprises the idea of father and master. As father, God is the giver, essentially pouring out his love for us to be and exist. As master, God shows us how to become sons and daughters of his, meaning as faithfully resemblant as humanly possible of his own being and perfection. Here lies the root of our vocation as disciples. This is also the fundamental reason why we call Mary: disciple. She is expressing this realization, in fact the only real self-definition we have of Mary, by saying: I am the servant of the Lord. In this self-awareness Mary recognizes her being a creature, meaning loved by God and called into his service.
She reconfirms this through her yes at the moment of the Annunciation. Through this yes pronounced globally, anticipating the future of her role as Mother of God, she constituted herself as disciple, willingly and consciously. Through her yes she says that she is willing to act according to God's will. God's will needs to be discerned as we know, and as we can see from Mary's own life. She ponders much and speaks little, meaning she wants to understand God's ways and designs (see, for example, the presentation in the Temple, the incident with the twelve-year-old remaining in the temple). However, Mary's vocation as disciple expresses itself and evolves within her even more important and fundamental mission as mother of Jesus Christ. She learns, ponders, explores God's ways in order to be the best mother imaginable. Over time her role of mother changes -- precisely because she learns and adapts to being Christ's first and faithful disciple.
Based on the Marian Scripture scenes, Mary's vocation as mother-disciple evolves according to the following stages:
1) Discernment: At the Annunciation Mary listens to the angel, and compares his message to her own situation, debates whether to say yes, and ponders the pros and cons.
2) Commitment: Declaring her willingness to be mother of God she also declares herself to be willing to act as God's and the Spirit's disciple (I am the servant). She commits herself to a type of existence largely unknown, and she does it wholeheartedly.
3) Acceptance: Much of what we know about Mary's life could be qualified as adaptation to the unknown and unpleasant (circumstances of conception, birth, flight into Egypt). One of the learning abilities most appreciated in a disciple is his/her flexibility, sense of adaptation, acceptance of the unknown, and ability to deal with it. Mary is learning as the loving, faithful and trusting servant.
4) Pondering: Mary faces situations of utter incomprehensibility, personal doubt (not of her commitment but its practical expression), and what the history of spirituality calls the darkness or night of faith. In all of these situations (see above) she works toward a deeper understanding of things happening to her, puts them in perspective with her vocation as mother of Jesus Christ, allows for growth in patience and perseverance.
5) Participation: The true disciple engages in his master's projects and hopes. As disciple Mary associates her concerns -- and that of others -- with those of her Son. She show shows initiative, courage, concern for other... and respect for Christ's own mission. The wedding of Cana is such an example of participation in her Son's mission. Again, this example shows that Mary attunes her desire to help to Christ's own mission. She learns to respect his "hour."
6) Transformation: Radical discipleship can lead to personal transformation. Such is the case for Mary as she stands at the foot of the cross. She suffers with her Son because she is unable to avert his passion and death. She understands that the monstrosity of his death cannot be changed if salvation is to become reality. But Mary's most important transformation occurs when Jesus asks her (John 19, 25-17) to take care of his brothers and sisters in the Spirit. At the foot of the cross she becomes our spiritual mother. She has to accept a new way of being mother. In losing her son, her call takes on a new significance and leads her into a radically new understanding of her role as Mother.
7) Communion: There is a social dimension to discipleship. Disciples of a same master learn from each other and develop existential bonds. Although the premier disciple of Christ, Mary is part of the community of disciples (see Pentecost event). Together with Christ's other disciples, she follows the inspiration of the Spirit sending them to the ends of the earth to disseminate Christ's message.
Recent documents by the second Vatican council and popes ever since highlight Mary's role as disciple. The Mary Page has a feature on Mary as disciple as presented in these documents. You will find the direct quotes at: Mary and Jesus Christ: Disciple of Christ
di Matteo di Amelia
The Crucifixion with the Virgin, Saint John, Saint Jerome and Saint Mary Magdalene
Pietro Perugino, National Gallery of Art, Washington
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