With a hymn composed in the eighth or ninth century, thus for over a thousand years, the Church has greeted Mary, the Mother of God, as “Star of the Sea”: Ave maris stella.
Human life is a journey. Towards what destination? How do we find the way? Life is like a voyage on the sea of history, often dark and stormy, a voyage in which we watch for the stars that indicate the route. The true stars of our life are the people who have lived good lives. They are lights of hope.
Certainly, Jesus Christ is the true light, the sun that has risen above all the shadows of history. But to reach him we also need lights close by—people who shine with his light and so guide us along our way. Who more than Mary could be a star of hope for us? With her “yes” she opened the door of our world to God himself; she became the living Ark of the Covenant, in whom God took flesh, became one of us, and pitched his tent among us (cf. Jn 1:14).
Spe Salvi 49
Reflection – With this entry I will have now successfully blogged the entire encyclical Spe Salvi, on the salvific nature of hope. I’ve taken this last week or so to revisit and finish my blogging on this encyclical because it seemed timely. The world is in some very difficult and sad times—yesterday’s second beheading of an American journalist is one more movement towards what seems almost certainly a renewed military engagement in Iraq, and of course that is only one small corner of the world that is in great turmoil and distress—Eastern Europe and Western Africa are in sore need of prayer and aid now, too.
The sea of history is indeed ‘dark and stormy’ and it is all too easy to lose sight of the destination of the journey in these times. The passions—anger and avarice, gluttony and lust, despondency and sloth, pride and vainglory—all too easily beckon us when the world is in turmoil. They seem to offer us a way through these dark stormy waters, but to what end?
We can strike out against our enemies in anger, tightly cling to our own wealth, drown ourselves in physical pleasures, collapse into despair, or exert our mastery to put everyone else underneath us—but to what final end? What good is it, indeed, to gain the whole world and lose one’s soul?
And so we have the stars of hope, the light shed by the saints in glory, and above all by the great Mother of God who lights the path to the true end of humanity. It is so crucial in these days when the world does seem to be blowing up just a bit (and, we’ll see, perhaps quite a lot), to know that this world and our life in this world, good and precious as it is, is not the destination of the journey, not our ultimate home.
‘The true stars of our lives are people who have led good lives.’ What a lovely and simple sentence to explain the devotion to the saints which has been part of the life of the Church since its very beginning. This is why it is so important to read the saints and know something of their lives, the choices they made, the sufferings they endured, and what it was all about for them. So many genuinely foolish mistakes about Christianity and what it means to live as a Christian in the world would be avoided if we would let ourselves be taught by our betters, the men and women who have done this thing, lived this life, and whose lives serve as brilliant guides to us along the ways of the world.
Mary is supreme among the saints. She shows us that, no matter what the circumstances of our lives, no matter what is going on around us, inside us, in our world and in our own little worlds, the road to the good end of life is the road of fiat, of faith, of humble obedience to God. That the whole purpose of God in creation and in humanity is to make of us an open door for Himself to enter in, that the world’s salvation and ours does not come through human power and mastery, not by violence and not by sensuality, but through the work of God transforming our flesh into His, our lives into His, our humanity into His divinity, as His Spirit overshadows us as it did Her.
Our Lady is the star shining brightly in all the world showing us that this is the path of life and that it leads to a brilliant and glorious end. I don’t know what the great political and (possibly) military solutions are to the very real problems we are facing in the world today. I do know that we haven’t a chance of finding our way through these times if each of us personally does not set our course by the stars of hope the Lord has laid out in the heavens for us, and that the true way of peace in the world comes only through walking the path God opened up for us and that Our Lady reveals to us in its fullness and its beauty.