I came across an image a few months ago that I fell in love with. It depicts Mary, the mother of Jesus, punching the devil in the nose. After a little research, I discovered it was an illustration found in a 13th-century book of prayer. The work was done by an Englishman named William de Brailes who lived just outside of Oxford. I loved it because I don’t think I have ever seen anything like it. At first, I confess to having found it a bit comical, then, after some prayer, realized it was a powerful statement.
The image depicts a fight and there is no question we find ourselves in a spiritual battle. Author C.S. Lewis claimed, “Christianity is a 'fighting religion' – not in the sense of hatred or violence directed at other persons, but rather in the spiritual struggle against the evil in ourselves and in the world around us, where our weapons are love, justice, courage and self-giving.”
It is a battle between good and evil. But not in a simplistic sense that would claim the things of this world to be bad and the things of heaven to be good. It is more complicated than that. It is more in the sense that this intended good and gracious world is besieged by a subtle and veiled evil that distorts truth, beauty, and life. Too often we find ourselves dialoguing with untruth and, ultimately, conforming to it out of a warped sense of compassion or false understanding of progress. We seem to compromise what is right in the name of tolerance that does nothing but water down our religious and moral convictions.
The truth oftentimes hurts and always seems to bring with it the naysayers, name-callers, and ridiculers. It is very challenging to have popular opinion sway in one direction and your moral compass point in the other. But this is the vocation of the Christian. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once wrote, “laypeople and priests don’t need to publicly renounce their baptism to be apostates. They simply need to be silent when their Catholic faith demands that they speak out... To be cowards when Jesus asks them to have courage; to ‘stand away’ from the truth when they need to work for it and fight for it.”
Today, the Church celebrates the solemnity of the Assumption of Mary. This dogma of our faith professes that when the mission of the Blessed Mother was completed on earth, her body and soul were assumed into heaven so she could reign as queen of heaven and earth. The readings for Mass today are incredibly important. The first reading is taken from the Book of Revelation (11:19a; 12:1-6a) where the Apostle John depicts a dream he had where a woman is about to give birth. In front of her is a ferocious red dragon who is poised and ready to devour her child. This woman gives birth to a son who is taken up to God and the woman flees into the desert to a place prepared for her by God.
What do these powerful symbols mean? Well, the twelve stars fashioned into a crown represent Mary as queen. The twelve stars represent the twelve tribes of Israel (Old Testament) and also the twelve Apostles (New Testament). In other words, Mary is the queen of both the old and new covenant God has made with His people. That she is clothed with the sun and stands on the moon also means that her reign is eternal and goes beyond space and time. If she is a queen, then her Son is king and all things are subject to Him.
In the gospel reading taken from St. Luke (1:39-56), we read about the visitation. Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth who was six months pregnant with John the Baptist. We run the risk of downplaying such a powerful scene if we are not focused on understanding the powerful impact it must have had for a first-century Jew. It is a direct reference to the second book of Samuel (6:1-18). The author of that book tells us King David, after defeating the giant and monstrous Philistines, goes to the hill country of Judea to retrieve the Ark of the Covenant. This ark was considered to be the holiest object in all of Israel. It was this ark that best represented God and contained in it the tablets of the Ten Commandments (the law), the manna given to the Israelites by God in the desert (the bread), and the staff of Aaron (priesthood).
The story continues. It tells us that after King David retrieves this precious item from the house of Obed-edom, where it had stayed for three months, he brings it back to Jerusalem. As the entourage marches into the holy city, David begins to leap and dance in front of it as an expression of great joy and celebration. Luke, in the gospel, writes that Mary goes to the hill country of Judea to visit her cousin Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard the sound of Mary’s voice, the child in her womb leaped with joy. Mary then stayed with Elizabeth for three months just as the Ark had stayed for three months.
There is no question Luke was relating a story that would strike very deeply in the hearts of those who read it. It was intended to make the powerful statement that now Mary was the new Ark of the Covenant because she carried Jesus in her womb. It was this child who was the new law (Matthew 22:36-40), the new bread (John 6:22-40), the new priesthood (Hebrews 5:5-6). The monsters that were now defeated were not the Philistines, but sin and death. In her role as mother of the Savior, Mary had quite literally punched the devil in the nose.
God has called us to a challenging way of life. The gift of His Son does not come without a price. We are called to engage in a battle that is not easy and will last the rest of our lives. People are oftentimes concerned about the number who walk away from the Church. Study after study tries to find the reason and lay the blame on one thing or another. At the end of the day, people leave because they abandon the fight. It’s too hard. Of course, it is. If it were easy, everyone would do it. But we do not stand alone. God is with us. Jesus is with us. Mary is with us. And be assured she has a mean uppercut.