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Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Guest Post by Fr. Tom Collins -- Mary as Co-Redemptrix Part II: The Mystery of Redemption

Editors Note: See the Premises and Foundations for this article here and Part I here

From this covenant perspective, a beautiful dimension of the mystery of the Redemption becomes more evident. Scripture is quite clear in stating the fact that Jesus died for us because God loved us (John 3:16, Rom. 5:10, I Jn 4:19). Jesus' death on the cross did not cause God to love us, since God is beyond the control of the cause-effect dynamic. Thus the Redemption is not an act of appeasing the anger of a wrathful God, but rather the epiphany of the merciful God in the midst of the mercy-less condition that festers in the heart of sinful humanity. This condition of the human heart is the consequence of our free choice to reject a covenantal life with God and with one another. In the mystery of the Redemption, each human person is given the opportunity to break away from the power of sin and, by God's mercy, be restored to the status of membership in His covenant family. In the process, the redeemed are given the strength to break away from the corrupting "covenant" of sin; i.e., the tendency to commit one's self to the perverted fellowship of complicity with the spirits of evil, such as lust, envy, pride, avarice, anger, gluttony and sloth for the sake of some transient pleasure or advantage. 

The righteousness of God, then, is not fulfilled by compounding the evil of sin with the evil of death and damnation. Rather, God's justice is realized by His overthrowing the oppressive power of those evil spirits, which keep us from recognizing and reverencing the image of God in ourselves, in one another and in the covenantal communion of Christ's Mystical Body, the Church. Thus, the intensity and variety of sufferings which Jesus endured in His saving passion were not an indication of how intense was the Father's wrath toward sinful humanity. Rather, they revealed to us how perduring and intense is God's desire to reconcile us to Himself in spirit and in truth. In spite of the repeated and horrific abuses endured in His passion, Jesus continues to affirm His merciful love for us. He was telling us, by word and example, "No matter how terrible, festering and numerous are your sins and the evil they bring upon others, I want to forgive, heal and renew you in My grace". Our sinful humanity expects that enough abuse will show that there is a limit to God's desire to forgive and heal us. Yet, through the long ordeal of crucifixion, Jesus continues to reaffirm that His love is greater than the cruelty and perversion of our sin. And in rising from the dead, He again continues to reaffirm His call for conversion, reconciliation and healing.

It is important to stress here the unique participation of Mary in the sacrificial death of her Son on Calvary. It must be emphasized that only the Person of the God-Man, Jesus, was capable of effecting our redemption by His kenosis­ – His emptying Himself in an eternal sacrifice of praise, since of all human beings. Jesus alone is God. But the fact that He is totally and intimately invested, required that His death for our salvation be not an individualistic task, but a covenantal ministry of unconditional and irrevocable obedience to the will of the Father. Thus, His sufferings and death for our salvation are fruitful ministries, in which all the faithful, especially His Blessed Mother, are called to obediently participate. 

Josef Janssens -- early 20th century
And so it is that we see Mary standing in torment for six long agonizing hours at the foot of the cross (Mk 15:25,33). In profound agony and grief, she witnesses the violation of the body of her Son by pagan soldiers, the leaders of her people sadistically ridiculing her Son as He helplessly endures the excruciating ordeal of crucifixion, the noticeable absence of most of His apostles, and the spiritual turmoil that came upon her Son and His disciples who wondered why God did not intervene to save His Chosen One. Mary was anything but immune from the sufferings endured by her Son that day. With a profound compassion that only a mother could fully appreciate, she was intimately united with her Son in His suffering and death and in His prayer, "Father, forgive them! For they know not what they are doing." 

Since this is such an important aspect of the mystery of the Redemption, we should again address the
issue of the relative silence of the Holy Scriptures concerning Mary's unique relationship with both her Son and His mission. It should be pointed out that, although the Sacred Scriptures proclaim to us the mystery of God's gracious gift to us in Christ, they do not claim to exhaust that mystery. Rather, they clearly testify that the vast majority of Jesus' life was spent in the obscurity of Nazareth and that all the books in the world could not contain a full accounting of the ministry and mystery of Christ. The truths of the Holy Scriptures are given in a way that requires the believer to be constantly and totally receptive to the transcendent dimensions of Divine Revelation, since spirituality is a divinely guided art of discerning subtleties that are pregnant with new and more profound possibilities. One seeking impressive arguments or spectacular signs in order to believe would be rejecting the prayer, struggle and suffering required by authentic discernment. 

Greg Olsen -- 20-21sr century
For example, the reaction of the Jews in Nazareth to Jesus' preaching strongly indicates that He was not especially noted for extraordinary holiness in His younger days. Thus He was rejected, since He would not indulge their lust for excitement and novelty. Likewise, cynics legitimately point out that one of the central mysteries of our Faith, the Resurrection of Jesus, was not actually witnessed by anyone. The guards saw the empty tomb revealed when the stone in front of it was rolled back during an earthquake. And all that the disciples saw were the empty tomb, the angels announcing the Resurrection and the risen Christ showing them that He was alive. But no one saw the actual event. And so the lack of Scriptural texts addressing a particular article of faith cannot, in itself, be used to deny the validity of that truth.

From the above, we can see that, by understanding of Mary's ministry as Co-Redemptrix in the light of the covenantal nature of integral humanity (reflected in the nuptial "meaning", not just "function", of the human body), we can discover an important corrective for the tendency to image Jesus as a kind of altruistic rugged individualist, Who merely condescended to allow others to share in His ministry. Such a misunderstanding of Jesus has tragically lead many to either an alienated frustration or an arrogant superficiality in their spiritual lives. Although each human is called to participate in the new covenant humanity in a way that reflects his/her unique personal situation, the uniqueness of one's personal participation is never to be seen as a reason to glorify spiritual alienation by saying, "I did it all by myself". The Jesus proclaimed in the Gospel is not one who hoards all the glory He receives. Rather, He continues to give His glory to His Heavenly Father, to graciously bestow His glory on His Blessed Mother and on His bride, the Church, and even to reach out to stubborn sinners with that call to repentance whereby they can come to share in the joys of forgiveness, salvation and eternal life. His living out of the New Covenant with His Blessed Mother points out dramatically that true spirituality does not build up pride, but rather nurtures a more profound and authentic covenant communion of love.

It is also worth noting here that the covenantal nature of man and of the mystery of redemption is also indicated in at least two of the Gospels. In Luke, Mary is portrayed as being engaged to a descendent of David, Joseph (Lk 1:26-27). Yet she is also described as being a close relative of Elizabeth (Lk 1:36), who was of the daughters of Aaron (Lk 1:5). It would seem then that Mary was also of the daughters of Aaron, a Levite woman. What is intriguing is that, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, the Davidic ancestry of Jesus is traced to Joseph, who is clearly not His biological father, and not to Mary. A clue to this apparent discrepancy can be found in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus (Matt1:1-17). In that genealogy, four women are mentioned, all of whom were not originally Israelites. Rather, with the exception of Tamar’s unorthodox method of fulfilling the levirate custom, they were brought into the genealogy by their covenantal/marital relationship with one of the ancestors of Joseph. As an aside, it is noteworthy that, in the tradition of the Orthodox Church, the discrepancies in the two genealogies is resolved by noting the reality of levirate marriage, whereby a man would generate offspring for the sake of his deceased brother. So it would seem that Mary’s participation in the Davidic line was at least confirmed, if not initiated, through her covenantal betrothal and marriage to Joseph.

In light of this covenantal nature of man and of redemption, we need to re-examine some serious spiritual errors with regard to the nature of the ministries to which we are called by God. Contrary to the literalistic interpretations' poetic expressions of one's desire to be totally at the disposal of God's will, Jesus does not "use" believers like inanimate tools to accomplish His plans. Instead, He reverently and graciously invites them into a deepening communion with Himself in His ministry of reaching out to sinful humanity with His saving grace. He calls upon His faithful disciples to manifest in their lives the presence of God's faithful and eternal Love. Such communion and ministry necessarily requires one to participate in the redemptive sufferings of Jesus. But by centering one's attention not on the pain of the cross, but rather on Jesus, with Whom one has the privilege of being crucified, a person is renewed in the Spirit of love, joy and peace even in the face of the most difficult forms of suffering. Similarly, true believers are not merely spiritual parasites, which draw life from Jesus but do not invest themselves into His life and mission. Rather, they are, through Baptism, actually members of the Body of Christ. Each one participates in a unique way in the sacred mysteries of the life, sufferings, death and resurrection of God the Son, and thus comes to fully participate in that new covenant-humanity, which is the image of the covenantal Triune God.

We could continue by examining how this covenantal nature of integral humanity would shed some
intriguing new light on some interesting dilemmas in Sacred Scripture - such as, why does the genealogy of Jesus end with Joseph (who is a father to Jesus not by flesh, but by a marriage covenant with Mary); why did Jesus' humanity need to be perfected (Heb 5:9) through His suffering and death; how do we understand the divine inspiration of the human authors of the Holy Scriptures, which seem to have gone through a redaction in the covenant community of God’s people); and why is the Church's self-emptying evangelization of all humanity not merely an extraneous charitable work, but a necessary ongoing dynamic for the healthy development of a covenant community of believers. 

But for the sake of brevity, we must simply repeat that God's creation of man in His image and likeness was the creation of a kenosis covenant communion of persons freely giving themselves to one another in love, respect, trust and gratitude in obedience to the will of God. Sin brought alienation and death into this covenant communion, which is called "man". Grace, given to us through repentance and faith by our baptism into covenant communion with Jesus in His saving life, death and resurrection, enables us to break free of the alienation and deception of sin. In this way, we can live in the freedom of God's children, and the grace of God continues to build up the covenant community of redeemed humanity in authentic repentance, reconciliation, faith, hope and love.

I mentioned earlier that the solemn declaration that Mary is Co-Redemptrix would foster, rather than inhibit, further ecumenical dialogue. The reason for this optimism is that the perfection of Jesus' work of redemption is manifested in the consequences of that work. Perfect salvation is not evidenced by a soul still caught up in the power of sin and concupiscence. Thus for us to affirm that Jesus has saved us, we must also affirm that He has not merely engaged in a sophisticated cover up, whereby our sins are hidden from the Father's scrutiny. Such divine deception or duplicity would be impossible for an all-knowing God. For Jesus to perfectly attain salvation for us would require that this perfection of salvation be manifested in at least one person's life. Otherwise, it would only be a theoretical or imaginary salvation. The person who shows to us how absolute is the salvation Jesus has won for us is His Blessed Mother. 

Furthermore, if one aspect of this salvation is a complete authentic communion with Jesus (rather than remaining alienated from, though “redeemed” by, Jesus), then Mary must also intimately share in a fellowship of life and ministry with her Son. He Who perfectly fulfilled the commandment, "Honor your father and your mother", by being obedient to the Father unto death, also honored His mother by blessing her with the highest degree of Divine intimacy a creature could possibly receive. And this intimacy necessarily involved her intimate cooperative participation in the mission of her Son - to glorify the Father by bringing the image and likeness of God to perfection in all aspects of our shared humanity. 

Those who find it difficult to accept Mary's cooperative participation in the mystery of the Redemption may be able to appreciate it in light of the broader context of the mission given by Christ to evangelize the world. Most Christians accept the fact that evangelization is a necessary ministry of the Church. But they often overlook the fact that the human cooperation of the evangelist, is a necessary aspect of the ministry of making the salvation won by Christ available to individual souls. Yet this truth contradicts the erroneous idea that Jesus "alone" saves us. Jesus is the unique God-Man, the sine qua non of Redemption, but His uniqueness does not alienate Him from us, rather it enables Him to enter into a holy communion with us in a way that transcends the superficial and corrupt "mess of pottage" offered by those who define community in terms of complicity, rather than of conversion. 

The Body of Christ shares in the ministry of evangelization and the work of redemption through prayer and sacrifice.
To deny the validity of human cooperation in the work of redemption, and thus the validity of the ministry of evangelization, since Jesus "alone" saves souls from sin, would be to deny the very words of Jesus, Who sent His apostles and disciples to proclaim the Gospel and to baptize people of all nations. To endorse the denial of the need for human cooperation in the work of redemption would be to assert that one's proclaiming the Gospel is a "sin" of affirming the need of human cooperation for the mystery of redemption to be effective in a person's life. It is rather obvious that such a perspective of the Church's mission would be seriously flawed, in that it would distort the doctrine of salvation by Jesus alone into a doctrine of salvation by Jesus aloof from all human cooperation. The denial of the need for human cooperation in the mystery of redemption would even call into question the validity of one's accepting Jesus as Savior and Lord, which require a minimum act of human cooperation, in order for Christ's saving power to be effective in a person's life. And so, all that the Church would be affirming in the doctrine of Mary as Co-Redemptrix is that, by the grace of God, Mary cooperates in a pre-eminent way in the mission and ministry of her Son. Her words, "Do whatever He tells you" are the foundation of all authentic Christian spiritual direction. Likewise, such a doctrine would help to remind us that the fruit of a truly Christian spirituality, as exemplified by Our Savior Himself, is not a pharisaical pride in one's accomplishment, but rather a deepening, reverent and grateful communion with Christ in seeking to do the will of our Heavenly Father. 

In a special way, such a doctrine would help to emphasize that Christians are, by the gracious love and mercy of God, members of the Body of Christ, and not merely parasites sucking life from Christ. In light of such a great salvation given to us by our Lord and already perfectly received by our Blessed Mother, all Christians can rejoice in the fact that God, Who is mighty, is indeed doing great
things for us, in us and through us by the grace given to us through our communion with Jesus, His Son.

As a concluding thought, it should be noted that, in God’s plan of salvation, the Good News and saving mystery of the crucified and risen Christ are ministered to humanity in and through His Church by the grace of the Holy Spirit. But the Person of Jesus has come to the world through Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus it is that we profess that the human nature taken by God the Son in the mystery of the Incarnation is the fruit, and not merely a product, of her womb – since fruit comes from the very being of another and is not merely something processed through another. Since no one comes to the Father except through the Person of Jesus, and the Father, in His infinite wisdom, has ordained that the Person of Jesus come to the world through Mary (living fully in the covenantal life of sanctifying grace), it is only through a holy union with Mary that we will be able to properly receive and appreciate the gift of the Father offered to us in Jesus. Indeed, it is only through her, with her and in her, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, that God the Father bestows the greatest honor and glory on us in the Person of Jesus Christ, her Son and Our Lord. 

The profound spiritual awareness aroused by this truth will help us to keep Gospel principles from becoming divorced from the Person of Jesus, and thus tarnished by accommodation with social conventions. Likewise, it will enable us to be renewed in a spirit of grateful reverence that will keep sacramental actions from being seen as merely empty rituals that have only subjectively functional value in the midst of our modern culture of short-sighted pragmatism. 

Fr. Thomas R. Collins

ADDENDUM – We often honor Mary as our Mother, Model, Mentor, Mediatrix, and Intercessor. However, it is also worth noting that, in God’s gracious and mysterious plan of salvation, she carries out another ministry, that of Integrator.

After she conceived Jesus in her womb, by the very fact of her being His Mother, she was initiated into an awesome dynamic of integrating creation into the body of Christ. According to the order God established in Creation, a mother is the one through whom creation is integrated into the child developing in her womb. Through her, the nutrition required to have her child develop is purified and integrated into the child’s body. Only in this way can the child develop during the nine months of gestation. Likewise, after childbirth, a mother integrates the nutrition of Creation into her nursing infant, providing not only sustenance, but also antibodies needed to protect her child from disease. As the child continues to develop, his mother and father continue the process of nurturing his body and of integrating their familial, linguistic and cultural heritage into their child’s life. Thus it is that Jesus grew in wisdom, maturity and grace in obedience to the ongoing care and guidance offered through Mary and Joseph.
It should also be noted here that, during the Passion of her Son, Mary had to witness the multidimensional ways, by which humanity was inflicting the spiritual and physical sepsis of its sins into the soul and body of her Son. Due to sin, all humanity could do was inflict or impose the septic wounds of its sins on Him. This bacterial sepsis manifested the spiritual sepsis so viciously and violently inflicted upon His Body by the sins of humanity. But, through the gracious fidelity of the Holy Spirit, Mary was able to open the way for humanity to break out of the quagmire of resentments and recriminations caused by sin. Through her covenantal communion with Jesus and His mission, she was able stand*at the foot of His cross to assist in humbly, sorrowfully, reverently and graciously integrating those wounds into His covenantal body, so that not only the thoughts of many hearts could be revealed (Lk 2:35), but also those horrendous wounds could be transformed into fountains of mercy and redemptive grace for all of humanity.

Mary, then, is the one through whom God willed to initiate and perpetuate the integration of all of Creation into Christ. Likewise, as the Mother of His Mystical Body, the Church, she, as Mediatrix of all graces, continues, through her Immaculate Heart, in the maternal ministry of cleansing and integrating all of Creation and all relationships into the mystery and ministries of that Mystical Body.

In the mystery of salvation, God thus wondrously raises natural dynamics to a sanctifying and supernatural level. So it is that, by simple devotions like the Rosary, we are able to allow Mary to so purify and clarify our perspectives and attitudes as to integrate all more completely and perfectly into the mystery of Christ, as so beautifully proclaimed by St. Paul in Gal 4:4-5, Eph 1:7-14 and Col 1:15-23. In this ministry, she is the spiritual mentor of holy Mother Church in her ongoing mission of purifying and integrating all dimensions of humanity into the Mystical Body of Christ.

*Note that, with His feet nailed to the cross, Jesus was standing on the cross, since crucifixion required that the victim go through the agony of regularly pushing himself up with his legs to avoid suffocation.

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