In church history, the example of faith is Abraham. As Paul says in his Letter to the Romans: “(Abraham) did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body as (already) dead (for he was almost 100 years old) and the dead womb of Sarah … rather, he was empowered by faith and gave glory to God and was fully convinced that what he had promised he was also able to do” (4:18-21).
This promise to Abraham Mary spoke of in her Magnificat: “He has remembered his promise of mercy, the promise he made to Abraham and his children forever” (Lk 1:54-55).
Mary, like Abraham, believed in what God told her. No matter how impossible it seemed, the virgin would remain a virgin and yet become a mother: the Mother of God.
In his letter about women in 1988, Blessed John Paul II wrote about Mary’s role in salvation: “The covenant begins with a woman, the ‘woman’ of the Annunciation at Nazareth,” the late pope wrote. “Herein lies the absolute originality of the Gospel: many times in the Old Testament … God addressed himself to women, as in the case of the mothers of Samuel and Samson. However, to make his covenant with humanity, he addressed himself only to men: Noah, Abraham and Moses. At the beginning of the new covenant, which is to be eternal and irrevocable, there is a woman: the Virgin of Nazareth.”
That certainly honors the faith of Mary and, through her, all women.
Before Mary, there was Ruth. She was the wife of Boaz of Bethlehem and grandmother of Jesse, the father of King David. Ruth was a foreigner, a Moabite. She was the daughter-in-law of Naomi, who was a Jew. Naomi and her husband, Elimelech, and their two sons had come to Moab because of a famine in Bethlehem. The two sons married and died, as did Elimelech. Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem alone, but Ruth would not leave the old woman. Her words are those of faithful love: “For wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried” (Ru 1:16-17).
Ruth and Naomi arrived at Bethlehem homeless and poor, just as Mary and Joseph did many generations later. Because of her loyalty to Naomi, Boaz was drawn to her and took Ruth as his wife. Thus, because of Jewish law, Naomi, a motherless widow, was blessed with a grandson. Ruth’s classic Cinderella story foreshadows the divine glory that will come to the church through the humble virgin, Mary.
Before Mary and Ruth was Eve, “the mother of all the living.” John Paul II reminded us that Eve’s story is “a proto-evangelism” foreshadowing the Gospel message of victory through Christ.
“The Catholic Encyclopedia” reminds us that, while Eve was part of the fall of humanity, she was also part of God’s plan of salvation. God, even while banishing Adam and Eve, promises that Eve’s offspring will triumph — crushing the serpent’s head — and Eve “will again be victorious.”
Mary is often referred to as “the new Eve” for this very reason. Through her faithfulness, the transgression of humanity against God is reversed and her son restores paradise to us.
As John Paul II wrote, “The comparison of Eve-Mary constantly recurs in the course of reflection on the deposit of faith received from divine revelation. … Eve, as ‘the mother of all the living’ (Gn 3: 20), is the witness to the biblical ‘beginning,’ which contains the truth about the creation of man made in the image and likeness of God, … Mary is the witness to the new ‘beginning’ and the ‘new creation’ (cf. 2 Cor 5:17), since she herself, as the first of the redeemed in salvation history, is ‘a new creation.’”
In Mary, we find the culmination of the faith of all the women in Jesus’ genealogy:
- like the matriarchs, Mary is overshadowed with the Spirit wherever her household goes;
- like the “bad girls,” Mary works with God outside the lines of the expected and finds herself a mother before she is a wife; and
- like Ruth, Mary goes to foreign lands following God’s call. Mary brings together all the women of salvation history, those named and those whose names are lost, whose faith led humanity from Eve to Jesus, the new Adam.
Sources: Muleris Dignatatem; Porta Fidei; Catechism of the Catholic Church; “The Catholic Encyclopedia”