Mary’s Witness to the Gospel of Life

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.

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.

Arland K. Nichols

By

Arland K. Nichols is the founding President of the John Paul II Foundation for Life and Family.

  • St JD George

    She experienced it all didn’t she, from his unexpected and blessed birth to his death and resurrection on the cross. Who better to pray to for strength and to intercede as we fight to turn the tables of Satans culture of death. Amen Arland.

  • Vinny

    God created mankind in his image;
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female* he created them.
    God blessed them and God said to them: Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.* Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that crawl on the earth. Who says women don’t have a role?????? How wrong they are. Why is creation considered bad? Husbands love your wives. Where do we all go wrong? – Vanity of vanities.

  • Dick Prudlo

    Here it is again, “the great.” Someone tell me what qualifies today and yesterday being called great?

    • St JD George

      How about being the gift of another day to go and serve the Lord.

    • JP

      No one is obligated to use that sobriquet.

    • quisutDeusmpc

      Who Were the “Great” Popes – and Why?

      By Fr. William Saunders

      Since the death of our beloved Pope John Paul II on April 2, 2005, many have been hailing him as “John Paul the Great.” Three Popes have had “the Great” appended to their names: Pope St. Leo I (reigned 440–61), Pope St. Gregory I (590–604), and Pope St. Nicholas I (858–67). But the Church has never officially pronounced these Popes as “great”; rather, they have been identified as great both by popular acclamation at the time of their deaths and by history itself.

      Shield of God
      Pope St. Leo the Great was born in Rome in the early 400s. As an acolyte, he was sent to Africa, where he met St. Augustine. He later served as a deacon for both Pope Celestine I and Pope Sixtus III. Subsequently, he was elected to succeed Sixtus and was consecrated on September 29, 440. His papacy was marked by greatness: He tirelessly preached against the heresies of Manichaeism, Pelagianism, Priscillianism, and Nestorianism.

      In particular, Leo fought against the heresy of Eutyches, who, like Nestorius, denied the hypostatic union (the union of the divine and human natures in the one divine Person of Jesus Christ). He issued his famous Tome, which condemned Eutyches and clearly taught the mystery of the Incarnation: “The true God [Jesus], therefore, was born with the complete and perfect nature of a true man; he is complete in his nature and complete in ours.”

      To settle the matter, he convoked the Council of Chalcedon in 451, at which his Tome was read and the attending bishops shouted in response, “This is the faith of the Fathers; this is the faith of the apostles; we all believe this; the orthodox believe this; anathema to him who believes otherwise. Peter has spoken through Leo.” The Council then defined that “the same Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son, must be acknowledged in two natures, without confusion or change, without division or separation.”

      Leo was also a courageous leader. In 452 he met Attila the Hun, known as “the Scourge of God,” and succeeded in saving Rome from being sacked. Tradition holds that at the meeting Attila saw Peter and Paul wielding swords above Leo, and this ominous threat motivated Attila to retreat. For this reason, Leo was called “the Shield of God.” Unfortunately, he was not as successful three years later with the Vandal Genseric, although he did persuade the barbarian not to burn Rome.

      During a time of decline for the Roman Empire, Leo sought to strengthen the Church. He suppressed surviving pagan festivals and closed the remaining pagan temples. He sent missionaries to Africa, which was being ravaged by the barbarians. He instituted many reforms, including impressing strict discipline on the bishops. Although he spoke of the papacy as “a burden to shudder at,” Leo met the challenge with great fidelity and self-sacrifice. Pope St. Leo truly deserved the title “the Great.”

      Servant of the Servants
      The next Pope called “the Great” was Pope St. Gregory. Gregory was born to a wealthy Roman family and received a classical education. He was raised in a devout and holy Christian family. His mother, Sylvia, was honored as a saint. Later, he became the prefect of Rome. During the Lombard invasion in 571, he cared for the numerous refugees who flooded the city.

      After his parents died, Gregory became very wealthy, inheriting his parents’ estate in Rome and six Sicilian estates. But in 574, three Benedictine-monk friends persuaded him to abandon the world and enter religious life. Gregory became a Benedictine and turned his parents’ home into a monastery, naming it St. Andrew’s. He sold his other estates and used the money to found monasteries and give relief to the poor. Because of his outstanding abilities, he was recruited for papal service, first as one of Pope Pelagius II’s deacons (578) and then as the papal nuncio to the Byzantine court (579–85). Afterwards, he returned to his monastery, becoming the abbot of St. Andrew’s.

      On September 3, 590, he was elected and consecrated pope. His pontificate was marked by greatness: He restored clerical discipline and removed unworthy bishops and priests from office. He protected the Jews from persecution. He fed those who suffered from famine and ransomed those captured by barbarians. He negotiated peace treaties with the barbarian invaders, converting many of them. He sponsored many missionaries, including St. Augustine of Canterbury, whom he sent to England; St. Columban, who evangelized the Franks; and St. Leander, who converted the Spanish Visigoths who were still Arians (i.e., they denied the divinity of Jesus).

      Gregory was also a great teacher. In his Liber Regulae Pastoralis, he described the duties of bishops, and this work remains necessary spiritual reading for any bishop. He recorded the lives of many saints in his Dialogues. Many of his sermons and letters are extant. He revitalized the Mass and is credited with instituting what is commonly called “Gregorian chant.” The practice of offering thirty successive Masses upon the death of a person (“Gregorian Masses”) also bears his name.

      Gregory is credited with being the founder of the medieval papacy. Despite his many accomplishments and abilities, he was a humble man. He took as his official title “Servant of the Servants of God,” the official title of the pope to this day. He is a Doctor of the Church and is considered the last of the Western Church Fathers.

      Backbone
      The last of the “greats” is Pope St. Nicholas I, who was born about 820 in Rome. Many people who know about Leo and Gregory are unaware that there is a third “great” pope. The reason is not that he has less claim to the title but simply that he is less well known. He is, nevertheless, recognized as one the “great” popes in the official list of popes in the Vatican annual, the Annuario Pontificio. He was a significant pontiff in his own age and was acknowledged as such by his contemporaries, but the decline of the papacy that followed in the ninth and tenth centuries prevented his acquiring the same status as Leo and Gregory in wider Church history.

      Nicholas’s father was an official in the papal administration. He was educated at the Lateran, served in the papal administration of Pope Sergius II, was ordained a deacon by Pope Leo IV, and was a trusted advisor to Pope Benedict III.

      Upon Pope Benedict’s death, Nicholas was elected pope on April 22, 858. He soon became known for his charity and justice. For instance, he denounced the king of Lorraine for attempting to divorce his legitimate wife to marry his mistress; not only did Benedict depose the archbishops of Cologne and Trier who permitted the invalid marriage, but he withstood the pressures of the king’s father, Emperor Louis II, to acquiesce. When the powerful archbishop of Rheims wrongfully deposed the bishop of Soissons, Nicholas ordered him reinstated. Twice he excommunicated the archbishop of Ravenna for abusing his office. Nicholas also withstood the attempts of both the patriarch of Constantinople and the Byzantine emperor to encroach upon the rights of the papacy. Without question, he courageously displayed the virtues of charity and justice.

      At a time when secular rulers not only were gaining earthly power but wanted to control the Church, he preserved the prestige and authority of the papacy. He was a champion of the poor, a patron of the arts, and a reformer of clergy and laity alike. He also sponsored missionary work to Bulgaria and to Scandinavia under the leadership of St. Ansgar. In all, he exercised his office with the highest personal integrity. He died on November 13, 867.

      When one considers the great work of these three popes, it’s easy to understand why they have come to be called “the Great.” They were great in their example of holiness as witnessed in their preaching, teaching, evangelization, and leadership—especially in times of persecution and hardship. They were genuine servants of the Lord and his Church.

      In Our Midst
      The pope most of us have known best is John Paul II. Even a partial list of his accomplishments demonstrates why some are predicting he will be another “great” pope of history.

      John Paul reigned for more than twenty-six years, the third longest pontificate. He issued the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the revised Code of Canon Law, and the revisedCode of Canons of the Eastern Churches. He wrote fourteen encyclicals, thirteen apostolic exhortations, eleven apostolic constitutions, forty-two apostolic letters, and five books. He presided over fifteen synods of bishops. His teaching covered the whole spectrum of doctrine, morals, sacraments, and spirituality.

      While many leaders in the world demand apologies, few offer them. John Paul is the only leader ever to offer a Mass imploring the forgiveness of God for wrongs committed by members of the Church (March 12, 2000). In his last encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, he encouraged devotion to our Lord truly present in the Blessed Sacrament and the reverential offering of the holy sacrifice of the Mass.

      He defended Christian morality, as noted especially in his two encyclicals Veritatis Splendor and Evangelium Vitae. He emphasized the sanctity of life from conception until natural death, the dignity of the person, and the sacredness of marriage and marital love.

      He made 104 pastoral visits outside of Italy. He invited other Christians and non-Christians to dialogue. In particular, he sought to improve relations with the Orthodox churches, hoping to bring about reconciliation and unity.

      John Paul canonized 482 and beatified 1,342. For him, the best example of holiness was the Blessed Mother, whom he mentioned at the close of each encyclical and to whom he entrusted his life, having the motto Totus tuus (“All yours”). He encouraged the faithful to pray the rosary and thereby see Jesus through the eyes of Mary.

      Before John Paul’s death, Joachim Cardinal Meisner of Cologne, Germany, was asked, “How do you think history will judge him: John Paul the Great, John Paul the Instinctive, John Paul the Charismatic, John Paul the Conservative?” He answered, “Like Leo and Gregory: John Paul the Great.” On several occasions, Pope Benedict XVI has referred to him as “the great Pope John Paul II.” Upon his death, millions stood in line for up to twenty-four hours to pay their respects to the him as his body lay in state.

      Time will tell whether “the Great” will be appended to John Paul II’s name, but in the hearts of millions of the faithful, he will always be considered great.

      Fr. William P. Saunders was ordained a priest for the diocese of Arlington in 1984. He holds a bachelor of business administration in accounting from the College of William and Mary and a master of arts in sacred theology from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. He also has a doctor of philosophy in education administration from the Catholic University of America. Currently, Fr. Saunders is the founding pastor of Our Lady of Hope Catholic Church in Potomac Falls, Virginia, and a professor of catechetics and theology for the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College.

      • Dick Prudlo

        Now that is a “great” response, Thank you

        • quisutDeusmpc

          I concur. I thought Father Saunders did a “great” job. You’re welcome, the wonders of the internet.

  • M.J .

    Amen !
    In one sense , all of us too are very much part of The Incarnation , the awesome moment of joy and love that The Bl.Mother would have had , casting away all fears ; reading the Life of Christ books by Bl.Emmerich can help one to navigate through a lot of misreadings even , about some of these exquisite details of their lives , which our modern age may be in more in need of , to pull us back from the cesspool of idolatrous focus on so called celebrities .
    It is mentioned how St.Anne had an intutive knowledge of The Incarnation, right afterwards ; would St.Joseph have been allowed to go through the trial of doubts , to strenghten the fathers who thus can relate to St.Joseph well and go to him for help !
    Some of the conflicting points can be seen in this otherwise well done article here – http://www.catholic.com/blog/michelle-arnold/the-carpenters-dilemma

    Bl.Emmerich goes into good details about what a ‘big deal ‘ Mary’s wedding was , arranged with lot of care by the temple authorities who were expecting the Messiah and even sort of guessed it to be of Mary , who grew up in the temple , how they carefully chose St.Joseph , who was not an acquaintance of Mary ; how Joseph notices the pregnancy , on Mary’s return journey from Elisabeth’s and how the angel alleviates his fears , without a word from Mary ( who, of course is carrying The Word ! )
    This part might be something that is often missed too , in our age of expecting how perfect ‘communication ‘ is mostly only talk talk between couples and can solve everything !
    Our meditating often on the love for the Christ Child, from The Father – Holy Spirit , Mary and Joseph and the child’s love , in turn for them , that each of us , all the unborn as well , being in that love , us being His ‘body ‘ – awesome mysteries that can bring such richness to our lives and to that of the littlest one in the womb as well –
    may be instead of the yoga classes and such , our churches would sponsor prayerful mediation on these life events that we have been blessed with , for us to take strenght and joy from !
    Rosary too can do same when done with enough focus and love .
    May The Spiritual Mother of all humanity speak to our hearts , as we call her , in union with all who seem to need the touch of that love , at a bit deeper level !
    An awesome God , who puts us , in the midst of the Holy Family of love and goodness – may that love and puirty flow in , into all moments of lives of all in our ives too, through our Mother of Untainted Purity !

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