This Advent, I was blessed to speak to parish members about Mary - who she is as icon and tabernacle... I'd like to share my thoughts with you in a very edited version - edited for content since it is no longer Advent, and for length, since I already will need to put the talk in 2 parts. While we are moving on in the Church's year to the new year, we are on the cusp of celebrating the Solemnity of Mary on Jan. 1st - so it is, as ever, a pertinent time to reflect on what it means to be Marian.Thank you for reading, and I encourage you to share your thoughts and reflections!
(Part 1 of 2)
I’d like for us, in the broadest sense, to consider Mary as ICON. What does this mean?
For those of you who are a little older perhaps, have an artistic sense or a background in the Eastern Church, you will recognize the image of Our Lady of Czestocheowa as an icon. This is from my trip to Poland many years ago. These kinds of icons are considered not to be “just a painting” but rather a window of sorts to Heaven. They are something small and tangible that communicates something much bigger. We don’t see all of Heaven here. We don’t see much more than Mary with baby Jesus. But we are meant to see this picture as something that points beyond itself. The robes signify the Queenship of Mary, the small star on her brow is the reference to the woman with a crown of stars, this shows the relationship between the Creator and Creation, to the nurturing nature of Mary, and Christ’s intimacy with her. That’s a lot from one picture.
For those of you who are more technically inclined, who don’t really care about art, or who maybe are a little younger and don’t have much interest in that kind of icon, we have another one. You all recognize the little white bird on a blue square. It’s usually a tiny image on your ipad or smartphone. But it also is an ICON. It also points to something much, much bigger. In this case, the tiny white bird on the small blue square means an endless network of people communicating. It means connecting globally, sharing thoughts and feelings, and what you just ate for dinner. It’s a way for people to sell things, interact on blogs, get world news. It points beyond itself to something much, much greater.
Mary is also an icon. She is the small but recognizable woman, who points us directly to Christ. She is the creature who we know is in Heaven, with a human body and a human soul. She is the one who stands for us all, as Church. Mary is the icon of Church because she is the first one of us to meet Christ, and devote her life to Him. In this way she points us to him.
Her motherhood brings Christ to birth again and again, as we are all called.
And she offers all of us a new dimension of how to live as one of Christ’s followers. She shares with all of us her motherhood.
In his letter on Mary as Mother of the Redeemer, Blessed John Paul II reminds us of the reading we read tonight: Mary in her visit to her cousin Elizabeth. When Elizabeth sees her, she says: “Blessed is she who believed”. This is key to understanding how Mary represents us.
First of all, this places Mary in a long list of believers who have handed us the legacy of faith, such as Abraham. John Paul II says that while Abraham’s faith is the beginning of the Old covenant, it is Mary’s faith that is the beginning of the New Covenant. While Abraham is an icon of the Jewish faith, in his fatherhood of the nations, Mary is the icon of our Christian church, in her motherhood.
Second of all, we too are blessed to believe. As Christ said to Thomas “blessed are they who have not seen, and still believe.” We encounter in ourselves these ties to Mary who leads us in our belief. She journeyed to Bethlehem to bring Christ into the world. We join her in our own journey of faith, to realize Christ more tangibly, because as Christians, we journey – not alone- but in community. This is our legacy as Church, as we also join in communion with those who have believed, will believe, and believe still.