In front of Mother Mary, venerated as the Immaculate, a question comes to our mind as modern men: what kind of experience did she have with things, people, and with God? It is possible to arrive at an answer only through the way of negation, because none of us know by direct knowledge what it means to be without sin.
Saint Bernard taught his monks that the knowledge of evil is so called “knowledge” only by an outward form. In reality, he says, it is “ignorance” (The Twelve Degrees of Humility and of Pride) – the opposite of wisdom. We venerate the Immaculate as the Seat of Wisdom. The wisdom of Mary has this secret: she never complied with evil; she never approved of it, never justified and never committed it. She has positively known only what is good. Thus, her communion with God was absolute and continuous, and this enabled her to know things and people beginning from their truth, from the potentiality written at the core of their being by the original design of the Father, and from the fullness to which they have been destined. Mary sees us this way even now, as she looks upon us from heaven.
But this means, at the same time, that no one except Mary is able to measure the distance that separates every person from his truth, everything from its fullness. This is both Mary’s silent yet penetrating gaze and her suffering. Only in the Son – “the lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Pt. 1:19) – was her heart at rest. At the same time, by the power of her complete extraneity from evil, Mother Mary was able, and even obliged, to share in the compassion for men that had pushed the Word of the Father to become her Son. Perhaps we could describe Mary’s experience of virginity as an extreme proximity to men: no one like her, could anyone be so close to men, because there was no trace of complicity in evil that could separate her from them and their true being.
“God chose us in Christ”, writes Saint Paul, “that we should be holy and blameless before him in love” (cfr. Ef. 1:4). God desires that Christ dwell in us, that we may be abounding in Christ. Only in this way, in fact, can we be what we truly are, according to how God wanted and thought of us, in view of the day in which He will be “everything to everyone” (cfr. 1 Cor. 15:28).
Mary lived this dynamic among us, and now she lives it in a definitive manner. Christ dwelt in her – not only physically, but in her whole being and in every moment of her life (because she was the Mother of Christ mente prius quam corpore, says St. Augustine, she was able to remain a virgin). Thus, she is a paradigm for us, who are called to imitate her. We are all called to draw near to her experience here on earth, in order to relish it fully in heaven, when “our mortal nature will put on immortality” (cfr. 1 Cor. 15:53-54), just like that of Mary, and we will be forever liberated from evil and from sin. Concretely, imitation of Mary means for us to consciously and courageously embrace the fight to “avoid evil and hold fast to what is good” (cfr. Rm. 12:9).
This means that our true condition is one of danger. “We have been given hope and a foretaste of truth and liberty”, writes Saint Cyprian (cfr. The Good of Patience, 13), but we must await “until we finally attain the full Truth and Freedom in God”. Our life has been placed in the midst of an arena full of dust, and it is a fight that must not be underestimated, a battle that is still open-ended. We are assaulted. We are fighters who could become the victims. This is exactly what Mary saw around her, gazing at people whom she met. She worked and she prayed precisely for the favorable outcome of this battle, and she felt anxiety seeing the destiny of every man. This was the interior force that the Apostles felt and, before them, Saint Joseph. It is the force that drives everyone, like a motherly expansion of the power of her Son; it is a force that drives the whole world towards holiness.
(In the picture: Bohuslav Reynek, “The Nativity of the Lord IV”, 1950).
(Extract from the homily for the temporary vows of Jennifer Anderson. Rome (Our Lady of the Rosary of Pompei, Magliana), December 8, 2020.)