For many of us, the traditional blue-and-white statues of Mary can make it hard to believe that she was a real woman with a real personality. However, the Gospels reveal that Mary was courageous, nurturing and resilient.
First of all, take the fact that she agreed to become the Mother of God. At the time of the Annunciation, she was betrothed to Joseph but had not lived with him as his wife. In accepting God’s plan, she was agreeing to become pregnant out of wedlock, making her vulnerable to charges of adultery and even to stoning under the Mosaic law. Given the possible consequences, she showed stunning courage and faith in saying “yes.”
Throughout the Gospels, Mary notices and responds to the needs of others. She makes a difficult trip to visit her pregnant cousin Elizabeth. Later, at the wedding at Cana, Mary sees that there is no more wine. Hoping to spare the bridal couple some embarrassment, she encourages Jesus to perform his first public miracle. Of course, she supports her son in a huge way by staying with him as he is executed on Calvary, when most of his friends have fled in terror.
Mary’s own words in the “Magnificat” (Luke 1:46-55) show her to be a woman who identifies with and supports the lowly: an advocate for the marginalized, if you will. Pope Paul VI, in his apostolic exhortation Marialis Cultus, explains that Mary was “far from being a timidly submissive woman or one whose piety was repellent to others; on the contrary, she was a woman who did not hesitate to proclaim that God vindicates the humble and oppressed, and removes the powerful people of this world from their privileged positions.” It’s a far cry from the pale statue with downcast eyes.
If you’re interested in exploring this question further, try re-reading the Gospel stories slowly and meditatively, reflecting on what Mary must have experienced and felt during these key moments. It’s a powerful experience and a great way to get to know the woman who, of all others, was closest to Christ.