Monday, November 25, 2013

Mary - the Mother of EVERY Christian, Intercedes for Us in Heaven

In my last post on the Blessed Mother I shared the Catholic conviction that Mary has been empowered by the Spirit to act as mother, not just to Jesus, but to every member of His Mystical Body.  We saw how in the Book of Revelation (12:1,17) the Woman, the Mother of the Messiah, was the Mother of all believers.  We saw it in John's Gospel when Jesus looked down at Mary and John from the Cross, “Woman, there behold your son! ... Behold, your mother!” (John 19:26-27).  

Of course, Revelation's mention of "the Woman," and Jesus addressing Mary as such, takes us back to the first pages of the Bible, to the prophecy of the Woman whose seed would crush the head of the serpent, Satan (Gen 3:15).  We are taken back to Eve, the "mother of all the living" (Gen 3:20), and led to recognize Mary as the New Eve, the Mother of all those raised to life in the New Adam, her Son (Rom 5:12-21). The early Church understood this clearly. When we look at the writings they left behind, the contrast between Mary and Eve immediately comes to the fore:
Eve, a virgin and undefiled, conceived the word of the serpent, and bore disobedience and death. But the Virgin Mary received faith and joy when the angel Gabriel announced to her the glad tidings that the Spirit of the Lord would come upon her (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, 155 A.D.)  
The knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. What the virgin Eve had bound in unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosed through faith. (Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, Against Heresies Book III, 180-199 A.D.) 
Eve had believed the serpent; Mary believed Gabriel. That which the one destroyed by believing, the other, by believing, set straight. (Tertullian, The Flesh of Jesus Christ, 210 A.D.). 
The main way Mary exercises her maternal care for us is to intercede, to pray for us and with us, to her Son.  I know this sets off alarms for my Protestant brothers and sisters - and I was right there with them a couple of decades ago - so let me take some time to explain how this belief comes to us from Scripture:

Each of us, at some point, has asked someone else for their prayers. Prayers, offered for the ones we love here on earth, are acts of love. This does not interfere with Jesus’ sole mediation (1 Timothy 2:5) between the Father and humanity in the least; we intercede as members of Jesus. If that is true for us still being formed in His image, then how much more so for our brothers and sisters in heaven? This was the belief of God’s people even under the Old Covenant. We are told of the vision granted to the Jewish freedom fighter, Judas Maccabeus (although tragically, this text is no longer found in Protestant editions of the Bible):
He cheered [his soldiers] by relating a dream, a sort of vision, which was worthy of belief. What he saw was this: Onias, [the deceased] high priest, a noble and good man, of modest bearing and gentle manner, one who spoke fittingly and had been trained from childhood in all that belongs to excellence, was praying with outstretched hands for the whole body of the Jews. Then likewise a man appeared, distinguished by his grey hair and dignity, and of marvelous majesty and authority. And Onias spoke, saying, “This is a man who loves the brethren and prays much for the people and the holy city, Jeremiah, the prophet of God” (2 Maccabees 15:11-14). 
It is my conviction that Scripture gives us many additional reasons to believe that those around God’s throne have our prayers “in hand.”
At once I was in the Spirit, and lo, there a throne stood in heaven with one seated on the throne!...Round the throne were twenty-four thrones and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders (Revelation 4:2,4)… each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the [earthly] saints (Rev 5:8).
So who are the twenty-four elders around the throne? “Elder” is used in the Bible only in reference to human beings. In the passage of Scripture just quoted John related his vision of heaven: members of the Body of Christ surrounding the throne of God, offering up the prayers of the earthly saints.

Since our departed brothers and sisters are even closer to the Lord, they have a perfected capacity to love us. What better way would there be for them to love us then to intercede on our behalf? The saints in heaven do have the earthly Church in mind; in the Book of Revelation John also said:
I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and the witness they had borne; they cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before thou wilt judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?” Then they were… told to rest a little longer, until their brethren should be complete, who were killed as they themselves had been (Rev 6:9-11).
We find the martyrs crying out to God to bring judgment, to intervene on behalf of the Church and vindicate those who had already given their lives. God revealed to them that more brothers and sisters would be martyred before judgment came. Did you catch that? God allowed the heavenly saints to have information about the earthly saints, that more were to be killed. It is a precedent, a biblical example of those in heaven having information about us on earth.

I think it is reasonable to assume the heavenly saints are often interceding before we even ask. But isn’t that the case with Christians we know on earth as well? Surely you have asked someone, maybe your mother, to pray for you - knowing full well that you are always in her prayers. So why do you ask? Because it brings you relief, as well as calls her prayers to focus on a particular matter. Catholics and Eastern Orthodox asking their heavenly brothers and sisters to pray has a variety of benefits: it assures us of powerful intercession; it gives us the security flowing from agreement in prayer (Matt.18:20), and it fosters our love for siblings we will spend eternity with. Against such things there is no law, no Scriptural mandate to the contrary. Instead we find St. Paul teaching about the interrelation of all Christians:
I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family, in heaven and on earth derives its name (Eph 3:14, NIV). 
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit… there [should] be no discord in the body…the members [should] have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together (1 Cor 12:12-13; 25-26).
Think about the image of the Body. When your hand is injured and in need of care, doesn’t it send the message to your brain via a series of neurons? When in need I want as many neurons in the Body of Christ firing as possible. Consider these two passages in light of each other:
You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem…to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect (Heb 12:22-23). 
The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective (James 5:16; NIV). 
They don't come any more righteous than our Blessed Mother!

When some people talk about Mary and the other saints' intercession, they make it sound as if they somehow change God's mind.  "God might be saying 'no' to your prayers, but if Mary asks him, then He'll say 'yes' to her."  That is horrible theology, and not the position of the Church! No one twists God's arm.  Why does God sometimes delay in answering a prayer until we invite Mary and the saints to pray with us?  My own belief is that God leads us to these prayer partners, and responds to our combined intercession, to build bonds within His family - bonds we will live out for the rest of eternity. One of the reasons praying with Mary is so widespread is because God wants each of us to know our mother!

How can you start praying with Mary?  I can't think of a better, more Scriptural place to begin than the Hail Mary:

Hail Mary, Full of Grace,
The Lord is with thee [Luke 1:28].
Blessed are thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus [Luke 1:42].
Holy Mary, Mother of God [Luke 1:42]
Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

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