The month of May, which is traditionally dedicated to the Blessed Mother, also coincides with the celebration of Mother’s Day in North America. Classic depictions of the Blessed Mother often focus on her softer and more feminine qualities as a mother and protector of Jesus. She is often portrayed in flowing robes, with a serene countenance and with the infant Jesus slightly tilted outwards from her body, reminding us that her very life points to Jesus, just as ours should.
But we also find classic and contemporary imagery of Mary stepping on the head of a serpent, reminding us that Mary is also a fierce protector in crushing darkness and evil. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI reflected on this truth during the Angelus in 2009, stating that “after the original sin, God addresses the serpent, which represents Satan, curses it and adds a promise: ‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel’ (Gn 3: 15).”
The retired pope then goes on to remark that the Virgin Mary “of whom was born Jesus Christ who, with his sacrifice, defeated the ancient tempter once and for all. This is why in so many paintings and statues of the Virgin Immaculate she is portrayed in the act of crushing a serpent with her foot.”
Yes, the Blessed Mother was docile and gracious, but she is also fearless and fierce. Mary not only helps us to be faithful in leading us to her son, but also helps us to stay the course in living a good Christian life. While it has not become popular in recent years to reference Satan and his evil works, the presence of evil is something that all Catholics need to be aware of and resist. In this, the Blessed Mother comes to our aid. We can call upon her help and protection when we face darkness or attacks such as:
Dismissal: God our Father knows us and has created us for relationship with him. Isaiah 43:1 reminds us the Lord calls each one of us personally, “I have called you by name and you are mine.” The evil one uses and discards people, but Jesus upholds the value of every life. Mary’s own life reveals that no one is too small in God’s plan of redemption for it is in our “littleness” that we are made great in Jesus Christ.
Distortion: Mary’s life is a model of simplicity and truth. She heard God’s call, responded ‘yes’ with her whole life and fixed her eyes, heart and mind on God. The evil one tries to convince us with empty lies and distortion. Mary reminds us that God’s promises are eternal.
Distraction: Mary never wavered from the path of holiness. She journeyed with Jesus from the stable to the foot of the cross and on into eternal life. The evil one detracts and distracts. Mary remained focused and faithful, just as we should.
Duplicity: One of the hallmarks of evil is duplicity and deceit. Satan is known as “the father of lies” for he tries to plant seeds of deceit and disruption in our lives. The Blessed Mother will protect us from falling prey to this deceit if we ask for her to cover us in her mantle of truth.
Disunity: God’s plan for our lives is perfect. Although we may not always understand this plan, or indeed be faithful to it, God’s love for us and the world constitutes a perfect order. Disunity and disorder are characteristics of the evildoer. Traditional titles for the Blessed Mother include “Queen of Peace” and “Cause of Our Joy.”
Discouragement. One of the primary ways that we are attacked by evil is through a spirit of repeated discouragement. At times, especially in the world we live in, it can be hard to live a Christian life, and we all waver and fall short. Focus on praying the Magnificat, Mary’s song of praise, which reminds us that a heart overflowing with joy and gratitude, resists the temptation of discouragement.
Despair and Destruction. Two of the titles for Mary call her “Our Lady of Highest Grace” and “Our Lady of the Holy Cross.” Mary was courageously present at the cross, which must have taken enormous strength and determination. At a time, when the disciples were afraid and many Christians had given in to despair, Mary remained hopeful and constant. She knew that evil would not have the last word and remained confident in God Our Father and Jesus’ saving and redeeming love.
The English Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, wrote the following in his poem, “The Blessed Virgin Compared to the Air We Breathe”:
Let all God’s glory through,
God’s glory which would go
Through her and from her flow
Off, and no way but so.
During this month of Mary, we will also celebrate Pentecost. The Blessed Mother bridges the pain of the cross to the renewing action of the Holy Spirit. Let’s ponder God’s glory in a new way through renewing our relationship with the Blessed Mother.
Stanz is director of parish life and evangelization for the Diocese of Green Bay and author of “Start with Jesus: How Everyday Disciples Will Renew the Church” (Loyola Press).