Thursday, May 17, 2012

Reflecting on Reflections

We have encountered Mary as a mirror of the Divinity in our readings before, and we have also studied the idea of contemplating the Scriptures encouraged as a means of prayer and experiencing God more fully.  However, Maria of Agreda is the first to connect these two images in her visionary description of Mary, the Mirror of God, and Mary’s role in the plan of salvation.  Through the reflection encouraged by the angels at the time of her vision, Maria allows those who participate in her vision to also revive the encouragement and motivation of choosing to follow the will of God, thereby becoming more complete reflections of God.

In the Book of Genesis, the faithful are taught that all of humanity is created in the image and likeness of God.  We are not gods in ourselves, or members of the Trinity, but rather reflections of God in the tangible world.  This reflective image was clouded by the stain of original sin; in some ways, humanity must have forgotten what it meant to be an image of God, or in believing they were gods themselves, neglected to recognize God in each other.  This memory was revived and brought to a full fervor in the revelation of the person of Christ as both God and man.  Man recognized, as he had known in the garden of Eden, that his flesh, soul, and will were so pleasing to the Lord that He would partake in them Himself.  This revelation then allowed him to see God in all of his fellow humans, thereby participating in the Divine Love which is the message of the Gospels.

If it is the case that Jesus became the perfect reflection of God’s Love and gave us an example of how to live, why does it matter that we should reflect Mary in order to reflect Christ?  Was His life not sufficient to make us aware of the Image we are to conform ourselves to?  And why is this being revealed now?  And why through a vision to Maria of Agreda? 

Regarding the timing of the revelation, the angels explain that this vision was something that could have been revealed earlier, but would have been overwhelming for the early Church, perhaps resulting in the early Christians’ confusion or lack of full appreciation for the primary purpose of the Church – praising God.  While praising Mary and following her example are important and powerful tools for praising God, it must always be kept in mind that, as we discussed in class earlier, she is not as worthy of our attention as much as God is for giving her such graces.  While she was the perfect human being, there is nothing that says she is infallible.  Even Mary was not deemed capable of understanding everything about creation at once; she only learned about things that had been determined since the beginning at the proper time.  The best example of this is when Mary is taken to heaven during the novena before the Incarnation, in which God names her as “Chosen for the Mother of the Only-begotten” (158), but “to her [the latter part] was as yet hidden until the proper time.  She therefore heard only the word ‘Chosen.’”  It would not do for Mary to know that she had been predestined for this role, because then her Fiat would mean nothing and would be no genuine act of her own will.  Then she would be forced into the role of “instrument”-which while honorary in itself, would not bring as much glory to God.

These things were revealed to Maria of Agreda “in order that Thou [God] mayest be the more admired as the omnipotent Author of this history in proportion as its instrument is despicable and weak” (5).  Here, she disclaims her ability to reflect God as perfectly as even Mary could.  (This may also be referencing an idea that we talked about earlier in class regarding the poor quality of mirrors in this time period.  Mirrors at the time did not give an accurate or clear reflection, so being a perfect reflection of God would be impossible considering the materials we have to deal with.  But this is not as important as the intent and desire of becoming a perfect reflection of God, even if that is not to happen until the next life.  Indeed, one could argue that an intrinsic part of being human is responding to the call to reflect God to the world more perfectly by buffering, polishing, and adjusting the mirror of one’s soul and will, directing it always towards the Divine Light.)  The visionary experience is an opportunity for Maria to provide her readers with an image of the most perfect expression of the Imago Dei seen in Mary; by opening the vision itself with “I saw,” she disavows the perfection of being an active participant and merely becomes the means through which God’s glory is made known in the world.  Maria, in her attempt to reflect God to the world, teaches us how to make our mirrors of the highest quality.

It is implied that by contemplating the truth revealed though scripture and other divine experiences that we can become more perfect human beings, more perfect versions of the image of God that is inherent in our humanness.  But the more we reflect on these things, and then reflect on the state of our own souls, we see that we are inherently unworthy to be reflections of God.  This was the primary reason for Mary’s troubled spirit at the Annunciation; “the disturbance arose from two causes: first, from her humility, for she thought herself the lowest of the creatures and thus in her humility, was taken unawares at hearing herself saluted and called the ‘Blessed among women;’ secondly, when she heard this salute and began to consider within herself how she should receive it, she was interiorly made to understand by the Lord, that He chose her for His Mother, and this caused a still greater perturbance” (169).  The manner in which she ameliorated this discomfort was ever-conforming herself more closely to the person of her Son.  By imitating Him in all things, from desiring to suffer the same blows with which He was inflicted to participating in death, Mary used her God-given will to do everything in her power to be closer to God, thereby pleasing Him so much that he glorified her above all the rest of creation.  Mary became the most perfect Imago Dei.  She repeatedly encourages us, also, to strive for the same graces, pleasing God in such a way by our lives that he glorifies us the same because of our faithfulness and love.  Indeed, this should be the central drive of all humanity; we are already made in the image and likeness of God.  But through our will, we can sharpen, intensify, and magnify this image to bring great glory to God.

Praying the Rosary is one means of accomplishing this imitation that will bring glory to God.  The mental and physical dimensions of praying the Rosary reflect Mary’s life well: Just as she chose to follow her Son in everything, she also reflected on the mysteries revealed during her lifetime in her heart.  Thus in the same way, praying the Our Father, the prayer given to us by Jesus Himself, allows us to imitate Him in this way.  By praying the Hail Mary, we replicate the Angelic Salutation and Elizabeth’s declaration of the virtues of Mary.  While remembering the mysteries of the lives of Christ and His Mother, we reflect on their exceedingly excellent virtues and how the latter can be employed in our own lives; a sincere reflection on the blessed mysteries and on the truest Reflection of Christ will conform us ever more to the will of His Mother.  This is the claim that God makes on humanity; He made us in His image and likeness.  We, then, have a certain responsibility to bring this image to the attention of others, that they also may see as Maria of Agreda did the beatific vision reflected in the depths of our own souls.



  1. During lecture, when Professor Fulton Brown posed the question of does this document contain a new story or a familiar retelling, my gut reaction was not to point out the new details (though, once we discussed the new details revealed, I did notice those), but to question what sort of perspective Maria’s vision represents. I think your assessment of Mary’s role in the plan of salvation history is precisely how I too perceived this reflection to portray. Rather than see the plan of salvation history through a strictly Scriptural or doctrinal perspective, Maria’s details and chronology allow the reader to view events through a more Marian perspective, and I think this offers not only a compelling account, but also some insight into what sort of values we should uphold.

    I agree with your assessment that the Rosary affords an opportunity for one to continuously imitate in order to bring glory to God. In addition to the Rosary’s ability to provide a chance to memorialize and reflect and honor, it is also accessible, as we see in the readings. Unlike some of the devotions discussed previously, the Rosary isn’t intended for any one group of the populace. Its universality perhaps represents then some sort of universal striving to conform to His will. Moreover, we see in some of the apparition narratives that the humble townsfolk have access to these prayers, which continues to illustrate that all are able to grow closer to these more complete reflections.

    - LCM

  2. I really enjoyed this reflection, especially the last paragraph about the rosary. I liked how you connected the mental and physical aspects of the rosary with Mary's internal and external life-- that in her heart she reflected on what was happening, and outwardly she followed her Son and the will of God. Just as Mary is a reflection of God, we are also called to be reflections of God because we were made in God's image and likeness. This ties together with the rosary perfectly, giving us the opportunity to grow closer to God, and to better understand the mysteries in the lives of Christ and Mary and the virtues contained within them.

    You also closed your reflection with, “This is the claim that God makes on humanity; He made us in His image and likeness. We, then, have a certain responsibility to bring this image to the attention of others, that they also may see as Maria of Agreda did the beatific vision reflected in the depths of our own souls.” Because this truth has been given to us, so we must share it with others that they may live in truth. Highlighting this responsibility of ours is important, because holding quietly this knowledge (and gift) impedes the spread of God's work throughout the world. I saw similarly in the Glories of Mary by Alphonsus that if we truly love Mary, we will share our love of her with others, so that others too may honor her. We have a responsibility to share what we have been given, and that is exactly the point you made about Maria of Agreda; she was given a gift and desired to share it with the entire world so all may participate in the “beatific vision.”


  3. Hi Stephanie. I’m really glad you discussed the relationship between Mary and pre-fall man. After our class discussion yesterday, I’ve been thinking about that a lot. Both in class yesterday and in your post, you really nail it on the head; we are all images of God, and Mary is the most perfect image of God. We are all created to reflect God’s love, and Mary is the one who most succeeds in doing so. Mary alone was able to live the life we are all called to lead, and therefore it is most fitting that we should try to imitate her. It does not make sense to say that imitating Mary is pointless because we should just imitate Christ, because Mary imitated Christ as much as is humanly possible. Inasmuch as we imitate Mary, we imitate Christ, and inasmuch as we imitate Christ, we imitate Mary.

    I was really struck by your addition of the role of Christ’s Incarnation to all this: “in the revelation of the person of Christ as both God and man…Man recognized, as he had known in the garden of Eden, that his flesh, soul, and will were so pleasing to the Lord that He would partake in them Himself.” Wow! What a reminder of the dignity of humanity!


  4. I enjoyed your post and I especially liked your points on how Mary is a mirror of God and how that relates to our salvation. Mary is a reflection of God and she teaches and helps us become reflections. By following God’s will and imitating Mary’s humility and obedience, we too reflect God and grow closer to Him. I particularly liked your phrase “Indeed, this should be the central drive of all humanity; we are already made in the image and likeness of God. But through our will, we can sharpen, intensify, and magnify this image to bring great glory to God.” The connection between mirrors, reflections, and images emphasized that humans are made in God’s image and we need to consciously and actively reflect that image in our lives for all to see.

    I also liked how you pointed out that following and praising Mary is not the end goal; it’s about following and praising God. Mary helps us in this process, but she got her grace from God and she is a reflection of God. We are striving to reflect Mary’s virtues so we can reflect God. I think this point always gets misunderstood by people, but the distinction is important.

  5. Beautiful reflection (pun definitely intended)! You do an excellent job reflecting on the meaning of being a reflection (mirror-image) of God, as Mary of Agreda uses this image to help us see Mary as herself a reflection of God. As for why Mary of Agreda uses this image when she does: it may help to note that mirrors in the seventeenth century were much higher quality than they had been in the twelfth. By Mary of Agreda's day, mirrors looked much as our mirrors do now--and so, likewise, their reflections. I liked very much your meditation on Mary's response to the angel at the Annunciation as a way of illustrating her anxiety at becoming such a perfect reflection of the imago Dei; likewise, your reflection on the rosary as a way ourselves to imitate her, as well as our responsibility to share this image with others (as Mary of Agreda did in her own life and through her written work). One slight correction: Jesus is not a reflection of God's Love, he is God's Love. He is the prototype, we are the reflections.


  6. SMTB: Terrific post. I think that you have given an excellent rendering of Maria’s work. It is very complete and quite sophisticated. I don’t really have much to add to what you have written here. You do such an excellent job of articulating the way spiritual development or improvement of self with/through God is to be carried out (not only in Maria, though she is surely one of the most complete examples we have of this).

    With regards to mirror imagery and the higher quality of 17th-century mirrors, I only wanted to add that the imagery in Maria that stuck with me occurs in The Transfixion (pg. 453), during the embrace between Jesus and Mary. It is of “a crystal globe [that] takes up within itself the light of the sun and is saturated with the splendor and beauty of its light. In the same way the body of the most holy Mary entered into that of her divine Son by this heavenly embrace; it was, as it were, the portal of her intimate knowledge concerning the glory of the most holy soul and body of her Lord.” Saturation, permeation, total unity; in this way, Mary could be understood as conveyer AND source of God’s grace.

  7. One of the elements that definitely stood out for me from the Mary of Magrada readings is not simply that Mary most perfectly reflected and imitated Christ her son, but the way and extent to which she did it. Throughout her writings, Mary of Magrada puts forth the image of Mary as perfectly imitating the virtue of Christ in a chronological order. The scope of the way in which Mary is gradually transformed more and more into the likeness of God is broad and interesting.
    Touching on something you mentioned, for example, the novena before the incarnation shows us one way in which this takes place. On the fifth day of the novena, Mary of Magrada recounts how this ritual “emptied the treasures of infinity into her faculties, assimilating and transforming the heavenly Lady more and more to a likeness of her God in order to make her worthy of being His Mother” (p. 156). In this instance, then, we have Mary being sanctified through divine vision in a more passive manner.
    Later on, in the birth narrative, Mary of Magrada recounts how the newly born Messiah speaks to his Mother and beseeches her to “become like unto Me..” She recounts how, through these words, Mary realizes “the interior acts of His... soul united with the Divinity; in order that by imitating them she might become like unto Him” (p. 231). Here, then, we see Mary striving to imitate her son more actively. This account is very interesting since it displays Mary imitating her Son from the moment he is born, having an internal understanding of his soul. This manifests an incomprehensible intimacy with her Son that is only furthered and perpetuated as time passes.
    From these two examples alone, we see how Mary becomes like unto Him in both a passive manner and an active manner. I was particularly struck, however, by the second example I mention, in which the depth of the likeness between Christ and Mary that Mary of Magrada wants to emphasize is revealed.