Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Our Lady of Good Counsel

Pasquale Sarullo, Our Lady of Good Counsel

In some ways, this is the toughest subject I've ever tackled.

You see, for many years my prayer life was exiguous at best. Occasional mental quips or comments directed at God, formally praying the three or four times a year I actually went to Mass, and saying grace at dinner was the extent of it. I had forgotten the mysteries of the rosary; I'd never properly learned more than a few proper prayers (and even now there are many traditional prayers I haven't memorized).

My road back to the Church has been, for the most part, an intellectual journey. By that, I'm not making any claims to Deep Thought; I stand in awe before such illumined minds as Thomas Merton and St. John of the Cross, not to mention the inexplicable riches of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. But it's been difficult for me to pick up the habits of a life of prayer now that I'm somewhere beyond the midpoint of my life.

Where is Our Lady in all this? As I explained about a year and a half ago (you have to go to the end of the post to see it), there were things about the Blessed Mother I didn't get. Only once I started looking at the faith through the eyes of an apologist were those issues resolved. But on the visceral level, where faith truly lives … well, I already have a mother, whom I love, cherish and respect.

In this context, then, let me repeat the story I told on Mothers' Day:

Karl Keating tells the story of a priest who gave a speech at an interfaith gathering. After his speech, he talked for a bit with the minister seated beside him. During the conversation, the minister asked, "Have you made Jesus your personal savior?" The priest replied. "Yes, I have. And have you made Mary your personal mother?" The minister's jaw slackened a bit, and after a pause, he said, "I never thought of it that way before."

Keating's point is that a relationship with Jesus necessarily implies a relationship with Mary, that being a brother or sister of Christ (Rom 8:14-17) means being a child of the Blessed Virgin. At the same time, our membership in the community of saints means that, to follow Christ, we follow his first disciple, who was there at both the beginning and the end of his earthly ministry, who tells us as she told the servants at the wedding, "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:5).

Let's look back at the wedding: We can still insist that Jesus' words, "O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet arrived" (v. 4, RSV), as a rebuke and a rejection. But the actual Greek words, ti emoi kai soi, is actually a transliteration of an idiomatic expression: "What [is this] to you and me?"; that is, "How does your concern affect me" (as given in NAB)? It's also possible to read oupō hēkei hōra mou as a question: "Is my hour not arrived (i.e., isn't it time to reveal myself)?"

If Jesus' words are a rebuke and rejection, then Mary's response is — well, the best word for it is in Yiddish: chutzpadik, full of amazing, almost blithe presumption. But while such cheekiness is a somewhat admired trait in Jewish culture (consider Abraham's audacity in haggling with the Lord over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah [Gen 18:17-33]), we have a possible out: Mary banks on Jesus fulfilling the commandment, "Honor your father and your mother" (Ex 20:12; cf. Dt 5:16).

But this won't do; it falls short of the mark. For Mary is fully aware of who her son is, if not all the details of what he's to do. Even to say Mary banks on Jesus' physical sonship is to say she reposes absolute trust in him to fulfill the commandments. If not, then her trust is in God responding to her.

This should bring to our minds the parables of the unjust judge (Lk 18:1-8), who breaks down under the persistence of the widow, or the importunate friend (Lk 11:5-13) who gets his friend up out of bed by continuing to hammer on the door. Jesus teaches us not just to ask but to keep asking, not just to seek but to keep seeking, not just to knock but to keep knocking (vv. 9-10; cf. Mt 7:7-8). The faith which compels us to keep asking God for our true needs (vv. 11-13, cf. Mt 7:9-11) is of the same order with which Mary tells the servants — and us — "Do whatever he tells you".

We know that Mary was capable of reflection and contemplation (Lk 2:19, 51). Yet her "Yes" to God, like her instruction to the servants, is unreflective, unhesitating: "I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word" (Lk 1:38). She's blessed not simply because she was chosen from all time to bear the God-Man, but because she keeps and guards the Lord's words (Lk 11:28) just as she kept and guarded the Word made flesh. In doing this, she teaches us to do so as well.

In most of our traditional prayers, we turn to the Queen of Heaven in her role as advocata populi, as mothers of kings had once been.[1] But we can also turn to her, not just for consolation, but for aid and counsel, as in the Obsecro te: "Come and hasten to my aid and counsel, in all my prayers and requests, in all my difficulties and necessities, and in all those things that I may do, may say, or may think, in every day, hour, and moment of my life." Or as in the Sanctissima Virgo de Cenaculo: "…that we may live in charity and persevere with one accord in prayer, under thy guidance and teaching".

When we do this, we pray to her as Mater boni consilii: Our Lady of Good Counsel.

[1] Example: When David sat on the throne, Bathsheba approached it as any other subject (1 Kgs 1:16-21); but when Solomon took up the rule, she sat on a chair at his right hand to make her pleas (vv. 2:19-21).


  1. This is beautifully written. I also didn't understand what a relationship with Mary meant, and am still learning.

  2. This is so, so good. Thank you for sharing Tony!

  3. Thanks, Stacy! I meant to link this to the Bright Maidens in the body of the post. Go check them out, too!

  4. Awesome post Anthony! Thank you for reminding us the implication of being Christians, that we do indeed have a spiritual Mother in Mary! I'll be linking this to my Bright Maidens post. God bless!


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