MASTRANGELO: Mary as a model of discipleship

May 9, 2023

A stained glass window at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Hitchcock depicts St. Elizabeth greeting the Blessed Virgin Mary. (Photo by James Ramos/Herald).

To be a disciple is to follow the model of the teacher so closely that we begin to act and live as the teacher does.

As Catholics, our teacher is Jesus, the Son of God, and so discipleship means not only following His model but aligning our own wills with His. It is to follow the instruction given by Mary at Cana to “do whatever He tells you” (Jn 2:5). No one followed this instruction and aligned their will more perfectly to God’s than Mary, the perfect model of discipleship. We learn from Mary’s fiat to say yes in a wholehearted way. Mary also offers us other valuable lessons from her life in the Gospels that can deepen our understanding of discipleship.

In Luke’s gospel, Mary receives the incredible news that she is to be the mother of God alongside the equally astonishing news about Elizabeth’s pregnancy in old age, and we are told that she travels “in haste” to visit and tend to her cousin. Pope Francis writes that Mary is “the woman of prayer and work in Nazareth, and she is also Our Lady of Help, who sets out from her town ‘with haste’ to be of service to others” (Evangelii Gaudium 288). Mary remains for three months with Elizabeth, presumably to care for her through the birth of her son while pregnant herself.

The visitation demonstrates the call to serve others and highlights the fact that “if one part [of the body] is honored, all parts share its joy” (1 Cor 12:26). Discipleship is not a lone journey and not solely for our own growth and good. Being a disciple means recognizing our role in service to our community, despite what may be happening to us personally. Like Mary, we must always acknowledge the gifts that God has given to us and respond in trust and praise. Like Mary, we must also recognize the work that God is doing in others with praise. It also means being ready to respond with generosity “in haste” with the love of God for others.

The great prayer of praise, the Magnificat, highlights another aspect in the life of discipleship: hope in God’s promises and an attitude of thanksgiving for his saving work. Mary demonstrates gratitude not only for what God has done for her individually but the gift that is bestowed through her for all the world’s salvation. We, too, receive gifts from God that are not only for our own benefit but to be used to build God’s kingdom here on earth. We, too, have a role to play in salvation history, and we are called to see our place in this larger story and to be thankful to the God who bestows so many gifts and graces upon us. The Magnificat is also a reminder to look back at the mighty works of God, which hint at the great things still to come, and to place our hope in the fulfillment of that promised future.

Mary also models the inner life of the disciple. We are told that upon hearing from the shepherds who visited the infant Jesus (Lk 2:19) and after finding 12-year-old Jesus at the temple (Lk 2:51), that she “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” What God reveals sometimes takes time to understand. What He may be calling us to is not always immediately clear. Mary demonstrates the need to pause, to hold things in prayer, to make space for God not just in our active lives but also in our hearts. Our ability to hear God’s call, to be moved to serve another, to hope and trust in God’s promises and work toward building the kingdom can only grow from an inner disposition of humility, listening, reflection and obedience. While we are often called to follow and to do something in the world, we must also accept the call to just be with and behold the mystery that is God.

As St. John Paul II reflected, “From Mary, we learn to surrender to God’s will in all things. From Mary, we learn to trust even when all hope seems gone. From Mary, we learn to love Christ… Learn from her to be always faithful, to trust that God’s word to you will be fulfilled and that nothing is impossible with God. Turn to Mary frequently in your prayer “for never was it known that anyone who fled her protection, implored her help or sought her intercession was left unaided” (Homily, 6 Oct 1979). †

Victoria Mastrangelo is a wife, mother, campus minister and theology teacher at St. Agnes Academy.