Mary's Journey: Agony and Ecstacy

As a woman, I think I feel anxiety, worry, and restlessness at least 70% of the day (50% on good days). We want so much, need so much, and we don’t ever feel satisfied because we desire so much. We all experience a fair share of agony and not a lot of ecstasy amidst the hustle and bustle of life. On the feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I was contemplating on Mary who dealt with her share of joy and sorrow. I want to reflect on the following three events in Mary’s life.

-The Annunciation

-The Birth of Jesus

-The Crucifixion of Jesus

Mary experienced both agony and ecstasy in these instances and she pondered all these things in her heart. What do we do when life gets too much and the yearning in our hearts gets too painful? We ponder and we must also learn to remember. Just like Mary, we must remember that life is but a fleeting moment. All we have on this earth is now.

The Annunciation

When the angel of the Lord appeared to Mary to tell her that she would bear a son, she replies saying “Here I am the servant of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). It is easy to romanticize this scene- Mary is praying, the angel appears and Mary says yes excitedly. The Word of God tells us that “Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be” (Luke 1:29). Mary was left with more questions and more wondering. Mary remembered angel Gabriel’s announcement that she would give birth to the Son of God. She did not say yes because she completely understood what was told to her or what would come. She said yes because of her faith in God. Her “yes” at the Annunciation was not the first “yes” that she would utter in her life, nor would it be the last.  There was such hope for her people. Her womb would carry such promise for the future. All of this depended on a teenage girl. No pressure!

Her thoughts went to her parents and Joseph. What will they think about her pregnancy? What will the community say about her honour? Will they believe her when she says her Son was conceived by the Holy Spirit? After she returned from Elizabeth’s home, she heard the whispers and saw the condescending nods of disapproval. She felt the deep pain of betrayal when she witnessed old friends become strangers as they ostracized her family because of gossip and rumours. Mary was not shaken by this hardship and did not let her fear stop the will of God.

The Birth of Mary’s son, Jesus

Mary remembered Joseph’s dreams. She recollects fleeing with Joseph to protect the child in her womb. When Jesus’ life was in jeopardy, Mary and Joseph had to flee to Egypt and succumb to the scorching heat. The flight into Egypt is where Mary realized that thousands of innocent babies were killed in Bethlehem and her son was spared.  Her son was not safe. She was weak from the travel – morning sickness and body pain plagued her. Food was scarce in the desert. Mary, although pregnant, did not let her fear stop the will of God. She had great fortitude in the face of adversity. She, too, suffered for love and was able to turn her suffering into beauty.

Mary recounted the shepherd’s arrival and the star on top of the manger and she remembered the wise men’s gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Mary experienced bearing her child into a world of pain and poverty. But she and Joseph still experienced deep joy and peace as they witnessed their son for the first time. It was a deep honour to experience life with Jesus and Mary was able to witness the first cry, the first step, the first word. She knew every scrape, and every fall. Mary remembered 12-year-old Jesus in His Father’s house. As Jesus grew to be the man He was destined to be, Mary witnessed his journey. She walked with Him and witnessed His first miracle when water was transformed to wine. Mary reminisced about the miracles, healing and the teaching of her Son.

The Crucifixion of Jesus

At the foot of the cross, Mary stood and watched her only beloved son bleed to death. I wonder what was going on in her heart — deep confusion, numbness, frustration, sorrow beyond comparison. Standing below her precious flesh-torn, and blood drenched Son, Mary waited and prayed. Mary heard passer-by’s insult and old neighbours yell “Crucify Him!” She heard the hammer hit the nails, and she heard the guards mock and taunt Jesus. “He could save others but he can’t save himself” (Matthew 27:42). She saw the fear of the other thieves also crucified, and she saw the Roman spear pierce His side. Mary felt the labour of His breathing and her chest ached with His. She groaned as he suffered and felt the dagger pierce her heart from Simeon’s prophesy just as it pierced Jesus’ side. For hours she watched her Son nailed to the cross Mary accepted and accompanied Jesus, even when He was ridiculed, tortured and died as a criminal and among criminals. She then receives His body in to her arms which is finally placed in the tomb.

If I were Mary, I would have asked: “where are you God? Where were you when Your Son was murdered?” It is difficult to imagine God’s presence surrounding the tragedies in our lives. How can a merciful God stand back and allow suffering to ravage us? How can God stand by while mere humans tortured His Beloved Son? “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Her thoughts returned to that cornucopia of pleasant memories for the comfort she so deserved. Remembering was a form of catharsis for Mary. Out of His death, came new life for us. Out of sorrow comes joy. Out of agony comes ecstasy.

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Mary treasured God’s promises in her heart. Her trust in God got her through the excruciating agony that she bore in her heart. Just like God did for Mary, God calms the waves of doubt during the storms of our life. The storm may not be removed, though thunders roar and oceans rage, God’s promise will help us to hold steady as life’s difficulties wash over us. Be still, dear heart. Remember how loved you are. Recollect His promises. Rest in the ache and the groaning. The tumultuous agony reminds us of the eternity we are destined for. Earth is not our home.