In his homily on the Solemnity of Mary on the first day of this year, Anchor columnist Father Roger Landry examined the Gospel reference to Our Lady, who “kept all these things reflecting on them in her heart.” The importance of the phrase is underscored by the fact that Saint Luke used it twice: first after the shepherds appeared at the instigation of heavenly visitors to pay homage to the infant Jesus in Bethlehem, and subsequently as the Holy Family left Jerusalem together after three days of anxious searching for their missing child. Surely Jesus’ words at the moment his parents discovered him in the Temple only added to what Mary had regularly pondered over the course of her life.
No doubt she allowed that memory to nestle alongside many others: the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity, the visit by the shepherds and magi, the flight into Egypt, the return to Nazareth, and the subsequent quiet years of patiently watching the extraordinary child participate in ordinary family life. Eventually she would add to it the wisdom Christ offered over the course of his public ministry, and ultimately the details of his passion, death and resurrection. Digging into the original Greek, Father Landry notes that the Gospel would be “more literally rendered that Mary ‘put them together’ like the pieces of a mosaic and she ‘held on to them,’ the way we would hold onto a treasure.” To that end, he likened the things on which she pondered as the individual pieces—tesserae—that together form a beautiful and coherent image of the marvelous plan of God.
If I may be so bold, I would like to take use that image as it relates to the Ordinary Synod on Marriage to be held in Rome in October of this year, and to ask women of faith to dig into their own storehouse of memories to discern what treasures God has entrusted to them—treasures of incomparable value to the life of the Church. Although the headlines on any given day would remind us of the crisis the West in its understanding of marriage, our own encounters and experiences in recent years do not only give flesh to those concerns, but also provide lamps of hope and stability in a darkened landscape. While most statistics are indeed troublesome, the witness of persons of faith truly show what the grace of God can do to alleviate the difficulties.
This would be an excellent time to answer the call specifically given to women in the closing documents of the Second Vatican Council: “The hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of women is being acknowledged in its fullness, the hour in which women acquire in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved. That is why, at his moment when the human race is undergoing so deep a transformation, women imbued with a spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid humanity in not falling.”
It is interesting that those words were written in exactly fifty years ago—at the same time that the feminist movement was gaining traction in the West, and when so many currents in popular culture were coalescing in ways that would undermine marriage, the family, and the human person. Strident feminist voices agreed that the influence of women should finally be felt, but their methodology proved antithetical to the intentions of the Council Fathers. Feminists also appealed to the experiences of women—not in the light of authentic revelation or communion with men—but rather in isolation from God and neighbor, encouraging women to prioritize the self at the expense of others, promoting a myopic view of femininity that was as distorted as it was toxic to the wider community.
Considering the particular rebellion we have sown, which has reaped for us myriad trials, tears, and trauma beyond the usual inheritance of sin, women should now reflect on what a culture ought to prioritize for the good of each person. Decades of mistaken choices can be redeemed only if they are wrapped in contrition and laid on the altar; there God will enfold them in his own Passion and restore them as newfound fonts of wisdom. As Father Landry suggests, we need to look to Mary—“emulating her contemplative heart”—in order to discover God’s plan, which depends on strong and holy marriages. In the coming year, this column will consider the major themes that will constitute the work of the Ordinary Synod, but surely those truths are self-evident in the lives of women who know God and his great mercy. Let’s work diligently to share them with the rest of the Church, beginning with those we love.