This is the eighth article in our On the Incarnation series for the Nativity season.
As Mary was prepared before the foundation of the world to be the Mother of God, so too were we prepared to be the children of Mary with Our Lord Jesus Christ, as the adopted children of God.
With my having grown up in an Evangelical home, it could be difficult to see how it is that I now with great gladness ask for Mary’s intercession and pray the Rosary almost daily. Having reasoned from the revelation of God in the Incarnation, I came to see how the two simple claims of historical Christian orthodoxy that Jesus is God and that Jesus derives His humanity from Mary are enough, it could be shown, to lead one to the truth of all the praises that the Church has always bestowed upon our Mother: Mother of God, Ever-Virgin, Immaculate One, Intercessor, and Queen of Heaven, all of them can be derived, by the sheer brute force of logic, from the outworking of what the Incarnation, the birth of Christ, really means.
However, for the sake of those who would not be persuaded by the coldness of the logic alone, or would get their guard up at the suggestion that sheer logical outworking of the Incarnation would forcibly compel one to accept the teaching of the Church about Mary, we will not dwell upon those arguments. It is my purpose here, rather, to give you testimony, the testimony of how a relationship with Mary has been prepared for me since childhood, though truly from the foundation of the world. It is a testimony as to how a relationship with her has begun to change my life as a Christian, especially as someone who is aspiring to the Priesthood.
Whatever possessed my father to do this, we may never know, but as a graphic artist he would often draw or put together our family’s Christmas cards. One year he drew up something which was so stunningly beautiful that words can fail to capture the pure inspiration his hands and mind must have been given. Based upon this photo (right), my father composed a drawing of Mary holding the child Jesus (below). At first I winced at the idea of being a model for Jesus—having even been a Nativity baby!—but what I failed to realize—until this conversion toward a relationship with Mary—is that my father’s drawing, if it cast me as Christ, also cast my mother as Mary. C.S. Lewis, in his classic beloved by all Evangelicals, Mere Christianity, calls Christians “little Christs;” and the inspired art based on my baby picture reminded me that every Christian is striving to be a model of Christ. But what that means, then, is that if we are all “little Christs” as Christians, then Mary is our Mother.
It is this second insight, which my father’s portrait unintentionally illustrated, that was never taught to me as an Evangelical. We would have a relationship with Christ, but we never had relationships with anyone who had relationships with Him, any Saint, or even His own Mother! It is so bizarre to dwell upon this now, but what a deprivation it must have been for all of us to never know who our Mother in Christ was! It could be likened to being married to your wife, claiming that it is the all-sufficient relationship in order to understand, without ever having known any of her siblings! How deeply could you possibly know your wife if you had never known your wife’s siblings?
Having a relationship with Jesus is cliché Evangelical language for having an active and vibrant faith, but we never drew the full implications of what a relationship with Him would mean. It would mean, like in our example of a wife, that by having such a relationship we would inevitably have a relationship with everyone who they are related to! For so much of my life, I would have said that I had a relationship with God, but I never felt toward God many of the affective emotions that I was supposed to have toward Him. I never cried for joy at God’s coming at Advent, I never cried for sorrow at Good Friday, and I never felt God’s warm embrace—my relationship with Christ, as important as it was and as transformative as it was, was so narrow, confined to the intellect and to faithful obedience.
Of course it was! It had been a relationship lived entirely without understanding that His relationships were my relationships. How deeply could one possibly feel and develop one’s relationship with Christ, if you had never known Him from the perspective of His Mother? How could I experience the joy at Christ’s coming if I did not know what Mary’s Fiat was? How could I experience the sorrow at Good Friday if I did not know the sorrow His Mother was experiencing? How could I feel God’s warm embrace if I did not know how He hugged His Mother? How could I know God’s transformation within my very own self, if I did not know how He changed the life of His Mother by indwelling her?
It is that last question that has now really penetrated my soul as I have come to realize that I would be a fraud as a priest if I could not articulate Christ’s transformation in me, like how His presence within His Mother changed her life forever. If all I knew was faithful obedience, I could be a monk. If all I knew was the transformation of my mind, I could be an academic. But if I could not say that the Holy Spirit has overshadowed me, that Christ has dwelt within me, and that I in turn wanted to give Him from my own inner self unto the world for its redemption—all of which Mary did—how could I be a Priest? The Priest is someone who shares in Christ’s humanity, giving himself unto the world, giving Christ in the sacrament of his own very self saying, “This is my body; This is my blood”—words which are said In Persona Christi but also reflective of the Priest’s sacrifice of himself to the Church.
Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, in his work, The Priest Is Not His Own, makes a striking statement about the relation of the Virgin Mary to the Priesthood, for she
… could say the words of consecration in a way no priest ever said them of that Body and Blood. As she held [Christ] she could say, as at Bethlehem, “This is my Body; this is my Blood. No one in all the world gave Him body and blood but me.” (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004: Ch. 1)
It is because Mary has this relationship to Christ, the one who gives Him humanity, that it became incumbent upon me to discover for myself how it was that I ,an aspiring priest, was to likewise continue the Incarnation in my life and for the Church as the body of Christ.
It is with the utmost thanks from me, then, that my father made that portrait, for it was my Heavenly Father’s way of preparing me to see myself as not only someone that could embody Christ, but who was blessed to have Mary as His Mother. Furthermore, as someone who is aspiring to the Priesthood in the Anglican Church, it has been an enormous blessing to begin having a relationship with my Mother, who can teach me how to have joyful and active obedience to Christ (her Fiat). She teaches me how to seek after Christ as she did with Joseph in the Temple; how to petition Christ for the needs of others as she did at the Wedding at Cana; and how to suffer with Christ as she did watching him on the Cross.
Lastly she can teach me to embrace my calling unto His Church, as she did when Christ gave her to the Beloved Disciple at the Cross.
Mary is my Mother, she has always been my Mother, as God has always been my adoptive Father; but now that we’re not so estranged I can finally begin to see, to feel, and to follow Christ in the way that she did, with my whole self: Let it be unto me according to Thy word.
See our call for articles if you would like to write for our On the Incarnation series, for which we will accept submissions until January 6, the Feast of Theophany. See the On the Incarnation section in our Archives by Author for the other reflections in this series.
Caleb Upton holds an MTh from the University of Edinburgh. He has recently joined the Anglican Church and is currently pursuing his MDiv at Trinity College in the University of Toronto. He has written for Political Theology Today and blogs at calebdupton.
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The Lord grant you a blessed completion of the Fast.