Thought for the Day – Monday 17th August, 2020.
We all like our heroes and heroines. People we can look up to and admire as examples of how to behave or how to achieve. That is probably why an interest in saints arose, as the early church recognised certain individuals as having carried out remarkable acts in the name of Jesus Christ and that these could encourage others. Unsurprisingly this soon led to veneration of those individuals, and a sort of quasi-worship developed. Saints became “special” people, possessed of almost magical powers and who had a particularly close relationship with God so as to give them some influence over him. It became the practice to pray to the saints in heaven, asking them to intercede on behalf of others.
Some of the achievements of those named saints of the past are extraordinary, almost comical, like St. Nicholas leaping from his mother’s womb crying “God be glorified!” Others are less spectacular but may still have been the subject of exaggeration. One can understand how this came about, but the reformers of the 16th century regarded this as suspicious, ungodly and even blasphemous. The “worship” of saints was abolished in Protestant countries. It is only in recent years that the virtue of celebrating them has been recognised again in the wider church (it never really went away in Orthodox and Roman Catholic cultures).
The point is that the saints we particularly remember were not special in themselves. The word used in the New Testament which is translated as “saint” simply refers there to any Christian person - a member of the church. Certain individuals are celebrated because they were people of faith who, in following God, were able to do remarkable things in the name of Jesus Christ so as to encourage and be a witness to others. They were ordinary people, like you and me, who responded to God and acted in his name. They help us to see what we can do.
One of the first, and arguably the most important, person in this category was Mary, the mother of Jesus. She became venerated because she was “Highly favoured” by God as the one who bore his son, Jesus Christ, and she is described as “Blessed” in Luke’s Gospel for that reason. She is seen as one who meekly obeyed God, allowing herself to be used for this most important purpose. That is certainly true, but what is often overlooked is her essential ordinariness and simplicity, along with the fact that she did not obey God immediately. She questioned the angel who brought the news of God wanting her to carry Jesus: she was amazed and afraid. These are all perfectly natural reactions and throughout the Gospels (she features more in John’s narrative) we see her as someone who is quietly aware of the specialness of Jesus and is there to give such support and help as she can. We see her at the cross doing just that whilst at the same time being racked with grief.
In all this Mary can be a guide and help to us all. Not necessarily in any hero-worshipping way, but as one who was rather like us. Someone who responded to God’s call and as a consequence achieved an immense change in our understanding of the nature of God.
The feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary is on 15th August.
Almighty God, who looked upon the lowliness of the Blessed Virgin Mary and chose her to be the mother of your only Son: grant that we who are redeemed by his blood may share with her the glory of your eternal kingdom; through Jesus Christ your only Son our Lord, who reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen