Lessons from Evangelii Gaudium #20
Pope Francis’s Apostolic Exhortation on the proclamation of the Gospel in today’s world, Evangelii Gaudium or “The Joy of the Gospel,” has many points that are relevant to the work of Marriage: Unique for a Reason. This series will explore some of these themes and apply Pope Francis’s words to the culture of marriage and family in the United States.
Mary, Mother of Evangelization
Pope Francis ends his apostolic exhortation by turning to Mary, who is our model and our help in evangelization. If we reflect on Christ’s dying words in the Gospel of John, “Here is your mother” (Jn 19:27), we see that in this most important moment, in “the supreme hour of the new creation,” Christ turns our attention to Mary (no.285). He offers us his mother to be our own, as “an icon of womanhood” to intimately accompany the Church, which includes each one of us (no. 285).
The Holy Father reminds us of the myriad roles that Mary plays in the life of the Church. She is the “handmaid of the Father who sings his praises…the friend who is ever concerned that wine not be lacking gin our lives…the woman whose heart was pierced by a sword…a sign of hope…the missionary who draws near to us…a true mother” (no. 286). In these many ways and more, Mary is with each of us, sharing our history, struggles, and our mission. What a wonderful gift Christ has given us! Her maternal comfort is a wellspring of strength and hope for all who are weary and suffering.
As the one who allowed herself to be completely open to and guided by the Holy Spirit, Mary is our model of perfect faith; she is “the Mother of the Church which evangelizes” (284). She accompanies us as we enter more deeply into the mystery of faith—a journey often riddled with moments of “aridity, darkness, and even fatigue” (no. 287). She herself, Pope Francis tells us, often experienced these things, as she “lived in intimacy with the mystery of her Son, and went forward in her pilgrimage of faith” (no. 287). As we strive to live in that same intimacy, she offers us the comfort of her maternal presence especially through the moments of darkness and uncertainty.
In gratitude for the gift of His mother that Christ gave us, we must keep love and reverence for Mary alive in our homes, without whom “we could never truly understand the spirit of the new evangelization” (no. 284). We must look to her for the form that evangelization should take, especially within our family lives. She has shown us that justice and tenderness, contemplation and work, must always be held together. When we live in this way, looking to our Mother for guidance, our homes with the entire Church can help to open the way “to the birth of a new world” (288).
Today the Church celebrates the feast of the Annunciation , the “announcement” given to Mary by the angel Gabriel that she was to be the mother of the Lord:
Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.”
. . .
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1: 30-31, 38).
For Christians, Mary’s “yes” to the angel marks the beginning of our salvation. Jesus Christ is true God and true man. The Son of God became flesh in Mary’s womb. In this way, the Annunciation also draws our attention to the astounding mystery of motherhood and pregnancy, that brief time when the unborn child is present but hidden from view, entirely nourished by his or her mother in an incredibly intimate relationship.
Bl. John Paul II spoke beautifully about motherhood – and the Annunciation – in his 1988 apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem:
Motherhood implies from the beginning a special openness to the new person: and this is precisely the woman’s “part”. In this openness, in conceiving and giving birth to a child, the woman “discovers herself through a sincere gift of self”. [Gaudium et Spes, no. 24]
. . .
Mary’s words at the Annunciation – “Let it be to me according to your word” – signify the woman’s readiness for the gift of self and her readiness to accept a new life (no. 18).
For John Paul, then, pregnancy and motherhood are not merely biological facts or processes. Instead, they constitute a very special sharing on the part of the mother – an openness and a welcome to the new child growing in her womb. John Paul goes on to say that this “special communion” with the unborn child “profoundly marks the woman’s personality,” developing her capacity to pay attention and attend to other persons (MD, no. 18).
The father, of course, is present too from the very beginning of a child’s life; it was the mutual gift of husband and wife in marriage that opened the couple to the gift of the child. But the father’s participation in pregnancy is in a real sense “outside” of the woman’s participation. As John Paul says, “in many ways [the father] has to learn his own ‘fatherhood’ from the mother” as he shares in her wonder and openness to the child in the womb (MD, no. 18, emphasis original).
The feast of the Annunciation provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the gift of children and the wonder of pregnancy, of mothering and fathering. We invite you to watch the short film “Made for Life,” which features married couples of various ages reflecting on openness to life, children, and their identities as fathers and mothers. The video is accompanied by a Viewer’s Guide that develops many of the points raised in the film.
 The Annunciation is normally celebrated on March 25, nine months before Christmas, but the fact that March 25, 2012 is a Sunday (the Fifth Sunday of Lent) means that the Annunciation is celebrated instead on March 26.
“The Virgin Mary, being obedient to his word, received from an angel the glad tidings that she would bear God.”
St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies (2nd Century); 5:19:1
Today is the feast day of Mary, Mother of God. Following so closely on the feast of the Holy Family, today is a perfect opportunity to reflect on the blessing of mothers. We invite you to watch “Made for Life” and contemplate the unique gift that every mother gives to her children.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us