Mary, you are great because of your relationship
with your Son and fidelity to the will of God.
May I seek no other greatness.
If we encountered the mother of our Lord in the street as a young woman of Nazareth, would we recognize her greatness? She who was set apart by God (made holy) for the accomplishment of His will wasn’t accompanied by retinues nor carried on litters. We would simply see a young mother going about her daily duties in service to her family—shopping in the market, collecting water, washing garments, et al. Just as our Lord was like us in all ways but sin (Heb 4:15), so was she among us in her ordinariness (Mark 6:2-4).
I picture the opening scenes from “Beauty and the Beast” where Belle walks through the town showing kindness to all around her but is misunderstood by those same people. We have a tendency to see the world through our own prismatic lenses and our selfishness blinds us to holiness in our midst. We might practice civility toward others with a hope of future reward or favor but it’s difficult to imagine the selflessness of true love. We tend to be suspicious of solicitude.
Many saints have had to battle upstream against the selfishness of those in the Church who should have recognized their holiness. Humility threatens the proud.
When the Angel Gabriel came to Mary in the Annunciation (Luke 1:28), he called her “highly favored one.” This is a clumsy translation of the Greek word kecharitomene. We tend to refer to her as “full of grace” when we pray the Hail Mary. “Full of grace” is literally translated from the Greek pleres charitos and is applied to Jesus (1:14) and St Stephen (Acts 6:8). This usage is a state of being. Technically, anyone who was recently baptized or received the sacrament of reconciliation is pleres charitos (Catholic Answers). Although prayed daily, this phrase is missing something inherent in the word used for Mary.
Kecharitomene is a usage in past perfect tense… meaning that the action of giving grace has already occurred. It was not something anticipated in her or even a current state but something that had already been accomplished. She is not just “full of grace”—grace is a part of who she is because the Angel also uses the term as a title. It’s not just an action, it’s an identity (Catholic Answers).
When Scripture records that she was troubled by the greeting of the Angel (Luke 1:29), it isn’t because she didn’t understand it. She understood it and it bothered one so humble to be greeted so highly.
The greatness of God is shown in our weakness…
“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).
The greatest in the Kingdom are the least in our world…
“Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18:3-4).
Being full of the grace of God, she was endowed with the fruit of the Holy Spirit. It is in her nature to be faithful, kind, good, patient, modest, joyful, generous, chaste, peaceful, and gentle (Gal 5:22-23). She reflects the love of God in her being. I know some will take issue with me saying that she is good—as our Lord said, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone” (Luke 18:19). Mary is good in that she brings God with her to us. As she came to Elizabeth with Christ in her womb (Luke 1:43), she is identified with her Son. She also brings us with her to God as she directed the stewards to be obedient to her Son (John 2:5). She exemplifies the goodness available to all of us… to bring others to the knowledge of God.
Why do we reject holiness? It could be the same reason that many modern Catholics miss the holiness of the Mass itself—we don’t allow it to change us. We come with selfish hearts and are not open to the graces poured out for us. Holiness confronts our selfishness. The graces offered through the Eucharist are immeasurable from our infinite God but our ability to receive them depends upon our openness to His will. The struggle within us is between our will and His. In the Annunciation, Mary had to agree. In His love for us, God requests our cooperation rather than forcing our will. He can be very persuasive (as with Jonah) but He will not control us. We must make our own choices to love Him who is love personified.
In all ways, Mary is a vessel for the will of God. She is our model of faith. We call her holy because she was set apart by God for the accomplishment of His will. Does it trouble you to call her holy? If the Land our Lord walked on is holy (Matt 4:5); if His mountain is holy (Is 56:7); if His Temple is holy (1 Chron 29:3); if His people are holy (Deut 7:6)… then how holy is the one was chosen for Him, who bore Him in her womb, held Him in her arms, raised Him to be a man, and was with Him through the major moments of His life? She was first to love Him and first to follow Him. God’s will was done through her because she gave her will over to Him. God respects our free will and wants the affirmation of our choices. He wants us to act out of love for Him just as He acts out of love for us.
What the Catholic faith believes about Mary is based on what it believes about Christ, and what it teaches about Mary illumines in turn its faith in Christ (CCC 487).
Mary is great in the Kingdom of Heaven and is unique among the saints. She is holy… set apart for the accomplishment of God’s will. She is the queen mother of the everlasting Davidic Kingdom, sitting at the right hand of the King (1 Kings 2:19). She is our mother given to us in faith and in truth (John 19:26). She is great in her humility. She seeks only the will of God and to point us to her Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus reigns in His humanity as well as His divinity. She is mother of an undivided second person of the Trinity. She is mother of God.
All of this is because she was made with a purpose and is faithful to her calling. Mary is great because of her relationship with Christ. If she were not the mother of God, we wouldn’t venerate her as we do… but she IS the mother of Jesus who is the physical incarnation of the invisible God (Col 1:15). We can’t do her greater homage or show her greater love than her own Son shows her. As we are His body at work in the world, she is our mother also.
Mary is great simply because she is the mother of Jesus and she said “yes” to the will of God. In her meekness, she has inherited the Kingdom. We are called to have our own relationship with Jesus and to make our own choices. At His birth, the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men of good will.” It is only through good will that men can have peace.
We are, each of us, who God made us to be. We were made to be conduits of the grace of God. I can’t be the mother or Father of our Lord—those roles are unique in all of creation. What I can do is work on my own relationship with Him—and relationships take work. I can encounter Him in His Word, receive Him in the Eucharist, and work for Him by serving those made in His image and likeness. My relationship with Him will be as unique as I am. May humility be the only greatness I desire. May my will be to accomplish the will of God.
What is the will of God?
We urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, cheer the fainthearted, support the weak, be patient with all. See that no one returns evil for evil; rather, always seek what is good [both] for each other and for all. Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything; retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil (1 Thess 5:14-22).