The editorial of the month
Editorial by Father Sebastian White, o.p.
While in New York for my first eight years as a priest, I often visited the Dominican nuns at the Monastery of Our Lady of Grace in North Guilford, Connecticut. Though I told myself I was being generous by giving their chaplain some rest, it wasn’t exactly an act of heroic virtue—for it was as much because I enjoyed being back on New England soil for some fresh air and a few days of peace and quiet. Depending on the weather, I read books by the fireplace in the little guest house or took walks—often to the farm up the street, where there are llamas—listening to the chirping crickets in summer and basking in the foliage and the smell of chimney smoke from neighboring homes in autumn. Always I enjoyed both the natural beauty of the landscape and the divine beauty of the nuns’ life of prayer. For the rest of my days I will feel a special devotion to Mary under the title of Our Lady of Grace.
Lovely Lady dressed in blue
Since my move to Washington, D.C., last year, I have been blessed to visit Saint Dominic’s Monastery in Linden, Virginia. This holy place stands amidst the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains—so called because they regularly assume a blue hue at sunset. Each time I visit the monastery, I pause to appreciate how much this setting complements the sanctity of the monastery. The blue beauty of nature seems to smile upon the nuns consecrated to contemplating the truth and goodness of the God who made those mountains.
The color blue also, of course, reminds us of Our Lady, whose nativity we celebrate on September 8. Although the Blue Ridge Mountains are truly beautiful, no creature reflects God’s divine artistry more profoundly than the Blessed Mother. As the Catechism says, “the spiritual beauty of God is reflected in the most holy Virgin Mother of God” (2502).
Proclaiming God’s greatness
Though some regard the Blessed Virgin with suspicion, fearing that honoring her in some way distracts from the beauty of God, nothing could be further from the truth, for in her very being and in her every action, Mary proclaims the greatness of the Lord. Mary, after all, did not make herself. She is not the product of her own ingenuity or handiwork. She is, rather, God’s creative masterpiece, for the eternal Father “blessed Mary more than any other created person” (CCC 492). Everything about the Mother of God therefore reflects his own infinite goodness and beauty. Only God can make something as beautiful as a crisp fall day or the Blue Ridge Mountains, and God alone could have created the Blessed Virgin.
Living in reality
From the very beginning, human beings have grappled with their createdness. Adam and Eve’s loss of original justice can be traced to a lie about their creative ability. In Genesis 3, the cunning snake suggests to Adam and Eve that if they disobey their creator and eat the forbidden fruit their eyes will be opened and they will be like gods. In other words, the serpent argues, if Adam and Eve want a share in divinity, they have to make it happen themselves: they must make themselves like God.
Mary—who said, may it be done to me according to your word—represents the antidote to these deceptions. And the feast of her nativity proclaims the precious truth that only God can create, and he always creates in wisdom and love. Mary’s nativity reminds us that her life, her nature, and her sacred vocation to be the Mother of Jesus did not originate from her. They, like she herself, are gifts from God. When we praise Mary for her greatness, therefore, we recognize that it is a created greatness that does not compete with God’s glory in any way.
Immaculate Mary, your praises we sing
I find the example of an artist to be helpful in illustrating this point. Imagine that you are a master artist—let’s say da Vinci—and you have just finished your masterpiece: the Mona Lisa. Would the admiration of the people for your painting—it reportedly attracts 30,000 visitors a day—make you feel threatened as the artist? Would you be tempted to jump in front of the Mona Lisa, demanding that the admiration be directed to you instead of the painting? Not at all. Artists know that the honor that people pay to their work gives honor to them as the artist, too. We all know that a painting did not paint itself. When we admire great works we are also paying honor to the genius of the creator.
In the same way, our praise for the Blessed Virgin—and any saint, really—is ultimately in praise of God. As one preface of the Mass says, “for you are praised in the company of your saints and, in crowning their merits, you crown your own gifts.” Nothing God creates detracts from his infinite dignity. Indeed, his infinite dignity, wisdom, and love are the reasons for the good things that he does in our world and in our lives. Thus, all honor that we pay to Our Lady is attributed through her to her maker.
This month, especially as we celebrate the nativity of Mary, may we thank God for the good things he has done in our own lives—our family, the beauty of nature, our talents, even our very life itself, for all good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights (Jas 1:17). And as we continue to pray with this little publication dedicated to Our Lady and named for her song of praise, may our souls too proclaim the greatness of the Lord.