Saint John Paul II taught that Mary is a singular witness to the Gospel of Life. Having recently celebrated the feast day of John Paul the Great and recalling that, according to the liturgical calendar, Mary is some eight months pregnant (Christ’s birth hastens!), it seems appropriate to consider Our Lady’s witness to the joyous Gospel of Life.
By Mary’s fiat—her “yes” to God—Mary trod the path of all mothers as she welcomed a new life into the world within her womb. But unlike any other mother her “Yes” was unique in that she welcomes into the world the one who is Life itself. As Jesus would say some 30 years after his mother gave her fiat, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” John Paul writes, “The one who accepted “Life” in the name of all and for the sake of all was Mary, the Virgin Mother; she is thus most closely and personally associated with the Gospel of life.”
Mary’s “yes” ushered new life into the world, a world that opposed Jesus’ life and sought to snuff it out. As Saint Matthew (Mt. 2:13-15) and the Book of Revelation (Rev 12:4) indicate, Mary and her child were seen as a dangerous threat and thus her life and that of her child were threatened. Joseph, the guardian and protector, fulfilling his role as husband and adoptive father, led his pregnant bride to the safety offered in Egypt.
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John Paul writes in Evangelium vitae, “Mary … helps the Church to realize that life is always at the center of great struggle between good and evil, between light and darkness.” The great and tragic scenes in the Garden of Eden where death is the punishment for sin, the account of Mary’s pregnancy according to St. Matthew, the ignominy of the cross where humble acceptance of death will bring new life, and the poignant scene in the Book of Revelation when the dragon tries to devour the child of the virgin mother; in all of these, and more, we see that life, human life, is at the center of a great struggle between good and evil.
Sadly we know all too well that this struggle between good and evil, with life at its center, continues today. The struggle exists in abortion facilities, in IVF clinics where embryos created in the Petri dish have a less than 5 percent chance of survival, and in the homes of those who use abortion-inducing drugs often believing that they are only contraceptives because they have been labeled as such by the FDA. Furthermore, this struggle is felt by parents who are told their disabled child is “incompatible with life” and “should be taken care of” after prenatal diagnosis. It continues for the so-called “useless” lives of the elderly with dementia who are “better off dead” and euthanized, perhaps by removal of food and water. Human life, at every stage, is constantly at the center of the struggle between good and evil.
Mary’s lived witness stands in stark contrast to the prevailing evils of our day and the response of much of society to these evils. Our Lady welcomed a new life—an unexpected pregnancy—and would scarcely comprehend the notion of a child as an accident or a burden. Her motherhood is the model par excellence for all mothers. She did not despair in the midst of suffering, but endured with hope and great compassion. Her steadfastness at the cross belies the idea that prematurely ending the life of those who endure disability or suffering is a form of compassion. Mary draws near to the vulnerable who are treated as if they are less than human, and she wraps them tenderly in her mantle just as she must have done with the baby Jesus.
Experience over the centuries shows that through Our Lady’s intercession, a culture of life can be restored in our society. Let us learn from Our Lady, asking for assistance and companionship as we shine light in the darkness that is the culture of death. Let us find confidence and courage, love and hope, under her mantle, under her gentle patronage. She is our mother; she is the mother of so many little ones. As new Life is brought into the world in Mary’s labor, so too must we labor to bring the culture of life into the world. Remaining close to the Blessed Mother we find confidence and courage to proclaim the gospel of life. As we near the celebration of Jesus’ birth, may we face the joys and frailty of human life with genuine compassion, love, and hope steadfastly proclaiming the Gospel of Life in word and deed and under her gentle patronage.
Editor’s note: The image above titled “Virgin and Child with a Rosary” was painted by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo in 1655.