Acts 15:1-2,22-29; Apoc 21:10-14,22-23; John 14:23-29
A very useful book I always have with me on these occasion is the Catholic Truth Society Sunday Missal, People’s Edition, published with side-by-side Latin and English texts in 2011. At the head of each Sunday in this book the editors offer a little reflection or commentary, nearly always from Pope Benedict XVI. For the Sixth Sunday in Easter Year C, we have a comment on the Gospel from St. John Chapter 14, which we have just heard. “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” Benedict says: (We have here) “an implicit spiritual portrait of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”
Yes: beyond all others Our Lady loved Jesus, and kept his word, and was loved by the Father, and indwelt by the Holy Trinity. If you will allow me to pursue a little bit now the words of today’s Gospel: Our Lady was constantly taught by the Holy Spirit. He reminded her of all the words and deeds of Jesus, and ever more deeply unfolded their meaning to her. Our Lady beyond all others had the peace of Jesus established in her, which nothing whatever could shake. So, according to the Lord’s words, most remarkably for us, but surely it’s true, Mary did not let her heart be troubled, and was not afraid. Even during the Passion Our Lady was unambiguously glad at the passing of Jesus from this world to the Father, for she believed, she knew, she understood what that meant and implied. She eagerly looked forward to the reuniting with her divine Son in heavenly glory.
Our Second reading today also gives us “an implicit spiritual portrait of the Blessed Virgin Mary”. St. John at the end of the Apocalypse offers us a symbolic description of the glorious Church. Of course we know that Mary is Mother of the Church, and Queen of Heaven, and Queen of the Apostles, and Mother of all Christians. But in Chapter 12 of the Apocalypse we have the image of the Church and of Mary as the Woman clothed with the Sun. Already for St. John, then, Our Lady is type and figure and image of the Church. So, given the right context, we can almost use the words “Mary” and “Church” interchangeably. At the beginning of this Chapter 21 of the Apocalypse, the Church is described as a Bride coming down out of heaven, all radiant and beautiful, adorned for her husband. Now in our passage she is described as a great City like an enormous diamond, immovably established and beautiful, lit from within by the radiant glory of God and of the Lamb. That is more obviously true of Our Lady than of the Church; but it is true also of the Church. When we hear so much these days about the corruption and wickedness of her official representatives, we can perhaps forget that in her constitution, in her essence, the Church is immaculate like the Blessed Virgin, and all holy, and beautiful, and faithful, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and a worthy bride for the Lord, and loved by him as such.
In today’s first reading from Acts Our Lady seems to be entirely absent. We read instead of how from the very beginning disputes arose within the Church. The issue in this case, as so often subsequently, was not at first at all clear. So parties formed; positions hardened; schism threatened, and the Apostles had to act to resolve the dispute with an authoritative decision. Where is Our Lady in all that? She is there alright, right at the heart and centre. Mary represents the faithful Church, who continues ever on with her mission, as it were underneath or in spite of all the noisy conflicts and disputes. That’s not to say that the points in dispute were not important, or that there was not a right and a wrong position to take about them, or that Our Lady was somehow unconcerned about their result. But through them all she never ceased to love God and give him glory. Her faith remained always pure and uncontaminated, that is, completely orthodox, as she received it. She lived from the sacraments; Christ’s life within her was without rival or compromise; Mary radiated out her love for her fellow believers; she never ceased to intercede for all sinners, nor did she ever for one moment step outside the communion of the Apostles. Thank God!
The central importance of Our Lady for us is well summed up in the prayer “Regina Caeli” which we say during Eastertide in place of the Angelus.
Queen of Heaven, we begin, Rejoice! That is: Do what you do anyway, but explicitly now with us, for us. Help us, show us how to rejoice as you do in the resurrection of your divine Son from the dead. Then, after singing our repeated Alleluias, we conclude with the Collect:
O God who have been pleased to gladden the world by the resurrection of your only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ; grant, we pray, that through his Mother the Virgin Mary, we may receive the joys of everlasting life - praesta quaesumus, ut, per eius Genitricem Virginem Mariam, perpetuae capiamus gaudia vitae.
Here in this prayer we ask that we may receive - take hold of - come into perfect possession of the joys of eternal life through Mary. You might object: why through Mary? Is this not some extra and maybe unnecessary layer? Could not God by-pass her?
Well, of course God could by-pass Our Lady, but as a matter of fact he chooses not to. Similarly, he could choose to by-pass the Church, but as a matter of fact it’s his will that we receive salvation from and in and through the Church. We receive Jesus from Mary, and from the Church. We receive the Holy Spirit from the Church, and also from Mary, because all grace comes to us through her. And our whole problem is that, in spite of what we say in our prayer, the world is not as glad as it should be at Christ’s resurrection: neither are we, even, any of us. Why? Because we don’t receive all that we are given. The world as such indeed doesn’t even notice or care. But Our Lady does. She alone receives all; she alone rejoices adequately, and she can and will teach us and help us to approach that measure ourselves.
More seriously: we don’t yet have perfect possession of the joys of eternal life. But Our Lady does. Through her, then, and through the Church our Mother, we ask God to accomplish his plan in us. We ask that our Christian lives may not be in vain; that all our sins may at the last be forgiven; and that one day soon we will rejoice forever with our Blessed Lady. And as we begin to do that rejoicing even now, we remember always to thank her for her maternal presence and help and intercession, without which we would be without hope.