Getting God’s Attention

Annunciation, Christina Saj

Annunciation, Christina Saj

“The best way to get Jesus’ attention is by talking to Mary.”    

On this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, I find myself wondering how many have heard this line or something like it.  Often it’s a tagline for a joke, but as Homer Simpson would say, “It’s funny because it’s true.”  Or, at least, it’s funny because it’s true that in the big pool of Catholic piety there swims a notion that Jesus is either too exalted or too busy to care for the picayune problems of the world.  Who is closer to us than the King whose feast we celebrated two weeks ago?  Who can get Jesus’ attention and coerce him into addressing our prayers?  The answer seems to be that his mother, who is our mother in faith as well, convinces Jesus to take notice and to share his grace with his sisters and brothers.

Intercessory prayer is a gift, and the companionship and care of the communion of saints offers inestimable help as we walk our pilgrim path. Yet, this line of reasoning about Mary’s relationship to us and to Jesus raises my theological eyebrows because I think it gets the issue wrong.  God has already drawn close to us in Christ and the Spirit; the question is whether we have drawn close to God.  We have already got God’s attention; the problem is whether God has ours.  In other words, I don’t need Mary get to Jesus’ attention for me; I need Mary to get my attention to Jesus.

It seems to me that is precisely what Mary does in Luke’s gospel.  Mary tells us what we are either inclined to forget or fail to see:  God’s attention to us—in other words, God’s mercy and faithfulness—has never wavered.  While not always evident, the mystery of God’s salvation slowly infuses time and transforms history until God’s reign is brought to birth.  This is what Mary says “yes” to in the Annunciation; this is the reason for her prophetic joy in the Magnificat.

If the way I think of Mary relating to Jesus is as a parent nagging a child to do something, the divine response seems likely to be “Fine, yeah, I’ll get to it, I promise.”  All I can do in the meantime is be optimistic that her powers of parental persuasion will take effect and hurry the process along.  In contrast, Luke’s gospel gives a picture of Mary overflowing with the Spirit’s knowledge.  She renews hope that God lovingly attends the world, and insists that I discern God already at work fulfilling promises.

While we do call God to be present to us, our prayers are not reminders to an unapproachable or inattentive deity of our needs; rather, these prayers remind us of our need for the God who is already present, calling for our attention.  Mary does not inspire a mere optimism that we can get God’s attention, but rather instills the hope that makes us attentive to God and nurtures our own prophetic “yes” so that we, too, may participate in God’s ongoing work of salvation.

4 responses to “Getting God’s Attention

  1. Thanks for your post Amanda. It reminds me of an anecdotal argument someone once told me, which was that they thought that in past eras, people prayed to Mary because she was the welcoming, gentle mother in contrast to the all powerful, frightening king of Jesus. Nowadays, however, he thought people turned to Mary as a sort of stern or strict mother out of rejection of an “I’m ok you’re ok” Buddy Jesus type. Not sure if that’s really true, but I do think it would be interesting to look at the variety of interpretations of Mary in relation to interpretations of Jesus.

  2. After reading your post Amanda, and also Stephen’s response, I was reminded of a statue I once saw of Mary holding the child Jesus. Jesus was pointing to Mary’s heart as the model of discipleship and Mary was pointing to Jesus’ heart, the way, the truth, and the life. The various theological relationships between Jesus and Mary that have been professed would be a very interesting topic to explore.

    I really liked your observation that Mary “instills the hope that makes us attentive to God and nurtures our own prophetic “yes” so that we, too, may participate in God’s ongoing work of salvation.” Mary’s role in God’s plan is special and unique. To your point though, through our baptism we have also received God’s grace. We are each called in a different way to “participate in God’s ongoing work of salvation.” I offer the following from St. Therese of Lisieux:

    “Every flower created by God is beautiful, the brilliance of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not lessen the perfume of the violet or the sweet simplicity of the daisy. If all the lowly flowers wished to be roses, nature would no longer be filled with lovely hues. And so it is in the world of souls, Our lord’s living garden. God has created the great saints who are like the lilies and the roses, but God has also created much lesser saints and they must be content to be the daisies or the violets which rejoice in His eyes whenever He glances down. Perfection consists in doing His will, in being that which He wants us to be.”

    There is one rose that is more beautiful than all of the rest, Mary our Mystical Rose. By her example, may we discern God’s will in our lives and realize the gifts that we have been given and use those gifts for God’s greater glory. In full participation with Mary Immaculate, may our Christian community grow into the beautiful living garden that we were created to be.

  3. Thanks to both of you for your comments. As a masters student I had the chance to take a mariology course, which was quite interesting in many ways, particularly because of the historical perspective it offered on the relationship between Mary and Jesus and our relationship to both of them.

    P0430, your quote from Therese and description of Mary as disciple have links to my favorite Advent song, “People Look East.” I couldn’t quite fit in an allusion to the song in the post itself, but its second verse is apropos:

    Furrows, be glad. though earth is bare,
    One more seed is planted there:
    Give up your strength the seed to nourish,
    That in course the flower may flourish.
    People, look east and sing today:
    Love, the rose, is on the way.

  4. Pingback: All I Want for Christmas is an Advent Playlist | Daily Theology·

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