Why do we remember Mary so many times during the Christian year? We remember her, of course, because her life intersects so intimately with that of Jesus. Mary’s intimacy with Jesus begins in the flesh: God chooses her to bear the human nature of Jesus. Yet, her intimacy with Jesus extends into the spiritual: the incarnation of Christ brings about a new and promising future for both men and women. Although Jesus is male, he is more essentially human: Jesus takes on human nature and redeems it all through the Cross.
Perhaps, however, Mary’s relationship to Jesus brings about a new and promising future for women in another way. Mary, and all Jewish women, were banned from full participation in worship and the synagogue because their menstrual cycle was seen as ‘unclean’. In other religions too, with Christian practice hardly and exception, women have all too often been seen as second-class citizens because of their gender. Yet, in the words of the old prayer ‘Christ did not abhor the Virgin’s womb.’ God chooses what others see as lowly, unworthy, insignificant, even unclean, and makes Mary’s womb the throne for the salvation of the world. The Incarnation of Christ restores and reintegrates the female body into what we can see as holy. So it is that Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is also known as His first disciple: Mary is the first to follow Christ as He comes to save the world. She, like all disciples, bears Christ in her body, only she more literally than anyone else.
This, then, is why it is so important to remember and celebrate Mary. First, she is a mirror for us of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. More than that, Mary is a transparent pane of glass through which we can look to see what it means to bear Jesus in the world. Second, we remember Mary not so much because of what she did, though it was brave, but because she allows us to see God’s mercy and grace. Mary was all but nothing in the eyes of the world: poor, female, unprotected, hidden away. Yet God saw her for what she truly was: made in God’s image and capable of co-operating with His will to save the world. Remembering Mary begs the question: why do you think you cannot do the same?