Before anything was created, even before time itself began, God had a plan, a plan that encompassed everything and every person that he would ever create. As Scripture proclaims, God has "blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 1:3). Scripture goes on to say that God "chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love" (1:4), and that he "destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ" (1:5).
This wondrous plan—that we would all be filled with divine life and become beloved sons and daughters of God—is at the heart of everything God has done. It is so central that not even our fall into sin could destroy it. Just think: Each of us has been called to fulfill a specific role in his kingdom. Because her role is so pivotal in God's plan, Mary stands as the supreme example of what can happen to us as we yield to the Lord and allow his plan to unfold in our lives. So let's take a look at Mary's role in God's plan, a role that he had laid out even before he made the world.
At the Dawn of Creation. Imagine how important the character of the mother of the Son of God must be. She was destined to be more than simply the vessel through which the Son would enter the world. Both in her heart and in her deeds, she was chosen to sum up Israel's centuries-old longing for God's promises to be fulfilled. She was destined to give birth to and to train the one who would save all people from sin! God intended that she become the model for all Christians throughout the centuries, both showing by her example and helping through her intercession to bring all of us to the purity of heart and singleness of mind that God wants of us.
The Link Between the Old and New Testament. God destined that the Messiah would come through a daughter of Israel, one freed from the taint of original sin. He intended that the mother of the Redeemer be a humble woman who would not seek attention from the world. She was to be poor, trusting completely in God, perfectly fulfilling the law that Moses had given to her ancestors on Mount Sinai.
The Gospel of Luke gives special insight into Mary's role as a faithful daughter of Israel. Luke places Mary in a tradition of Israelite women that includes Abraham's wife Sarah (Genesis 18:1-15; 21:1-7); the unnamed mother of Samson (Judges 13:2-5,24); and Hannah, Samuel's mother (1 Samuel 1:1-2,9-20). Each of these women conceived miraculously and gave birth to men of God who each in their own way foreshadowed Christ.
Matthew makes explicit reference to Isaiah's prophecy that a virgin (or "young woman") would conceive and bear a son called Immanuel, which means "God is with us" (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23). In Isaiah's time, the prophecy about Immanuel was taken to mean the still unborn heir of Ahaz, king of Judah, who would protect the country from foreign invasion. The first Christians, however, saw this prophecy fulfilled in Mary, a young virgin who would conceive miraculously and bring the Son of God into our midst. They saw Jesus as the "Immanuel," God with us.
At the very end of Scripture, the Book of Revelation speaks of a woman in labor whose child is threatened by a dragon (Revelation 12:1-9). Immediately after being born, the child is taken up to the throne of God, while the woman flees into the wilderness. Many believers through the centuries have come to see this woman also as Mary, the new Eve whose offspring would triumph over the ancient serpent, Satan (see Genesis 3:15-16).
In all of these Scripture passages, we can see Mary's role foreshadowed. This chosen daughter of Zion, humbly submissive to the Spirit, has brought forth the Savior, Israel's greatest longing, the one for whom God had prepared so long.
The Time of Fulfillment. Through these ties with the Old Testament we can begin to understand Mary's role in the history of Israel. She was intimately familiar with God's promises concerning the Messiah, and like her people, she longed for this Messiah to come and redeem Israel. How fervently she must have prayed, "How long, O Lord?" (Psalm 13:1), waiting and hoping for the promised salvation.
When the angel invited Mary to participate in God's plan in such an unexpected manner, her longing for the Messiah moved her to yield freely. In her answer—"Let it be with me according to your word" (Luke 1:38), Mary initiated a new era in God's design. His promised redemption had finally come. In Mary's womb, her people's longing for Christ was being fulfilled.
Even as she stood at the foot of the cross, Mary was in a privileged position. Her heart was pierced with a sword, just as Simeon had prophesied (Luke 2:35), but she also sensed that something momentous was occurring. All the years of prayer and openness to the Spirit had taught her that Jesus' death would bring life to the world. More than anyone else present on Calvary, Mary was able to look beyond the sorrow of the immediate moment and see the eternal joy that this redemption would bring about. All of mankind's sin was being wiped away before her very eyes. The Father's love was being released in a new way. Salvation had come, and she was privileged to witness it.
Mother of the Church. Mary not only witnessed the cross, she was also present on the day of Pentecost. There, in the upper room, the age of the church was inaugurated, the final era before Jesus' return. And all throughout this age, Mary has continued to fulfill God's purposes for her. Just as she did at Cana, she continues to intercede with her son. In addition, she shows her concern through various apparitions, in which she speaks to the children of God. Whether the messages concern turning away from sin or embracing God's love and salvation, these apparitions seem always to focus on preparing the world for Jesus' return at the end of time.
Catherine and Bernadette: The Grace of the Lord.
When she appeared to St. Catherine Labouré in 1830, Mary spoke a twofold message of grace and judgment: "My child, the times are very evil. Sorrows will befall France; the throne will be overturned. The whole world will be plunged into every kind of misery. But come to the foot of the altar. There graces will be shed upon all, great and small, who ask for them."
Recounting her later vision of the Miraculous Medal, Catherine said: "It made me realize how right it was to pray to the Blessed Virgin and how generous she was to those who did pray to her—what graces she gave to those who asked for them, what joy she had in giving them." Just as she willingly directed the stewards at Cana to her son (John 2:5), so even now Mary was leading God's people back to him.
We can also see Mary's eagerness to bring people to Jesus in the story of St. Bernadette at Lourdes. From the time when she appeared there in 1858 to the present, countless people have flocked to this little French village to seek God's healing touch. Thousands of lame, blind, and deaf pilgrims have been healed there, and countless more have been brought to conversion and a deeper experience of God's love.
Fatima: Intercession and Repentance.
Ever the daughter of Israel longing for the Messiah to come, Mary not only prays for people's conversions. She also invites those who are faithful to pray with her. In 1917, in the midst of World War I, Mary appeared to nine-year-old Lucia Abobora and her two younger cousins in Fatima, Portugal, to urge them to pray for those lost in sin. In one vision, Mary showed the children the pain and anguish of those in hell. They were like "coals in a fiery furnace, with never an instant's peace or freedom."
In her final message, on October 13, 1917, Mary told the children: "People must amend their lives, ask pardon for their sins, and not offend our Lord any more, for he is already too greatly offended." In all her appearances to them, Mary urged the children to pray for the world, that many would be saved from sin as they repent and put their faith in her son.
Thy Kingdom Come. There have been many other places where people have attested to seeing Mary, including Walsingham, England (1061), Kazan, Russia (1579), La Salette, France (1846), and Zeitoun, Egypt (1968-1971). What stands out in all these appearances is Mary's longing that all people be prepared for Jesus' return in glory. She has often appeared with tears, weeping over the sin in the world but still filled with hope and joy.
Destined from before all time to be the Mother of God, Mary continues to invite every disciple of Jesus follow her example. Her prayer, "Let it be with me according to your word," is something each of us can learn to say with ever-increasing trust. Through the power of the Spirit, we can begin to long for Jesus to come again, just as Mary prayed ages ago for his first appearance.
Brothers and sisters, each of us has been destined from the beginning of time. Each of us is his dearly beloved child. With hope and confidence, let us take up our calling as we await the coming kingdom and the full unveiling of the Father's plan for the whole of his creation.