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DON DIVO BARSOTTI

WOMEN IN THE GOSPEL: MEDITATIONS


PREFACE

he harmony of the Tuscan landscape, the sweetness of her hills, the peaceful and serene colours, the luminosity of her mountains, notably influence Don Divo Barsotti's strong and intuitive personality.

Artistic and contemplative, a poet and a spiritual exegete, a mystic and of profound cultural syntheses hidden under a natural modesty that does not like 'cresting the waves', he is above all a priest and a monk. A man of his time who grasped its exigencies and urgencies: a prophet (every artist, like every saint, is so) before Vatican II, he conceived and realized a community open to all, men and women, priests and lay, doing this to achieve an interiorized monasticism in the world, but also with small Houses of the Common Life for those wanting to live more profoundly in solitude their communion with God and humanity.

His life project: a living rapport with Christ, met daily in the Eucharist, in the listening to the Word, in the liturgy.

Born in Palaia (Pisa) 25 April 1914, ordained priest 1937, he has lived since 1955 at Settignano, that magnificent hill above Florence, in what has become the 'little Mother House of the Comunita` dei figli di Dio' ('Community of God's Family', because Jesus called those truly revering the Father 'the sons and daughters of God').

Many young people of both genders, various nations and cultures, have felt around him the urgent call and the absolute bond of the contemplatives life.

Author of over a hundred works, contemplative diaries, essays, monastic studies, spiritual Biblical exegesis above all, he has truly mastered the ability to say the greatest thing in the simplest way. A fecund writer, a persuasive orator (preaching the spiritual exercises to Pope Paul VI), much of his apostolate was spent preaching to bishops, clergy, monks, then quickly returning to the cloister of his Florentine hermitage.

During his lifetime Don Divo Barsotti has woven ties of friendship with Giuseppe Lazzatti, Don Giustino Russolillo, Marcello Candia, Don Giulio Facibeni, Cardinal Elia Dalla Costa, Giorgio La Pira, who are in the process of beatification. While having an independence all his own, he has carried out lively debates with the worlds of culture and theology. Those with Von Balthasar, Evdokimov, Danielou, Turoldo, De Lubac, Dossetti, being the most frequent.

Because it all leads back to Christ, the recurring theme of Don Divo Barsotti's contemplation is the Bible: and of this his favourite theme is the nuptial union of the Word with humanity through the Incarnation, proclaimed in the Hebrew Scriptures, realized in the new and eternal Greek Testament. The woman, for Father Divo Barsotti, has a fundamental importance as figure and type of the faithfulness first of all of Israel, then of the Virgin Mother, who becomes the Bride, the type of the Church on Calvary, and of every soul in its encounter with Christ the Bridegroom. From Eve to Mary and to the Church as Bride of Christ. If women today could refind in the 'Yes' of the Virgin at Nazareth the ideal of peace and of joy, of humility and of silence, this could permit the Son of God to prolong his Incarnation in time.

Fra Sergio Scardegli, San Gregorio

22.03.2000


CHAPTER ONE: PREMISES

OUR RELATION WITH GOD

f God is our Creator, then we are related to God. Truth and goodness are not based in us; but we know the truth and the good in our dependence upon God. This dependence is the opposite of our being placed under a different law which mortifies and denies our freedom; it is the foundation of our created being, in such a way that we can realize our perfection more, through living this dependence upon God, who is the supreme truth and our ultimate good.

But can we live this dependence upon God, if God remains incomprehensible, inaccessible, to us? In reality after we sin, we are separated from Him, divine law giving us the knowledge of our sin and thus of this division from God. In sin we now have to obey a law which appears to us strange and which seems to turn us into only a slave. But God, with the gift of his Son, not only has re-established communion with us, but has given to this communion a far greater depth. God, in the human nature which He assumed, has become Son of man and our brother. Our life now is in communion with Christ. The relation of dependence upon God as His creature has become rather a new relation of incomparable greatness. We are not only in communion with God as created by Him; it is God Himself who enters this communion with us and has established with us an eternal Covenant.

This Covenant is already proclaimed by the prophets as a nuptial union of God with Israel; in this Covenant God would be the Bridegroom who cleaves to humanity in a bonding of love. He gives himself wholly to the Bride and from this receives a human nature. This communion achieves what Genesis had already prophesied. Adam cannot exist without Eve.

To our ancestors Adam and Eve, a new Sabbath (John 1.19-2.1) is proclaimed, of Jesus and the Virgin, while this Sabbath awaits yet a further Sabbath (John 12.1-19; 18.28; 19.21; 20.1), which will finally complete God's plan in redeeming the world, fulfilling this new Covenant. God cleaves to us in an indissoluble union and will form of it truly One Body with Himself. And from this union will be born a new Humanity.

It is said that the nuptial union is fulfilled with the Incarnation of the Word, but if the Incarnation of the first Sabbath could manifest the fulfilling of the Covenant in a nuptial union of ourselves with God, this nuptial union was actually fulfilled at Calvary.

So it would be at the end of the First Sabbath, as at the end of the Last, that Jesus and his Mother would be present; yet to his Mother Jesus turns with an expression that appears very distant: 'Woman'. Yet the expression definitely means that she is related to the man as is the Bride to the Bridegroom. She can ask and obtain, in the union of Christ with the Virgin, to become the Mother of the Redeemed.

God's design has its fulfillment in the union of Christ with the Virgin; upon this union depends the birth of a new and redeemed Humanity, freed from sin. And, it is after having given Mary, as if to a son, John, that the new Adam can say 'It is consummated'.


The Women at the Tomb. The Bishop's Gospel, Fiesole


WOMEN'S PRESENCE IN THE GOSPEL

he presence of women in the Gospel requires and demands our study. In no other book of the Bible are women so strongly present. Nor is there there any state or condition of their life that is not presented.

There is the poor woman who gives her penny in the Temple, there is the wife of the Roman Governor, there is Jairus' daughter, whose life Jesus restores, there is the virgin who takes Jesus into her house; the mother concerned about the future of her sons; the widow who prays night and day in the Temple, also the widow who has lost her only son; not even forgotten is a mother-in-law cooking in the kitchen and serving the guests. Almost all these belong to God's Chosen People, but there are women who are outsiders. All these either are already related to Christ or Christ establishes a communion with them.

Christ admires some of them, on others he has mercy; he does not reject them, he joys in their presence. Between them is a relationship of trust, of friendship, and even of love; they follow him, they welcome him into their homes, they dare to come close to him, not daring to ask him for a miracle; with a spontaneous gesture of love they throw themselves at his feet, they sit at his feet; with precious ointment they perfume his head.

It is an old widow who first of all marvels at his birth; it is Mary Magdalen who first sees him Risen and from Him receives the mission of proclaiming the Gospel of the Resurrection to the Apostles. But first and foremost amongst all other women the Gospel of St Luke exalts Christ's Virgin Mother. All generations will call her blessed, just as throughout all the world will be the one spoken of who poured precious ointment upon his Head.

Yes, but it is only to Our Lady Mary that the Gospel will say that Jesus, Son of God, will ever submit. No son could ever live such a communion of dependency with his mother, as does Jesus with Mary. Only from her does He become man.

Following this brief survey of the women in the Gospel, we shall now study more carefully who they were and how Chirst lived in communion with them and how they lived that communion with Him.

First of all, it is important to note how this communion defines the woman, reveals her and fulfills her mission.

The woman is in a communion with Christ.

It is noteworthy how many women, in fact, appear and are shown in the story of the Gospel.

If the First Gospel gives no name to any woman, apart from the Virgin; on the contrary St Mark and above all St Luke give us their names; but even more, these show the importance they had. Undoubtedly, none of the Apostles, not even St Peter, had the importance that Jesus' Mother has. But we even ought to say that we know much about Mary Magdalen, of Martha and Mary of Bethany, than we know about the Apostles, even of St Peter. None of them seemed to have lived in so close and so great a communion. The disciples have their own function, their relationship which becomes deeper from identifying with Him and through this they continue their mission. The women do not identify with Christ: however great their communion is with Christ, even more are they distinct from Him.

GROWTH IN THE PRESENCE

Among the Gospels one goes from almost an absence of women in Matthew to the Fourth Gospel where, after Jesus, women supremely dominate. Thus there is a continuous progress of their presense and of their importance.

In Matthew's Gospel are no women's names, if one excludes Mary, Jesus' Mother; in Mark's Gospel, towards the end, women come out of anonymity and acquire names; but only in Luke, and accentuated in the first two chapters, from the exaltation of God's Mother, women begin their role in the Gospels' economy.

The conversion of the Sinning Woman is at the centre of the Gospel of Mercy. More than in all the other pages the story of the woman penitent reveals to us Christ's mission, the work which He has come to fulfill. In the Fourth Gospel the highest proclamation that Jesus makes of himself follows the most moving demonstration of his humanity, when he sees Mary of Bethany at Lazarus' tomb where Jesus breaks into sobs. But this the Gospel seals, and the Gospel seems to be fulfilled, with the Risen Jesus' appearance to Mary Magdalen.

Thus there is a growth in the presence of women in the Gospel's story. The distinction is clear between the role of women and of men; yet women do not appear inferior to men; on the contrary they appear to have an importance of which we must speak, above what men customarily grant to women. No creature has ever lived the communion with Christ, apart from the Virgin, so intimately as has Mary Magdalen, so much so that the Byzantine liturgy celebrates her as the Apostle to the Apostles.

If the communion with Christ defines the greatness of each soul, no communion could be equal to that of the Mother with the Son and, we dare say, the communion of the Bride to the Bridegroom. And the Bridegroom, according to the Fourth Gospel, is Jesus; and the communion of Bride seems to be lived by Mary Magdalen, but also by the Samaritan Woman, figure of the pagan Church, and, an even greater mystery, by the Virgin Mary, who is both Mother and Bride.

No woman whom Christ meets is condemned; and in their relationship with Him women seem to have strength in their heart.

Jesus chooses the Twelve to be with Him and he sends them to announce the Good News of the Kingdom of Heaven; it is instead women who choose Jesus; they follow him and remain faithful even when all abandon him.

It seems that it is to women that the task to evangelize is given, more than to men: with the Prophetess Anna speaking of the one who is born in Jerusalem; with the Samaritan Woman who proclaims him to the Samaritans; and finally with Mary Magdalen, whom Jesus himself sends to the Apostles to announce the Resurrection.

Women have an irresistable strength in their heart. To his Mother who implicitly asks Jesus for the first miracle, Jesus seems to respond with a refusal, but immediately afterwards he complies: Jesus does not seem to heed the Canaanite woman's prayer, but finally he accomplishes the miracle for her daughter. Unasked, he has pity on a poor widow and raises her only son; he does not condemn the woman taken in adultery; he reveals his secret, even earlier than to the Apostles, to a Samaritan woman; he stays at the house in Bethany with Martha and Mary. His is a relationship of pity for the widow of Nain, but also of friendship for Martha of Bethany, of admiration for the widow with the coin in the Temple, of mercy for the woman taken in adultery, for the sinner, but perhaps even more: for His pity becomes love. Love for Mary Magdalen, for Mary of Bethany. A woman seems to be a Sister, and even in some way, a Bride, and finally, a Mother. The appearance to Mary Magdalen seems to be wanted at the end of the Gospel. So Jesus at the beginning and at the ending is not without women. It is the Mother who brings God into the world, it is the Bride the Son of God chooses for himself at the conception of his mission.

There is only one Mother, while there are more women symbolizing the Bride.

Above all it is the Virgin who is the Mother, and who is also the Bride; in her is made present not only Israel, but all of humanity, because now with all of humanity God has a Covenant of love, but the Bride is also the Samaritan woman, who represents the pagan peoples, the Gentiles. Also with these God concludes his Covenant; and the Bride is Mary Magdalen, the unfaithful wife whom God, according to the prophet Hosea, takes back into intimacy.

It would be possible for Christ to be without the Apostles, but Christ could not be without his Mother and, for Him to be Saviour, neither without the Sinning Woman, whose love he raises up.

MOTHER AND BRIDE

A woman realizes herself in her relationship as bride and as mother. So in the Gospel the woman is above all mother and bride. The Virgin Mary is above all the other women. She is associated intimately with the sacrifice of her Son.

She is Mother and lives all for her Son and in her Son, she has no other life. Her life is the gift of herself without end; the Mother for the Son is a total sacrifice of herself. Certainly the Son loves the mother and yet does not live for her. The Son lives a mission which requires his distancing of himself from his Mother. The Mother lives for the Son, but the Son does not live for the Mother. As great as is her love, so great is the necessity and the sorrow about such distancing. After the sweetness of the birth, Mary can only live her sacrifice in a life of silence and of humility.

The Bride can never take the place of the Mother.

The prophets had announced the new Covenant in the symbol of the marriage untion. In the Gospel, the symbol of the Spouse is the Sinning Woman whom the Bridegroom re-admits into intimacy but also she is Mary of Bethany and even the Samaritan Woman.

The Bridegroom has the Bride, says the Baptist in John's Gospel. In fact, the Bride and the Bridegroom live that intimacy that is born of a reciprocal gift of themselves to each other. The Bridegroom does not restrain the Bride and the Bride does not abandon her Bridegroom, seeing only Him. Thus the Sinning Woman breaks into the Pharisee's house during the banquet to throw herself at Jesus' feet; thus does Mary, not caring about what will happen, forget all her work, to sit at Jesus' feet, listening to his words; thus Mary Magdalen cannot stay away from the empty tomb; but even Jesus weeps at seeing Mary of Bethany after Lazarus' death.

Risen, He calls her to his intimacy: it cannot totally be the union because true union cannot happen here below.

The Gospel knows another condition concerning women: Widowhood: the weakest and most marginalized state. The widow still lives in the world, but the world ignores her. It is right that to this state the doors are opened most easily to God's world. The more pure her religious life, seeming often to have no other content, she lives none other than a true communion with God. Christ has pity on her and God defends and protects her.

She is the Prophetess Anna who practically lives in the Temple; she is the widow who gives her coin in the Temple, all that she posseses. Christ admires her, but also has great pity for her state. Thus it is with the widow of Nain.

JESUS' RELATIONSHIP WITH WOMEN

If Jesus is so protected in his relationship with his family and in particular with his Mother, he is instead without defence in his relationship with women in general. Thus it is in his relationship with them that He lives his purest abandon.

It is more than pure friendship that He lives. He is profoundly moved in meeting the mother accompanying the body of her only son to the tomb, and, unasked, carries out the miracle of giving him back living to his mother. He admires the widow who gives in the temple a coin which is all that she possesses; he forgives the adulteress; converses alone with the Samaritan, something which amazes the same disciples who had gone to buy something to eat; he allows a sinful woman to wash his feet with her tears and, to the greatest scandal of the host who had invited him, he praises her publicly; he stays - and not only physically - in the house of Martha and Mary, and has a certain relationship with one of the two sisters. One can define his relationship with Martha as friendship, but friendship is not enough to define the communion of Jesus with Mary. Here in the woman is an abandon and in Jesus a tenderness that seems proper, exclusively, with love.

Much of this become clear when we go from Luke's Gospel to that of John.

St Matthew, Fiesole Cathedral

WOMEN IN MATTHEW'S GOSPEL

Women are present more or less in every Gospel, and this presence is reflected through their diverse theological visions.

The presence of women in Matthew's Gospel is more discreet. Alone, of all the Synoptic Gospels, he gives the narration of the arrest and execution of John the Baptist. In this account women belong rather to the Old Testament world, than to the New, and they have no relationship with Christ; but of the women who have relationships with Christ, the First Gospel has this aspect and which is particularly significant: Matthew does not transmit the name of any woman: the woman with the issue of blood; the Canaanite; the widow with the coin. Even concerning his Mother Mary the Evangelist is rather evasive and laconic. In the Infancy Gospel it is Joseph, Mary's husband, who dominates. Women are not only less present than in the other Gospels, they do not seem to play any role. In Luke's Gospel we don't have the two brothers arguing about sitting one on the right, the other on the left of Christ when he returns. And one does not want to blame the two Apostles for what Matthew has their mother say!

One exception: only in the First Gospel do we learn of Pilate's wife. In the Lord's Passion it is only this woman who seems to intervene to save Jesus.

St Luke, Fiesole Cathedral

WOMEN IN LUKE'S GOSPEL

Mary's Apotheosis is in Luke's Gospel, and also the triumph of mercy in the Sinning Woman's conversion.

At the Gospel's ideal centre is the Sinful Woman's conversion; the text having the same value, in the economy of the book, as has Peter's confession in Matthew's Gospel.

The Sinning Woman is not named. Out of shame. This woman does not disappear; her habitual act is the seal which distinguishes her and causes her to be recognized: she is the woman who throws herself at the Master's feet or remains seated at his feet; she is the woman who washes Jesus' feet or anoints him at death. She is Mary Magdalen (in Mark's Gospel, in the section which the Evangelist comes to tell us: the one from whom Jesus exorcised seven demons, 16.9; Luke 8.2). Also in the anointing in Bethany the woman goes unnamed (in Mark 14.3-4, and in Matthew). And this is because in Bethany there is another Mary, sister to Martha.

The Apostles seem fastidious about this woman (Mark 14,5-6, Matthew 26.6), In the anointing at Bethany Jesus announces that in the entire world, wherever the Gospel is preached, they will speak of her. Why do they never give her name? She always appears to be the same one. Jesus lives in a relationship with Martha and with Mary, but this relationship differs; with Mary it is more intimate (10.38,M 42).

Jesus does not reject, does not draw back, from these acts of abandonment which are the women's; different from that of the Apostles, they living a faithfulness, a dedication to the Lord, even unto death (Luke 23.55-56, 24.1,8-10).

After Matthew and Mark, women no longer enter furtively into the Gospel story. In the Gospels of Luke and John women become protagonists and their presence in Luke is already strong, becoming dominant in John.

St John, Fiesole Cathedral

WOMEN IN JOHN'S GOSPEL

In John's Gospel women seem to have a privileged place in their meetings with men. The Apostles are His disciples, becoming finally friends, even brothers, but only in John's Gospel is the relationship with women exclusive. Christ and the woman at the wedding feast of Cana; Christ and the women at the foot of the cross; but also Christ and the Samaritan woman, alone together, at Jacob's Well; and only Jesus remains with the adulteress. Christ's relationship with the Virgin at the wedding feast of Cana and at Calvary is certainly singular and mysterious; enough to use the name with which Jesus turns to his Mother. The intimacy of the relationship with Mary at Bethany is stupendous, while Christ lives in Chapter 10 that account of the Resurrection of Lazarus, as in the communion with Mary Magdalen in his own Resurrection.

The story of the Samaritan woman is singular. It seems that John wants to see in this 'Bride', not the nation of Israel, but all of humanity. The Fourth Gospel is the most open to others in the vision of a unversal salvation. Jesus 'ought to die for the nation of Israel but not only for that nation, but even to reunite in one the dispersed children of God' (John 11.52). Therefore Jesus' Virgin Mother reigns supreme. In her communion with Christ she is Mother but also Bride and has the most solemn part at Calvary at Christ's death, while the communion with Mary Magdalen is lived in the event of the Resurrection. The Son of God does not associate her with himself in the fulfilling of his mission, she is not Co-redemptrix as is the Virgin Mother, but she is simply redeemed.

In the Fourth Gospel the woman is less the mother than the bride and is not mother unless she is bride. The union which achieves the new Covenant is the union of Christ with the Virgin. Always the Evangelist when he treats of the communion of Jesus with women, suggests this mystery.

The Apostles marvel that he would remain alone speaking with a Samaritan; but nothing equals, in the abandonment of the disciples or of the Father, this communion of the last Adam with the One who becomes the Mother of all the living.


CHAPTER II: THE WOMEN

ELIZABETH (LUKE 1.40-45)

fter the Virgin, Elizabeth is the first woman we meet in the Gospel. With her begins the glorification of the Mother of God that will endure throughout all generations.

Jesus seems to negate this glorification when a woman would call the one who bore him blessed. 'Rather, blessed are those who listen and accept the Word of God'; but this seeming rejection causes us to re-examine the reason for the glorification of the Virgin Mother. And this reason inspires Elizabeth when she proclaims: 'Blessed are you who have believed . . . '

Elizabeth is astonished that the Virgin notwithstanding her condition of pregnancy would have travelled so far to have come to her.

She recognizes the presence of the Lord and above all his Mother exalts. It is the only exaltation by the Virgin in the Gospel. It is an exaltation of humility, it is above all the exaltation of faith. God is made present in a soul to the measure of our faith.

John the Baptist and Mary are on either side of the iconostasis of the Byzantine Church, and Roman Liturgy also before Christmas, remembers Mary and John: the Virgin Mother not only proclaims, not only recognizes Jesus and shows him to Israel, she gives him to the world, she is the one created person out of all who is closest to Christ, the world is one with Her. John the Baptist's function in relation to Christ, seems also to be that of Elizabeth in her meeting with Mary.

Thus the Baptist, rather than with Mary, but with Elizabeth, closes the economy of the old Covenant. As Jesus follows the Baptist, so does Mary follow Elizabeth. With Jesus and the Virgin the new economy of grace begins.

The mystery of the Covenant is fulfilled in the presence of Christ and the Virgin, not in one without the other, and not only in Christ, but in Christ and in the Virgin, because in the Virgin all humanity becomes present. Elizabeth instead is not related to Christ, but to John the Baptist and it is the Baptist who introduces Jesus to his mission, just as does Elizabeth begin the universal and full glorification of the Virgin.

ANNA THE PROPHET (LUKE 2.36-38)

In the Gospels about His childhood taking up the first two chapters of Luke's Gospel, the figure of Mary, Jesus' Mother, is dominant, but two other women are also present; before Jesus' birth, Elizabeth, Zechariah's wife and cousin to the Virgin; and then in the Presentation in the Temple, Anna the Prophet. Each first born son belongs to the Lord but the parents could buy the child back offering in his place for sacrifice a lamb or, where poor, two turtle doves. But Mary's firstborn is not restored immediately to his mother. An old man takes him into his arms. The old man represents Israel; in the name of the Holy Nation he recognizes the One for whom they await. The wait is at last ended, he can die in peace, and with his death the old Covenant becomes less. But along with the aged Simeon another also recognizes Jesus; she is a widow now greatly advanced in years.

Also Anna is like Judith, figure of the Nation, a widow, because deprived of her spouse. This one, however, does not save the Nation through killing the enemy who threatens her life, she does not live in a political dimension, but, since the end of the monarchy, she lives in the Temple and all her work is in prayer in the Temple.

Simeon takes up the baby in his arms; he is the Holy People welcoming the Messiah. The firstborn of all creatures belonging to God can be bought back with the offering of two doves, and now in the Temple Simeon receives them and, having received them, sings 'Nunc Dimittis', 'Now I can die', thus the Old Testement ends.

Anna, on the other hand, is called Prophet, because her prophecy gives her a public role - it is she who proclaims and speaks to all of the child in Jerusalem.

Simeon sings the 'Nunc dimittis', Anna instead begins the Gospel, she is the woman who proclaims the birth to Jerusalem. At the end of the Gospel, another woman will proclaim that the Messiah has come, not to Jerusalem, not to the Apostles, but to the Samaritans.

Each woman in the Gospel participates in the Virgin Mary's mission, but while Our Lady lives in humility and in silence the great mystery of her maternity, Anna first, then the Samaritan, and finally Mary Magdalen, live their public mission: through a woman, Israel, through a woman, the Samaritans, and finally through a woman, the Apostles receive the Annunciation of the Nativity, of the Life, and of the Resurrection of the Saviour.

The widow Anna is old. Although Anna would speak of the baby which is born, she does not represent , as had the aged Simeon, Israel. God would establish the new Covenant. Other women will be symbols of this redeemed Humanity which the Lord unites to Himself in the new and eternal Promise.

With Simeon also Anna the Prophet will announce the new-born child, but will not be present at his adult presence, they cannot be present at his Resurrection.

St Mark, Fiesole Cathedral

PETER'S MOTHER-IN-LAW (MARK 1.29-31)

The first woman who appears in Jesus' public life is Peter's mother-in-law. The Gospel says simply she has a fever and Jesus takes her by the hand, and immediately the fever leaves and her and she sets to work serving them.

Few words, but most precious ones. They tell us of women's function in Christ's public life.

The Gospel lets us know that to the group of the Twelve united in following Jesus, there is also an unumbered group of women who were to be faithful to Him even unto death. Perhaps they are not always the same, but not one of them ever seems to have abandoned or betrayed him.

There are women, at least some of them, like Peter's mother-in-law, who were related to some of the disciples.

These accompany Christ and undertake work necessay to the livelihood of this little community of men whom Jesus has chosen to be with Him. Jesus heals Peter's mother-in-law. The first of the Apostles was married; his response to Christ's call did not strip him of his family. And Jesus is welcomed in their house as one of the family. Does the mother-in-law know something about Christ? As soon as she is healed she serves him. One asks of women no other confession of their faith than their service of love.

In Matthew's Gospel (5.13) it is said 'He left Nazareth and came to live in Capharnaum'. But all his family came with him.

The simplicity of the scene suffices to show us Jesus' humanity. In John's Gospel, the first act of Jesus' public life is to join a wedding feast, which is even his entry into family life. The relation between his Mother and Himself is a great mystery. In his love for his Mother he would raise her up to Himself and establish with her a special communion, associating her with his sacrifice.

He heals Peters' mother-in-law and lives in their house; he does not reject the sweetness of friendship and he rests in Martha and Mary's house, but he desires for his Mother the grace of a life that was sacrifice. She lived at Nazareth in her deserted house, because that was only how the Son Jesus could give Himself.

THE WIDOW OF NAIN (LUKE 7.11-17)

A great crowd accompanied Jesus with his disciples. A procession came out from a part of a little village. They were carrying a dead youth to the cemetery. Only a few, not many mourners, just a woman, a widow, accompanying the bier on which lay her only son. The mother asked for no miracle, did not believe it possible that her son could return to life, and, after the resurrection, did not thank him. The joy of having her son back alive paralyzed all her ways of communicating, of speaking.

Many widows know this Gospel story. Widows were the most marginalized from life, but Jesus privileged them; also the poor, the sinners, the victimized. He admired the widow who gave in the Temple all the poor brass coins she had; he had pity on the widow of Nain. The mother was speechless, but a great joy seized hold of the crowd at this miracle.

How could so great a miracle, in that moment, not have in Christ's story any sequel? Even if the miracle lacks interest because it favoured a poor widow. The widow and the son in that instant capture the action of the crown, then quickly return to the shadows. Perhaps even to themselves what had happened, with the passing of time, would come to seem unbelievable. They would remember it, yes, but not succeed in persuading themselves of its truth. The widow of Nain tells us of the Lord's pity who could not bear the desolation of a humble woman who did not know him, who had not begged from him. The woman did not know him, but Christ knows every soul in pain. The desolation by itself was a prayer which caused God's miracle.

THE WOMAN WHO WAS BLEEDING (MARK 5.25-34)

Jesus was summoned by the Leader of the Synagogue to come to his house where his daughter was dying. The crowd pressed around him and he was pushed on every side.

A poor woman who for many years had been bleeding and not finding any doctor to heal her, thought to herself, 'If I could but touch his mantle, I would be cured'. Indeed, she came up to Jesus, and then touched him, and in that same instant knew she was cured. Immediately she mingled with the crowd so as not to be noticed. She thought it was enough to touch Jesus, independently of his desire, but Jesus asked who had touched him. Found out, the woman timidly came to him and confessed what she had done.

Only now her faith saves the woman, now that the woman knows that it was not an impersonal power which worked the healing, but Christ's own will. He wanted the woman to enter in a personal communion with him. The miracle would be the condition of a personal encounter; all miracles come from this encounter, and when a meeting and a personal communion with Christ happens, only then can he say: 'Your faith has saved you'. It is so with the one Samaritan, out of twelve lepers, who returns to thank Jesus for his healing.

Most important in each cure is this communion; to this communion each work of Christ tends. For this communion the woman comes out of the crowd. Now she will be known by Christ and know that it is owing to him and not to some power of his humanity, that she is healed.

THE WOMEN DISCIPLES (LUKE 8.1-3)

After the encounter with the Sinful Woman, the Evangelist seems to want to make her name known. It would be difficult to be silent about it, given its great importance, its central meaning for the whole Gospel, this account of the sinning woman. But he does give her name, though with great discretion.

The group of women disciplies was formed, according to Luke's Gospel, of those 'healed from evil spirits', and the words seem to introduce the name of Mary Magdalen, whose conversion caused such talk. After the Lord had welcomed her in his immense goodness, she could not stay away from him, she even stuck to him, at his side. She became part of a small number of other women who followed Jesus from Galilee. Luke gives some of their names, names of women of some importance, Joanna, wife to Chouza, Herod's steward, Susanna and many others who helped Jesus and the Twelve, out of their sustenance.

With these women, who were people of notable standing and influence, are also the women who were healed from unclean spirits. Mark's Gospel also speaks of this group of women who followed Jesus. He speaks of them in the account of the Passion, as if to underline their faithfulness to Christ, when the male disciples had abandoned him.

In Mark's Gospel Mary Magdalen is named first, equally (Mark 15.40), then Mary, mother of James, follows, and Salome, but these are joined by many others who came up with Him to Jerusalem.

The Evangelists are very discreet; it is nevertheless evident that many women sustained him out of their means and would follow him on his journey from Galilee into Judea and not be drawn away from him even at the Passion. This is said expressly in the Gospel which stresses their presence even at the Deposition of Jesus in the Tomb.

The miracle of this faith, of this love, which above all is manifested in the 'Sinner', makes us understand Jesus' praise of her even more. He does not expect the testimony that she will give after her conversion until Easter day, but in her penitent love He already recognizes the strength of that invincible love that will unite her then with Christ for ever.

THE HEALING OF THE CANAANITE'S DAUGHTER (MARK 7.24-30)

Contrary to what usually happens, it is Mark who, this time, tells with the greatest vivacity and richness the details of this scene. Jesus leaves the fields of Galilee and comes to the territory of the Phoenicians. A woman recognizes him and immediately with a loud voice begs him, 'Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David', says the Gospel. He does not reply, not even a word. The disciples, perhaps from not wanting to hear the woman any more who continues to shout behind them, ask him why he does not grant her request, but Jesus continues to resist: He is sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. The woman does not allow the apparent harshness of Christ to prevail and throws herself at his feet, begging his help. Then Jesus says the most incomprehensible words: 'It is not good to take the bread of the children to throw it to the puppies'. Christ's inconceivable harshness does no more than provoke an even greater faith: 'It is true, Lord', says the woman, 'but even the puppies eat of the crumbs that fall beneath the tables of their owners'. Her faith earns her miracle.

Jesus admires the faith of the Centurion, admires the faith of the Canaanite. He has not found such faith in all the people of Israel. The Centurion recognizes that the elements obey Christ: evil obeys him.

In both cases their faith is expressed in Christ in implicitly seeming to recognize a power that is only from God. Jesus is won by the woman's faith and by her constancy in prayer. His refusal does not discourage her, her prayer because even more hmble. Thus God would be won by us.

The Gospel would netheless teach how the pagan world recognizes God better than does Israel. Jesus often affirms he comes to save lost sheep from the House of Israel; in reality the People of the Covenant do not accept him and the pagan world is more open to faith.

Divine election does not change the nature of grace: grace remains grace. The measure of grace is determined rather by the sense that we have of its freeness.

ZEBEDEE'S SONS' MOTHER (MATTHEW 20.20-23)

The sons or the mother? The Gospels leave us to decide now since Matthew's Gospel (20.20-23), speaks of the mother, while Mark's Gospel, of the two sons, James and John (10.25,40).

Matthew's Gospel, as we have it, is written after, and seems to want to correct, that of Mark - in this case it speaks more precisely than does Mark - perhaps: it seems to want to defend the two brothers more, even if this were still based on their being in agreement with their mother.

For the rest, if it were not the two disciples who make this request of Jesus, it would be difficult for them not to provoke an immediate reaction of protest on the part of all the other disciples; it is evident nevetheless that they agree with their mother and they feel it would be more difficult, perhaps, for the Lord to have to refuse what is requested by their mother.

It is the mother who desires to know the fate of her sons. She knows the Master loves them with a special love. Yes, there is Peter, but apart from the promise of primacy to him, perhaps even because of this, the mother wants Jesus' judgement: who will be placed first of the two, out of the disciples?

The exegesis of Jesus' response perhaps could be that what is privileged to the two could be their marytrdom. At least, James is the first to give his life for Christ. But if the heavenly Father seems to have reserved for the two this privilege, the mother does not thing so; she seeks to know their fortune and success in the world here below, in this life. But Jesus promises nothing, nothing that could favour and satisfy their mother.

Alway our present life is seen and desired by Christ in terms of the future life, to the coming of the Kingdom; Christ's attention seems not to be drawn to this life.

This vision is the most difficult to accept, not only by the mother, but also the disciples. The disciples, in fact, are aware of the mother's request and are cross with the two who would wish to be first; they never understand Christ's reply which to power and wordly success instead places participation in the Passion.

THE WIDOW'S COIN (MARK 12.41-44)

The Third Gospel is the Gospel of Mercy, and also the Gospel for the Poor. Luke takes up from Mark the briefest pericope and this is the exaltation of poverty.

Jesus watches the crowd throwing into the treasury their offerings for the Temple. Many rich men put in large offerings, and here before them is a poor widow and she throws in two small coins. Then Jesus says to the disciples 'Truly, I tell you this widow has given the most of all. Because the others gave of their superfluity; she instead, in her poverty, has given all she had, all that she had on which to live'.

Widowed and poor, the woman is without a name; no one heeds her, but Jesus has watched over her.

The small pericope is one of the most beautiful exaltations of poverty. Only the poor know love. Yes, the Lord wants the detachment of the heart; but let us not delude ourselves, poverty is not only interior. Above all we must come to understand that poverty is a great privilege. It is almost impossible if one is not poor, indeed one must become so. Even if one gives all one has, the rich do not become poor through this. They remember what they have given. The widow gave all, but without being conscious of having given something.

What one gives does not count, but what counts is love. The rich have given much, but they are not deprived of anything; what they have given does not even begin to eat into what they possess. The widow has given all that she possessed and the two coins were in fact a witness of her total love, not because they were much, but all that she had to give. And not having that awareness, she feels mortification in not being able to give more.

THE HIGH PRIEST'S SERVANT (MARK 14.66-73)

Peter had protested that he was ready even to die rather than deny Jesus; but Jesus who knew men's weaknesses, told him that before the night was ended, that same night which had begun with the Last Supper, he would deny Him three times.

To the intimate sweetness of that evening when, for the last time, the disciples found themselves together, comes an atmosphere burdened with secret anguish: the waiting for the end. The disciples cannot bear it and while Jesus struggles with a mortal anguish, they abandon themselves to heavy slumber.

Judas comes with the High Priest's minions and Jesus is arrested and taken to the High Priest's house, while they wait for the Sanhedrin to be called for Jesus' trial and condemnation. All the disciples flee and abandon him. Peter and John retrace their steps in order to know something about the case and John lets Peter enter into the courtyard. This is not as bad as totally abandoning Jesus but even rather courageous in confronting the situation, while also taking precautions. What else could have been done? At least not what he has not done, he has not denied him, having the courage to recognise himself his disciple. The doorkeeper asks him just this: 'Wasn't he one of those who followed and were with the one arrested?' Out of curiosity. She certainly knew something of this man whom the people held to be a prophet; perhaps unconsciously she felt her masters were jealous and angered by his fame. But Peter is afraid. The curiosity of a house maid is enough to alarm him. 'No, I don't know him: I know nothing of the man'.

Another serving girl sees him; he is troubled, wants to stay, but feels like an intruder. The woman is so certain. Why would he be there without knowing anybody? Without sharing in the others' conversation? 'Aren't you also one of this man's disciples?' Peter now is truly afraid. It isn't just a serving girl, it is all now present, and her comment appears like an accusation, not a question. Peter's fear is already a confession: 'You are one of them, even your dialect betrays you'. Peter loses all control over himself and begins to swear and perjure himself that he never knew this man. Not having had the courage to say the truth, even to a door-keeper, brings him quickly into a paroxism of fear. In the end Peter loses control of himself and denies his Lord.

The woman enters first into the Passion of the Son of God out of curiosity. She has no intention of doing evil, but she does not respect Peter's silence. This lack of delicacy towards one who evidently was no stranger to the Man who is about to be judged, is the cause of Peter's denial. Entering the High Priest's house he felt that humanly there was no more hope of salvation for his Master, so much is the atmosphere of the house burdened with hate. Stronger than his love is his fear.

The question of a lowly woman was enough to alarm him. From that first denial another followed, then it wasn't enough to deny so much as to bury his terror and swear and lie.

PILATE'S WIFE (MATTHEW 27.19)

There are pages of pure narration in the Gospel. The account can give the moral task, the situation, the person's character; without that the account or the person would have a buried meaning, be part of a mystery. Sometimes it is undeniably the narration itself which is the content; other times there is clearly a symbolic dimension and only uncovering that dimension will give us its deeper, truer, meaning. But there are occasions where the symbolic character can be present, without us succeeding in discovering this, or on the other hand one can think it has a symbolic character, while the narration has no secret sense.

One does not see such a sense in the reply to the High Priest's serving girl's question, neither to the widow's coins; instead the narrations of the wedding feast of Cana, of the meeting with the Samaritan woman are highly symbolic . . . . Certainly the Fourth Evangelist scarcely ever fails to suggest a symbolic dimension to each of of his narrations that is deeper than at the literal, factual level. But it is not only the Fourth Gospel which requires particular attention to discover in their words, secrets that could evade the reader.

I would never have expected Pilate's Wife's interruption during Jesus' trial to be in Matthew's Gospel. One can understand the text being in Luke's Gospel, the one most favourable to Romans, but it is in Matthew's Gospel, which makes me think there is something he wants to suggest, but which I have failed to understand.

After the Samaritan, after the Canaanite, there is another woman who does not belong to Judaism. She is the only woman who appears alone in the First Gospel - she is Pilate's wife.

In the Passion drama which pits Christ against the accumulated anger of the High Priest and the Pharisees there is a fleeting apparition. In a dream she is troubled because of this 'man' whom the Jews have condemned to death, and now begs her husband that he not meddle in these affairs in becoming an accomplice in the condemnation.

It is the one intervention asking for Christ's salvation and it is from a pagan woman. If Pilate were to seek to save Christ from death, it would have been because of this intervention.

SECOND CHAPTER'S CONCLUSION

Women show themselves faithful: they follow Jesus to the Tomb and do not abandon the empty sepulchre until they see the Risen Christ.

Women have a faith that they do not let be overcome by trial: the Canaanite does not stop imploring for the miracle until she obtains it.

Women first see Christ and are the first to carry His message to Jerusalem, to the people of Samaria, to the apostles gathered in the Upper Room.

Only one person, a woman, intervenes that Christ not be condemned.

But Jesus also pays heed to women, knowing of their labour, and with love intervenes in their favour, with living piety, pardoning them in their sinfulness.

There is no intimacy greater than the intimacy which Christ has with the Virgin Mary, but also with Mary of Bethany and likewise with Mary Magdalen, from whom he released seven demons.


CHAPTER THREE

WOMAN, SYMBOL OF THE BRIDE

PREMISE

he marriage theme to signify the Covenant is not only present amongst the prophets; even more it is in the New Testament which, with this theme, throws light on the new Covenant. All three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 9.14-17, Mark 2.18-22, Luke 5.33-39), introduce the marriage theme when Jesus sets about answering the question about fasting. The time for penance is past; now that the Spouse is come it can only be a feast.

But in St Matthew are two parables in relation to the new Covenant which use the nuptial theme. These are the Parable of the Ten Virgins and, more significantly, the Parable of the Feast prepared by the Father for the Son to which, first of all, are invited the privileged people, but when they refuse, those who are left to invite are the idiots, the blind, the least of all. Even more significantly the Evangelist does not only insinuate that those who will be part of the new People of God are the least, those who are marginalized; but perhaps even, though the reference is certainly rather implied, because it seems that Matthew relates the teaching of the parable with Jesus' Last Supper.

The witness of the Fourth Gospel is however greater, as if the Song of Songs of the New Testament. At the beginning of the Gospel with the Wedding Feast of Cana, the Gospeler clearly tells us that the new Covenant is the union of God with humankind. Then, with the Baptist's words, at the beginning of Jesus' public life, the nuptial theme reflowers: Jesus comes from silence and enters the world as the Bridegroom. Thus the mission of Christ is precisely the conception of that nuptial union which the prophets had preached.

Finally when the hour of fulfiillment comes and a New Testament of love is made between humanity and God, the nuptial union will bear fruit; the 'Woman' will receive Christ to be the Mother of all a new humanity.

THE SAMARITAN WOMAN AT THE WELL (JOHN 4)

At 3.24 the Gospeler sees Jesus like the Bridegroom: 'who possesses the Bride is the Bridegroom', says the Baptist. Immediately after, in the fourth chapter, Jesus rests himself at Jacob's Well. He is alone and a woman comes, a Samaritan. Jesus is alone and the Samaritan is alone - only the Bridegroom and the Bride? As if the Evangelist wishes to insinuate it, now the convenant of God with us is no longer the covenant of God only with Israel, but also with the hated people of the Samaritans. The New Testament of God is with all humanity, and all humanity is represented by the Samaritan. Are the five husbands that she has had the Covenant that God has made with humanity through time? Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, the fifth is one who is not truly married. The Covenant is broken in the time of Jeremiah and God has not renewed it. From this comes the negative attitude that the Evangelist has regarding the Jews. Now the woman has no husband, the man with whom she is living is not her husband.

But now the Bridegroom is in her presence and speaks to the woman.

Jesus is alone with the woman. He dares to ask of drink from the woman and the woman tests this miracle. Isn't the scene awkward? It is even more so from the moment that we know the woman is Samaritan. Certainly the intimacy which is created is ambiguous. The woman defends herself and asks: 'How can you, who are a Jew, ask drink of me who am a Samaritan?' But now it is no longer the woman who ought to offer something, but she rather who ought to ask. How awkwardly the woman has interpreted the words of this 'Jew'! Jesus immediately raises the level of the conversation and invites the woman to enter in that dimension where there is no more ambiguity. 'If you would know the gift of God!' What the man asks of the woman seems could become a pretext to an equivocal intimacy. Jesus does not reject intimacy but raises it to a level where the woman can scarcely follow Jesus. Thus it is not the man who asks, it is even the man who promises living water. It is different water; the woman, if she drinks of it, 'will thirst no more'. The language remains allusive, and only in that it is allusive can the woman understand it.

The woman has been given to five men, human love has not satisfied her; only Jesus can satisfy this woman, only through the water which He will give, will the woman no longer thirst. Water, in the Fourth Gospel, is the Holy Spirit; in the gift of the Spirit we ourselves will be a living fountain.

Jesus asks the disciples what they think of Him. Only Peter, in the name of all, replies that he recognizes him as the Christ of God, the Christ promised and long awaited by Israel. The fundamental theme in Mark's Gospel is the Messianic secret, but also in the other Gospels Jesus does not say who He is. And here it is He himself who presents Himself to the Samaritan as the One they await, the Messiah.

This revelation of His name is of the greatest importance in John's Gospel: the Bridegroom has come and of Himself presents Himself to the Bride, no longer to the Daughter of Sion, to the holy nation, but even to pagan humanity, because God has not come to make the Covenant only with the Jewish nation, but with all humanity, even with those who are the most hated in Israel. The Samaritan is symbol of the Bride. The Gospel shows her so.

When the disciples return they are astonished to find Jesus alone with a woman, and with a woman who is a Samaritan.

The Samaritan recognizes Christ and begins to announce now to her people the Good News, 'Could He be the Messiah?' Right at the beginning of the Gospel it is a woman, and it is a Samaritan woman, who recognizes Christ and proclaims Him to her people.

The chapter, amongst the most beautiful in the Gospel, is most precious. It gives the key for understanding the other chapters that could seem otherwise difficult. Jesus does not negate human love but, as in the Song of Songs, sees in that love, even that of ourselves for God, a transfiguration of itself. It isn't continuous, because only Jesus can give the living water that is the Spirit, but much less is it opposition - often even the grace raises to God a love that Jesus himself exalts, in the sinning wman, in souls which are implicated in human love.

SHORT PARENTHESES

It doesn't seem to me that we can separate, as do modern exegetes, the Sinning Woman from Mary Magdalen and these from Mary of Bethany. This Mary Magdalen is known only as one from whom Jesus had sent seven demons, not saying more. The Gospeler does not identify her with the Sinful Woman of Luke's Gospel (7), just as the identification of the usurer Levi with the Apostle Matthew is not made. We can easily understand why; not knowing Matthew before his conversion, we would not identify him with Levi, nor having known Mary Magdalen after her conversion would it be proper or just that she should be identified with a public prostitute; and yet to say of her that from her had been expelled seven demons would implicitly recognize that she was the Sinner of Luke's Gospel. Just so I cannot separate Mary Magdalen from Mary of Bethany. The gesture characterizing the one characterizes also the other.

So it is in Mary Magdalen's name that one wants to stress fidelity and love; while one prefers to say 'Mary of Bethany' when one wants to show the communion of reciprocal tenderness.

Jesus is not indifferent to Mary of Bethany, but in the end, without any reservation, one would say that Jesus appears first, out of all the others, to Mary Magdalen and that moment of the appearance will be in John's Gospel the fulfillment of a Covenant, bringing the unfaithful wife to her Bridegroom's intimacy. The part this woman has in the Gospel is so great that we ought to divide our contemplations equally between the account of the Sinful Woman, the hospitality offered to the Lord in the house in Bethany, the meeting of Jesus with Mary of Bethany at Lazarus' tomb, the appearance of Jesus Risen to Mary Magdalen.

In each case the new Covenant which the prophets and the Fourth Gospel had announced see God and humanity as joined in a nuptial alliance, realized in the union of Jesus with the Virgin Mary on Calvary; but perhaps even more clearly in the apparition to Mary Magdalen in the garden of the Resurrection.

After the Virgin Mary the Gospel contemplates and exalts Mary Magdalen. In the Virgin the redemption of Christ has its fulfilment and its most sublime and perfect expression; she is ' sublimiori modo redempta', because in her, Redemption is salvation from every sin. In Mary Magdalen, from whom Jesus had expelled seven demons, redemption is manifested in as much as 'all' the sins come to be remitted.

The seven demons were to signify how all the demons had possessed May. She was thus symbol of that universal ruin into which humanity had fallen before Christ, and from which He had raised her and called her to His intimacy. The woman from whom Jesus had expelled seven demons becomes the unfaithful wife whom Christ reclaims to his intimacy.

THE SINFUL WOMAN (LUKE 7.36-49)

The text is clearly central to Luke's Gospel. There are so many commentaries on the marvelous parable of mercy (Luke 15), but this conversion of the sinful woman is not a parable, it is an event. As such it is confirmation of the teaching of the parables, the extraordinary teaching of the parables in the event become a motive for scandal: a prostitute, from whom Jesus comes to give a moral, an example.

Her conversion obtains her forgiveness, but also begins through her a marvellous witness of love.

Jesus is in the house of a Pharisee. Probably Simon believes it is he who honours Jesus, held by all as a prophet, and Jesus does not refuse the invitation. And a woman breaks into the banqueting hall. Without explanation, without permission, not even a greeting. The woman sees no one, goes straight to Jesus and falls at his feet. With tears she bathes Jesus' feet, dries them with her hair. The Pharisee is scandalized but perhaps is also happy to have it be proved that Jesus cannot be a prophet. If he were he would know what sort of woman she is whom he is allowing to touch and kiss him. And Jesus now speaks. He has already said that all of us are sinners. All are debtors before God.

How has this woman known Jesus? It is certain that this acquaintance has given the woman a profound consciousness of the devastation of the sinfulness filling her. She would have been horrified at herself. An interior force had compelled her, had brought her to Jesus. Her conversion had already happened. The Pharisee tranquilly condemns the woman and judges Jesus, but the woman does not condemn herself. Not speaking, not asking, but abandoning all of herself, all her life at Christ's feet. His gesture is a gesture of love, in love she pays her debt and is pardoned.

Jesus' teaching is paradoxical: as great as is the sin that comes to be pardoned, even greater is the love. Christian sanctity has its foundation in the sense of sin. Only if you are, and you feel yourself to be a sinner, can you be redeemed, your salvation is in such redemption.

Certainly the gesture of the sinner was a gesture of love, but it was a gesture that began the new journey of love. The Pharisee could not have done what was done instead by the woman, but Jesus' words seem to want to anticipate all her life in that gesture of love which was just the beginning.

Do we find the sinner again in the Gospel? Just as the Gospeler does not want to say that the Apostle Matthew was the one whom he presented in the conversion of the one named Levi, so perhaps Luke did not wish to say expressly the name of this sinner, but insinuated it shortly afterward speaking of a certain Mary Magdalen, who followed Jesus. She would be faithful even unto death and beyond death. It is the same Mary Magdalen whom John's Gospel sees as the unfaithful wife, whom God recalls to his intimacy.

MARTHA AND MARY

Whether the text of Luke 10.38-41, or that of John 11, when one speaks of Martha and Mary, Martha is the first and Mary the second and yet, in the account, Mary seems far more interesting to the Gospeler and is certainly the woman who has the most intimate and living relationship with Jesus. Though it appears that both are in a communion of friendship with Christ.

In the tradition what is seen in Mary is the type of contemplative life and in Martha that of the active life. There is certainly a marked difference between the two women, though they are sisters. From the Fourth Gospel we learn they have a brother Lazarus, but it seems it is above all the sisters who welcome him in their house. He is absent, or perhaps, even if a disciple of Christ, is less fervent in his faith. Only after his resurrection do we see him at a banquet together with Christ.

Mary welcomes Jesus as a guest towards whom she feels she ought to do the honour of the house; but she is so obsessed with her housework. Her faith forces her service. Mary, on the contrary, in Jesus' presence, is paralyzed. She sits at his feet. She does not move around, she does not speak. All her life is in listening. The attitude of rest reveals the complete abandon of the soul. It is like that of the Sinner, but the rapport with Christ here is of a more calm and mature love.

He brings about a sense of veneration in Martha, in Mary only love. The text recalls the Sinner of the Fourth Gospel, in which the woman lives with Christ a communion of service and of love. And in the meeting of Mary with Jesus, before Lazarus' Resurrection, is the anointing at Bethany; and above all it is the appearance of the Risen Jesus to Mary Magdalen.

The two sisters in their relationship with Christ anticipate the sanctity of Clare and Teresa, of Catherine and of Margaret, teaching us that Christian sanctity is essentially a communion with Christ and is a communion of love.

AT LAZARUS' TOMB (JOHN 11)

The Apostles are with Jesus at the beginning of the chapter; their presence is expressly noted, as soon as Martha and Mary appear; the Apostles leaving and Jesus remaining alone with the two women. The relationship with the Apostles is different from that of Jesus with Martha and Mary.

With the Apostles Jesus is Master and their guide: he lives a more affectionate liberality with the family in Bethany. The Gospel says expressly that Jesus loves the sisters and their brother Lazarus. Mary was the one who had poured ointment on Jesus' feet and had dried them with her hair. The only other who did that in the Gospel was the Sinful Woman (Luke 7). The gesture is too unusual for it to be repeated more times and by different women. In the anointing in Bethany that would take place after Lazarus' Resurrection, according to Mark's Gospel, it is not upon the feet but upon the head of Jesus that Mary pours the perfumed oil.

For centuries it has been thought that Mary Magdalen and Mary of Bethany were the same woman, today we tend to separate them. The Gospelers seem to want to present them so as to justify one or the other version. If they were different women, then as much as could be written seems to join them into one, inasmuch as their gesture, their attachment, their communion with Christ is in common, each with the other.

This intention on the part of the Gospelers could also be because of their desire to transform the three women into a symbol, but even if the three women were one woman, the symbol is equally there. The new Covenant in the nuptial union of God with humanity. And God is the Bridegroom, as the Evangelists teach us; but the Bride. where is she? The Gospel never presents her directly. In fact she is not a real woman and neither is a concrete woman a symbol. The Sinful Woman represents the unfaithful wife whom the husband pardons and re-admits to his intimacy. Christ's relationship with this woman is deeply stressed in St Luke, and even more so in St John. No other creature lives a communion with Jesus of such pure abandon, of such complete dedication. The Apostles sense this. Their reaction to the anointing at Bethany is as if in unconscious jealousy, a certain chagrin.

This time Jesus comes to Bethany after the death of their brother. Martha's words as soon as she meets Christ are words of bitterness, as if in secret reproach. She had warned him of their brother's illness, he had not come, and now their brother is dead. Also Mary, as soon as she sees Jesus, says the same words. The ties of friendship between them must have been very great for the two sisters to have been able to say such words. Nevertheless, Martha immediately consoles herself with words of faith. Jesus responds to this faith with an inconceivable promise, 'Your brother will be raised from death', followed by 'I am the Resurrection and the Life. Who believes in me, though he die, shall live, Who lives and believes in him shall not die in eternity'. Now Martha proclaims her faith in Christ. She does not think of the physical resurrection of her brother, but trusts blindly in Christ. And she goes to call her sister.

No sooner does her sister say to Mary that the Master is calling her, than she rises in a hurry to go to Him. Her sorrow at her brother's death does not hold her back. Those who know her feelings think she goes to her brother's tomb, instead Mary in tears is already before Jesus. The Gospel says, 'Jesus seeing her weeping and with her weeping also the Jews who came with her, was profoundly moved'. He does not ask of Mary any act of faith, any word would be superfluous, nevertheless he turns to her. He seems not to want to trouble her or draw her from her sorrow. It is the dead one who counts. 'Where have they laid him?' Jesus breaks into sobs. It was said that Jesus wept over death. But is death like this such an event as to justify such weeping? It is Lazarus' death, that is not death itself, but the sorrow is for those still living. For this Jesus cannot have borne the sorrow of a poor widow and had restored to the mother her only son. And now it is the same. He knows that soon Lazarus will return and live and yet he is troubled by Mary's weeping. He cannot bear the sobbing of a sister whom He loves. Jesus' weeping, apart from Mary's attachment, shows a more intense bonding of that same friendship that unites Jesus to Mary of Bethany. The nuptial theme of the Covenant is already made present in some way at Lazarus' sepulchre, and will be more manifested in the apparition of the Risen Jesus to Mary Magdalen. Mary of Bethany perhaps is the same as Mary Magdalen, but even if she were not, it would not change anything.

The Symbol of the Bride of the Covenent can be none other than Mary Magdalen and Mary of Bethany. This seems already signified in the meeting of Jesus with the Samaritan, and with Mary of Bethany at Lazarus' tomb, certainly with Mary Magdalen in the garden of the Resurrection, above all Jesus' Mother at the Wedding Feast at Cana and at the foot of the Cross. Each of these tells us a of particular part of the new Covenant.

In Mary of Bethany at Lazarus' tomb, it reveals to us how God unites to us in the death of a son. The price of the Covenant will be the death on the cross. Yet Jesus is not troubled by His own death, but because He unites with us, living our punishment in our death.

THE ANOINTING OF BETHANY (MARK 13.3-9)

Mary and Martha live in Bethany. This is told us by the Gospels of Luke and John, that Jesus came to Bethany to stay with them. Their brother Lazarus lived with them. A communion of the closest friendship linked the whole family to Jesus. At Bethany he was to come in the end and carry out the miracle of raising Lazarus, already dead for four days.

In St John it is Mary of Bethany who pours on Jesus' head a vase of perfumed oil, with a gesture of reverence, of recognition, of intimacy. Also St Matthew and St Mark speak of this anointing. The first two Gospelers do not say that it happened at Bethany, they do not give the name of the woman, nor the place where the anointing happened. It does not matter that John says that the anointing happens in the house of Simon the Leper - it is a woman's gesture that is repeated with the greatest simplicity and shows the greatest intimacy with the Master, the gesture of the Sinful Woman in Luke. Also now Jesus is guest. But St John does not find it necessary to say this. Certainly it ought to be known who had invited the Master. But for St John it is more important to give the name of the woman: it is Mary of Bethany.

Matthew and Mark do not say this, just as they do not say the name of the city. And certainly from the same reason that blocks Matthew from giving a name to any woman in his Gospel. This time, however, the omission is even more serious. It was at Bethany that Jesus accomplished the greatest miracle of his life, in raising Lazarus from the dead, and Lazarus was the brother of this woman who carried out this act. It seems that one ought to remember that concerning this there is silence about the name of the Sinning Woman in St Luke and the name of the Woman of the Anointing in St Matthew and St Mark. Why? In the first two Evangelists the one relationship with Christ that they recognize, seems to be the disciplehood, and the disciples in the first two Gospels never become Jesus' friends. So much less should a personal relationship of a woman with Jesus, seeming to show this when this relationship could be one of friendship or of love.

In St Luke it is said that the Sinning Woman has loved much, and Jesus' words do not have their full meaning if the Gospeler were not to see her dedication to the Master after having obtained that forgiveness. The Sinner is therefore Mary Magdalen?

The anointing is so important to the Gospel narrative because it introduces the account of the Passion. It wants to teach us what the Passion was in Christ's life. At the beginning of his public life it is as it were an official consecration of his mission with the baptism in the Jordan, at the end; even at the beginning of the last week of his life, with the anointing Jesus comes to be recognized and consecrated officially the Messianic King.

It is not Judaism's High Priest who consecrates him, but a woman. But the woman is a symbol of the nation and as such is even, in the fulfilling of the new Covenant, symbol of the Bride (John 3.24). She does not anoint his feet as at her conversion, but his head, the oil flowing from his head and anointing Jesus' body.

The Gospel's comment, that the anointing fills the house with perfume, would teach the same thing: the anointing consecrates the whole body, the entire Church. If the anointing were only a gesture of veneration and of love, it would not be easy to understand the importance this gesture has in Jesus' words, 'Wherever the Good News will be preached in the entire world, this will be said of what she has done, in memory of her'.

These words are needed to allay the indignation of the Apostles for the woman's extravagance, are needed also to recall our attention and to suggest a Mystery.

The theme of the new Covenant as a nuptial alliance of God with Israel, but also with all redeemed humanity, seems somewhat strange to Matthew's Gospel, and perhaps also to Mark and Luke. For this reason Matthew is somewhat reticent about the woman, and so also is Mark. If in some pages of the Third Gospel the woman receives some recognition, it is because St Luke finally sees the greatness of God's Mother, yet not even in this Gospel do we come to see the woman as symbol of Bride. Instead in St John the woman always appears as symbol of the Bride. Also the Mother who give to the Word of God humanity, is also the Bride, associated intimately with Christ in his mission: but the woman of the anointing preceding the Passion is also the Bride.

To Mary's words: 'All generations shall call me blessed', are added Jesus' words about Mary of Bethany: 'Truly, I say to you that wherever in the whole world the Good News shall come to be preached, will be told of her in memory what she has done' (Mark 14.9). Mary of Bethany is as glorified as is Mary, Jesus' Mother. She will be called blessed throughout time, she will be remembered in all the world. They are both associated, even though they are different, with Christ, participating in the universality of the Christian mystery. His Mother introduces him into the world, Mary of Bethany consecrates him publicly for his mission, preparing him for death.

THE APPEARANCE TO MARY MAGDALEN (JOHN 20.11-18)

Jesus, Risen, appears first to Mary Magdalen. The account of the appearance in the economy of the Gospel has a unique and fundamental value. The Resurrection is the confirmation of God in the work of Christ.

This work is less the glorification of Christ than it is the redemption of humanity and that redemption has its proclamation in Jesus' first appearance, not because of the fact that he appears, but in how he appears to the woman from whom he had chased seven demons. And, as already noted, the fulfilment of what had already been noted of the Prophet Hosea in his life. God takes again into his intimacy the unfaithful wife.

Apostolic preaching could have carried to the world the announcement of the redemption that had come, but the redemption in fact was revealed in its true greatness in the appearance to Mary Magdalen.

She is alone and weeping beside the empty tomb. Mary of Bethany had wept at Lazarus' tomb, but now is no longer the hour for weeping. She had not recognized Jesus when he asked her, 'Woman, why are you weeping?' This word He had also used to his Mother: 'Woman', that is the Bride, but Mary does not yet understand.

The nuptial alliance was broken; now it is resumed and confirmed. He calls her, 'Mary!' With this word Christ's mission concludes. He can now entrust her to his disciples, because they will carry into the world that Good News of salvation and it must be they who communicate this to humanity, until the end of time, these fruits of redemption, but it will be Mary Magdalen who will carry to the Apostles this 'Good News'. Apostle of the Apostles they will call her in the Byzantine liturgy. Through Mary, his Mother, all humanity are her children, through Mary Magdalen only as brothers.

Mary Magdalen is not associated with Christ in the work of redemption, as is Jesus' Mother, united to Christ in the Passion; she is the 'Co-Redemptrix' of humanity. Christ instead unites himself to Mary Magdalen in his Resurrection. He calls her by name and Mary throws herself at his feet and embraces them. 'Don't hold on to me . . . ' Jesus says. The Covenant is renewed but the union may only be consummated in heaven. Mary Magdalen's relationship with Jesus, despite Christ sending her to the Apostles to announce the Resurrection, has an entirely intimate and personal aspect, the opposite of the relationship with Our Lady, whose union with Christ associates his Mother actively in Christ's mission.

Women are present in the Old Testament, but women's presence is dominant in the Gospel. This presence is never by chance. One could say that more than the presence of men the presence of women reveals Christ's mystery. The Gospel opens with the Annunciation to Mary and closes, practically, with the appearance of the Risen Jesus to Mary Magdalen.

No one is so associated with Christ as is the Virgin, but after Our Lady, it is Mary Magdalen who is the essential element in Christ's mystery. It is certainly significant that no woman, aside from Herodias and her daughter, is rejected and condemned by Jesus. He condemns and rejects the scribes and the Pharisees in ferociously harsh words, but not the Sinful Woman, for whom he has words of pardon and pity. He lives amongst the Twelve, but not one of the Apostles comes to be shown such signs of intimacy as in the actions with Mary Magdalen; Jesus never intimately participates in the feelings of the Apostles, as he participates in Mary of Bethany's grief at the death of her brother. There is a 'Mystery of Women' in the Gospel that is not only the mystery of God's Mother, notwithstanding that there could be no other woman, after Jesus, no creature higher and more inseparable from Christ. Let us think what the Gospel is telling us about women, not only through its teaching, but through its very narrations of the facts, that seem to us extremely useful to deepen the role of women in the life itself of the Church. Being made man, God would be born of a woman: only thus could the Son of God become our brother and this is what the genealogies of Matthew and above all of Luke would teach us; it remains true that the woman has the privilege of living with the Son of God a relationship that raises her not only above all men, but even above all angelic creatures. On the historical level women have a subordinate role to men, but this minority position in no way compromises their greatness on the level of Mystery.


CHAPTER IV

THE MOTHER AS BRIDE

PREMISE

fter his parents had presented him to his Father, their first-born no longer belonged to them; she was the mother who offered her son to God, through offering him to all humanity. She saw the most intimate union with Christ in the same sacrifical obedience which was the life of the Son of God in his human nature. The Son was obedient even to death on the cross; also his mother lived the supreme act of her sacrifice at the foot of the cross. But was she Mother or was she Bride? The Gospel speaking of Mary each time following the Presentation in the Temple sees Mary associated with the Son of God in his mission. The Son himself calls his Mother to live with Him this sacrifice in obedience to the Father.

'Why are you seeking me?' Jesus says, scarcely in adolescence, to the Virgin, 'Do you not know that I must be about my Father's business'.

In the act itself that begins his ministry he seems to thrust his Mother aside. 'What is there between you and me, Woman?' To the crowd He says, 'Who are my mother and who are my brothers?' Each intervention by Jesus would underline a different relationship with Mary, that relationship that then will be manifested when, dying, Jesus gives a son to the Virgin, symbol of all redeemed humanity.

He specifies for woman that which is not of man, and that is that woman is bride, and is mother. Theology has always seen the Church as bride and mother, but the Church is presented as bride and as mother in the Virgin Mary.

THE RELATIONSHIP OF THE SON WITH THE MOTHER

The Gospels, except that of Luke, seem to avoid stressing the communion of the Son with his Mother. They seem rather to exclude her. Certainly this great reserve on the part of the Evangelists would preserve the importance of Christ's obedience to his Father, He is about His Father's business. Natural love would or could draw Jesus from his mission. The mother ought to live a sacrificial relationship with the Son. The Son cannot live for her, cannot live for his family. The Synoptic Gospels seem to want to underline the freedom of Christ in confronting all natural bonds of love. He lives only for his mission. In fact, if his Mother unites him with his relatives in meeting with her Son, certainly She does not intend to draw him away from his mission. After Jesus' words in the Temple, she does not dare ask the reason for his actions, but accepts them, even if she does not understand them, with humility and love and thus always enters further into the mystery of her Son.

Mark and Matthew believed they brought the words of Jesus stressing the importance of God. No family bond should come before the fulfilling of the Lord's will. Also his Mother lives a communion of love with her Son, to the measure that his Mother herself enters into the mystery of the Son. That will be the mystery of the Cross.

Cleaving to God's will condemns Christ to death, and the union of the Mother to the Son (as will be said most explicitly in Luke and John's Gospels), will be also for his Mother the experiencing of death. So ancient Simeon had already prophesied to Mary, and so lived Mary at the foot of the Cross.

THE ANNUNCIATION (LUKE 1.26-38)

Luke's Gospel begins with two births preceded by a celestial happening. An angel appears to Zechariah in the Temple to the right of the altar of incense, while he is offering, and announces to him the birth of a son. Five months after the appearance, in the sixth month the Archangel Gabriel appears to a virgin in the intimacy of her house and announces Jesus' birth.

In the first intervention God, by means of the angel, speaks to a priest officiating in the Temple; in the second the word is given to a woman; the appearance is more simple and the event secret, yet this last, in contrast to the first, takes place in an atmosphere that is even more solemn and more sacred. The Virgin is greeted by the angel in terms of such obsequious reverence that she is deeply troubled. She asks how she could possibly be greeted so. Ignored by men, she comes to be greeted with profound respect by heaven. The greeting declares that God takes up the history of his people again, but the marvellous and new thing is that as instrument for this history, God chooses a humble young woman.

The Virgin does not refuse it; in her humility she reveals a greatness, an incomparable dignity. God associates her with the fulfilling of his promises, she dares to believe in the omnipotence of God who has chosen her and freely she abandons herself to the Spirit. The Annunciation would cause in all creatures an infinite dismay. The faith asked of her is that God would take flesh and blood of her - that she become as great as God, who gives himself to her poverty. The Virgin offers herself to God's will, who fulfils in her and through her, a work greater than creation, because creation now becomes solely the condition for the Incarnation of the Word.

Never has a creature been so raised up by God, not only God himself is given to her, but God asks the Virgin that he become man and become her Son.

THE VISIT TO ST ELIZABETH (LUKE 1.39-40)

The Virgin already carries the Word of God become her Son in her womb. Her greatness does not isolate her, does not distance her from humanity. The first fruit of this greatness is that she does not feel herself to be only in the Lord's service, but also in the service of humanity.

She goes to Elizabeth to help her in her pregnancy and remains with her until she gives birth. The journey is a long one; she goes alone, accompanied and sustained by her love. Living within her, God transforms her so into love. The visit to Elizabeth guarantees the truth of the mystery which is fulfilled in her. It is the first and, as if the only, event in her life, but this even is drawn out; it will be made present in all time for all people who could need her presence, her love.

The women in the Gospel have a relationship with Jesus; the Virgin, because of her union with Him, lives a relationship of love with all humanity who could be gathered to her as her child. She does not seem to live the joy of being mother except to give herself to others; it is she who also at the wedding of Cana, sees the need of the couple and asks for the Son's help. Transformed in love, like God, she hides herself in an abyss of humility and silence.

Elizabeth greets her and exalts her, but the Virgin does not respond to the greeting except to glorify God who has willed to descend even down to her poverty.

After her magnificent Canticle, Mary returns to her silence. The Gospel says only that she was in Elizabeth's house three months, before John's birth. She does not live for herself, she does not think of her own state. Her condition disturbs Joseph, her husband, for a short time; the Virgin in her pure abandon does not think of herself, she leaves her defense to God without emerging from silence.

THE MAGNIFICAT (LUKE 1.46-55)

The Magnificat is Mary's Song glorying God for what he has fulfilled in her, speaking of her marvelling at God 's doing that the more it is communicated so much the more it descends into the abyss of human poverty and humility.

In her faith she does not fear to announce that all generations shall call her blessed, so while this is the Canticle of praise and thanksgiving of the Virgin to God, it is also the Canticle of Israel, of all humanity.

'God's mercy extends to all generations' and 'Every generation shall call me blessed'.

Time is measured by generations, but the entire process of time contains only the Father's mercy in the gift of the Son, and the glorification of the Virgin Mother of God.

In fact, making himself man in her womb, God has fulfilled his promises and has accomplished his purpose to all his acts, even to the entire history of Israel and of the world.

The history of Israel and the world is not in one act alone that God's mercy in the gift of the Son and the glorification of Mary who is his mother. Yet the 'word' being the Virgin's Song has such a fullness as not to exclude the life of any nation: her incomparable greatness elevates all creation in a unique communion with God, the greatness of the Virgin does not separate her from humanity, does not separate her from creation; her divine maternity becomes rather, in some way, the maternity of all the earth.

Luke's Gospel is the Gospel which sees in the Incarnation the fulfillment of God's promises; for this reason it is the Gospel which speaks the most of Mary. The Holy Spirit which has dictated the Magnificat, has created this, the song of the entire Creation in its praise of God.

JESUS' BIRTH (LUKE 2.4-7)

In no other page of the Gospel does a woman count so much as in those concerning Jesus' birth. In an expression that is particularly laden with theological meaning St Paul says that Jesus is 'born of woman'. In his human birth, He who in the Trinity is the Son of God, becomes Son of Mary; from the Father he receives divine nature, from Our Lady human nature. He for whom all things were made, receives from a woman his being made man. Existing in human nature assuming the Person of the Word, she becomes Mother of God.

No creature has ever lived or could ever live a more intimate and necessary communion. For this communion Jesus is Son of Mary, and also brother to every human being; He really belongs to our race, is one of us; even more; existing in this assumed human nature, as Person of the Word, human nature becomes divided among the multitude of created persons (no created person alone could realize the potentiality of human nature), in Him become One.

He is Born of the Virgin, she is the Mother of God, but because of this she also becomes Mother of all humanity, because her Son is who is One with all.

Born of her; the one event is fulfilled in the most humble simplicity. The birth will take place, far from Nazareth, where she had her home. She had helped Elizabeth until she had her child, but the Virgin is alone with Joseph, not even welcomed into the poorest inn in Bethlehem. In the night 'she gave to the light her first-born Son, wrapped him in swaddling bands and laid him in a manger'.

Della Robbia, Ospedale degli Innocenti, Florence, Alinari

The baby was hers, and all for her. Thus it had to be, that all the pure joy at the birth should be followed by the sacrifice that she had to give of him, always more one with the Son who was made man, to then die on the cross. To birth death answers. And to the birth as to the death, the Mother will be alone with the Son, one with the Son.

THE PRESENTATION IN THE TEMPLE (LUKE 2.22,33-35)

There is no miracle through the Virgin Mother. Jesus her Son performs a miracle for Peter's mother-in-law; for the hospitality of the family in Bethany he responds with the miracle of the resurrection of Lazarus; but through the Mother no other miracle is performed. The miracle was her life of faith.

God does not communicate beforehand anything of what will happen, nothing of what he will ask of in her life. She knows now only from Simeon that her life will become a life of sorrow. She accepts this totally, without knowing exactly what these words would tell her; she knew only the words of the old man, who could have recognized the action of God in her life, of the suffering that she ought to accept. She had consented to the words of the angel, she consents to Simeon's words, she always consents, in pure faith.

After the Angel of Death saved the firstborn sons of Israel, each first-born was owned by the Lord, but the parents of the baby could buy him back, offering in sacrifice a lamb, or two doves if the parents were too poor.

Mary and Joseph go the Temple to obey the law of the Lord. The child whom they need to buy back is the Son of God. His Mother presents him to the Lord and offers for the purchase price two doves. God receives this to be able to give. Not only is it the Father who gives his Son to the world, it is also the Mother who buys back her firstborn to be able to give him.

In that moment we find the old man. He takes up the baby in his arms, recognizes him and give thanks to God. Simeon now can die, Israel's waiting is ended. But now through this the Mother's Passion begins. The Son no longer belongs to her, he will now live his mission and the Mother will be associated with the Son in the gift that finally she will make of Him to the world. Perhaps she did not imagine, when the old man took her baby in his arms, that God would have restored her Son only because he would be able to give him. As Christ 'entering into the world', said, 'Sacrifices and offerings you have not wanted, but a body you have prepared for me; in holocausts and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Now I say, "Behold I come"'. Thus the Mother now is associated with the offering of the Son. She will live this sacrifice in her pierced heart.

But she already lives this now and it will last all her life. It is the gift of the Son, a renunciation which for his Mother is more anguish than his death. Her martyrdom is like what Jesus lived on the cross, the abandonment of the Father. The Mother instead lives the abandonment of her Son who will be the Son of God.

THE LOST SON (LUKE 2.46-50)

At twelve years old Jesus went with Mary and Joseph to the Temple. Following the Feast of the Passover, he stayed in Jerusalem while all the pilgrims returned to their cities. Mary and Joseph also were returning to Nazareth and only after a day's journey did they come together to find that Jesus was not with them. They turned back. It is difficult to imagine Mary and Joseph's anguish while they were searching for him. After three days finally they found him in the Temple and his Mother believed she could reproach her Son. The Virgin ought to have understood what it means for her to be Christ's mother.

'Son, why have you done this? Behold your father and I in anguish have sought for you'. In reply Jesus was already drawing from his Mother, 'Why did you look for me? Do you not know that I must be about my Father's business?'

The Gospel tells us that she did not understand these words. Our Lady had to understand always this life of hurt and distance, that God had given her a Son only because she could offer him up. Already he no longer belonged to her. She ought to let her Son fulfil his mission, she ought to prepare herself not only to distance herself from her Son, but for his sacrificing. We will not see May together with her Son until we see her at the foot of the cross. Only on Calvary his Mother will be together with her Son, through living with Him the same death.

Mary's Motherhood had its fulfillment on the cross; she gave Jesus to the light without knowing the pain of childbirth; now she gives birth again, but in sorrow, to a son, and this will be redeemed humanity.

But after such a reply to his Mother, however, could the Gospel add that Jesus returned with Mary and Joseph to Nazareth and 'was under obedience to them'? Perhaps he abjured what he had said, renouncing being occupied about his Father's business? Certainly not. In his obedience, Jesus was living the tenderness appropriate to a son.

His obedience was obedience to the Father, who asked of the Son to live his mission in a life of seeming uselessness and asked of the Mother to live in a faith ever more pure, while the years passed, without seeing anything of what the angel had predicted to her. The thirty hidden years were for Mary a lengthy school of silence and of incomparable faith.

IN HER HEART

Acts distinguish us, but in the economy of salvation it is God who reserves to himself the intervention and fulfillment of the event. Men are called to work with God, while women instead are to interiorize the event. This is what the Gospel tells us of the Virgin Mother of God: her greatness is, certainly, in her motherhood, but that she lived in her heart what God had fulfilled in Her. And it is in this treasuring up in her heart that the Virgin made the event truly hers. Certainly, in the memory the event could not be greater, but only in this interiorizing of the event by her could she now be intimate as the Mother of God.

Twice Luke's Gospel underlines this (2.19,51), as if to say that all her life was in this keeping of the memory, but the memory was not of a past event, it was rather of the same presence, and had its fulfillment, for her, in her heart.

THE WEDDING FEAST OF CANA (JOHN 2.1-12)

One week opens John's Gospel and another week practically closes it. Then there will be the appearance of the Risen Christ, but this will be after the week, on the eighth day, that is, at the end of time. The first week repeats the first week of the first Creation. The Gospeler right at the beginning recalls Genesis. Now with Christ a new Creation is fulfilled, even if realized at the end, the true Creation, of which the first is only an announcement and figure. The Baptist's confession of faith recognizes and proclaims Jesus of Nazareth as the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, as the new Light, the true Light that lightens humanity. It is this confession which opens the economy of salvation, the new Covenant of humanity with God.

After this proclamation one counts days with the calling of the disciples. God has called all this out of nothing. Now Christ gradually calls men to follow him and to be in communion with Him. The humility of this call should not conceal the greatness of the event. The first Creation was required for this new Creation, for which God, raised humanity from themselves and made them Christ's companions.

The week of the first Creation ended tragically with Adam and Eve's sin and their expulsion from the Terrestrial Paradise; now, this first week of John's Gospels, ends with the wedding feast of Cana. Present, called by name, are Jesus and Mary, the new Adam and the Mother of all the living. In their union the Covenant seems to be fulfilled, and to celebrate it, water is changed into wine.

Yet no, it is not yet the hour; the first week has a partially prophetic character. To the Virgin who asks for the miracle, Jesus responds: 'Why do I have to do with you, Woman. My hour is not yet come'. When it will come, Jesus himself will turn equally to the Mother, calling her by the same name, 'Woman', because he unites her to himself through the birth of a new humanity, reconciled with God.

It won't be mixed with the wine of joy, but the union will be ratified in flowing Blood.

The first act of Jesus' public life anticipates the last, signifying that Christ's mission is the fulfilling of the new Covenant and in this Covenant the man and the woman are present, God is present in Christ and Humanity in the Virgin, who becomes the Mother of all the living.

WHO IS HIS MOTHER (MARK 3.31-34, 6.1-6)

Jesus was 'the son of a carpenter, the son of Mary'. Faith desires that he be part of a family, but we do not succeed in understanding and accepting that He renounces part of his freedom. He negates himself because one ought not realize oneself in unique singularity, but ought to accept only the role assigned by nature, departing from it being a scandal for the crowd.

To be attached to his Mother would be to renounce one of his freedoms to be at the service of his mission. For this reason during his public life his Mother practically never appears. Jesus refinds his Mother precisely when She is associated with the Son at his Passion. She cannot come near Him while he is preaching. She ought to choose silence and solitude. Through this reserve she lived God's will, the sacrifice of a renunciation of closeness with her Son - to this sacrifice Jesus has called her (Mark 3.31-34).

WHO IS MY MOTHER (MATTHEW 12.46-50, MARK 3.31-35, LUKE 8.19-21)

We will never completely know why Jesus left Nazareth and came to live at Caphanarum, probably in Peter's house. Why him, the only son, leaving his Mother alone? Certainly she was not alone. The Gospel speaks of Jesus' brothers and sisters and we know that among these who wanted to bring Jesus back to Nazareth, was James, said to be brother of the Lord; but we know that these brothers did not believe in him.

His Mother, Jesus leaving Nazareth, came naturally to trust in James who became responsible for the whole family. How hard that decision must have been for the son in confronting his mother? It certainly seems that she had lost her husband and now loses the son; she felt herself alone, like a stranger in her house. She could not reveal the mystery of the Son. Even after the Annunciation she could not have revealed to her husband what the Holy Spirit was fulfilling in her and now she could not what she alone knew of her Son's mission. It is certainly not she who wanted to strip her Son of his mission, but she could not refuse James, the head responsible for the house, and had to follow him, when he wanted to bring Jesus back to Nazareth, when perhaps he thought that Jesus was mad.

The Gospel page telling us of this attempt by James, for which to be effective he would have had to have their Mother herself come with them, is perhaps one of the most tragic pages in the Gospel. On the surface James has every right and reason. A widowed mother has been abandoned by her son. The son ought to return to his mother. But their Mother knows instead that the Son must 'be about his Father's business'. She does not ask, she does not wish, that he return. Truly she fulfills God's will in the sacrifice that was prophesied to her. He ought to fulfill his mission and she ought to live a life of solitude and sorrow; it is what Christ's Mother can give him.

In the Presentation in Temple she has bought back her son, but also in that same moment the Son has ceased to belong to her. She had received him from God, but she can only give him and it is the old Simeon who receives him.

Now she sees him and yet cannot speak to him. The Son seems to reject his Mother. It is always so. She alone knows the reason for this hardness and cannot reveal it to anyone.

THE VIRGIN BRIDE (JOHN 19.25-28)

In the marriage feast at Cana it is always the Virgin who speaks; on the contrary at Calvary it is Christ who speaks. Only the Bridegroom can take the initiative because he fulfills the union. At the wedding feast of Cana a miracle is accomplished but it is not through Christ, but through the Virgin. The new wine comes to be given at the end of the banquet: all is left to the end. At the end shall be fulfilled the Covenant, and from flowing blood will be renewed this new humanity.

The sons of God will also be sons of the Virgin, will be sons of the Church. In the appearance to Mary Magdalen, the unfaithful Bride is redeemed in respect to the union. At Calvary instead the Bride already is united to Christ her Bridegroom, and becomes mother of all the living.

John's Gospel knows Mary, Mother of Jesus, but sees in Mary above all the Bride; for this Christ turns to her, not as a mother, but clearly as to a Bride: she is 'Woman'. Thus Jesus had turned to her at the wedding feast at Cana; thus he turns to the Virgin at the Cross. Yet the union was not consummated at the wedding at Cana; at Calvary instead, associated with Christ's Passion, the Bride lives the union and now births the new humanity in Christ's blood, from the Mother's sorrows.

'Woman' is the Bride and 'Woman' comes to be said also to Mary Magdalen in the Risen Christ's appearance in the garden. In motherhood the relationship of mother with son is the relationship of nature, in the marriage union the communion of the Bride with the Bridegroom is realized in the liberty of a consensus.

The Gospel knows Mary as Jesus' Mother, but Jesus seems to reject a filial relationship, that would not be a relationship of love and freedom. So in the Mother is contemplated the Bride.

Already in the Incarnation one can recognize a certain sense of the wedding, not because in the Incarnation one unites divine nature to human nature in the Person of the Word (the nuptial union is either a union of two persons or it is no nuptial union) but because the Incarnation is completed in the consensus of the Virgin to the Word of God, that is to the Person of the Word. Yet perfect consummation of nuptial union and consequently of the new Covenant was, in the death on the Cross, the consent to the perfect and total gift of themselves which the Son and the Mother made of themselves to each other. The Son of God to those in Her who represents all of them, and the Virgin equally to all whom she received as sons in Christ.

Jesus said: 'Woman, here is your son'. 'Here is your Mother'. In Jesus' words it seems that He does not accept the love of his mother and her suffering; thus the Passion of Mary at the foot of the Cross was not an act of piety for the Son but a sacrifice of herself for the salvation of humanity. Through this Passion of the Son and of the Mother of all, all humanity was redeemed to become the Virgin's children.

Note: 'Ave, Virgine e Sposa ', 'Hail, Virgin and Bride', is the greeting which the most inspired and exalted hymn of the Eastern Church, the Acathistos, uses.


Spiritual life will always be participation in Mary's Motherhood, but above all is union with Christ.

piritual life is essentially the communion with Christ. There are therefore relationships with Christ as are seen in the Gospels, to teach us the nature of spiritual life, and its progress until its perfection. And the perfection of this life is revealed to us in the closest and most intimate communion that was had with Christ - and in the mystical experience, the participation in the relationship of divine Motherhood, it is the nuptial union of the soul with Christ her Spouse.

This mystery supposes and requires a full transfiguration of human love, and has its foundation in what the Gospel tells us about Mary Magdalen, but above all about the Virgin Mary. It seems that this nuptial mystery ought to have its fulfillment only in heaven (John 20.17), and yet it can be understood somewhat here below. As at the foot of the cross.

It is valid for ever what God said at the beginning of days: 'It is not good that man be alone'. The woman could not fit the role that God had wanted to give to man, but she realizes her vocation in being a helpmate like him. Thus when not living her vocation, woman lacks dignity and lives at the margin.

Only in Christ, the new Adam, is the woman redeemed and the Christ can associate himself with her in the mission of redemption. Thus did Veronica, thus, Gemma, thus, Therese of Lisieux. One can understand from this the importance and the number of women in the Gospel, especially in Luke and John's Gospels. The woman can be Mother, but above all, Bride. The spiritual motherhood of all the women saints in the Church requires this union with Christ.


Translated by Julia Bolton Holloway from La Donna nel Vangelo: Meditazione (Florence: Libreria Editrice Fiorentina, 1995).
 

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