"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

Ladder To Heaven: The Three Ladder Rungs Of Mary

A Virgin Mary statue was burned outside a church in Boston.
The statue has stood outside the Saint Peter Parish Church
since just after the end of World War II to welcome back
soldiers who were returning to Dorchester. 75 years ago on
August 15, 1945 Japan unconditionally surrendered
to the Allied which put an end to the deadliest war on earth.
"Heaven is a city on a hill," according to the venerable Fulton J. Sheen, "hence we cannot coast into it; we have to climb." Fulton's contemporary, St. Maximilian Kolbe, said of the Blessed Virgin Mary in relation to God, “What a marvelous ladder for climbing to Him... And it is the very same ladder whereby He came down to us!” (Roman Conferences, IV). The dogma of the assumption of Mary, body and soul, into the glory of the heavenly Kingdom would be difficult, if not impossible, to understand without a serious look at the material or worldly as the starting point. From this first step, all the words found in the dogma about heaven, Mary, soul, body and glory are interlinked, e.g., if Mary is the ladder that can be used to go up or down, we can posit to know where the two ends of that ladder are in an ascending and descending manner. Like any kind of ladder, its true benefit lies in being able to climb from below from which human journey begins. I remember the primitive wooden "Ifugao" house of the indigenous peoples in Northern Philippines which makes use of a detachable ladder to climb it. Then once somebody is up there, the person has to leave it behind to allow the other household members to climb up. And that is just what Jesus did! He gave us His mother (cf John 19:26-27). God left behind the ladder that He used in His descent so that we too could follow.

Ladder To Heaven: The Three Ladder Rungs Of Mary
1. Ladder rung of magnanimous spirit: The blessedness of Mary means to be con grande animo. Grande means big and animo means spirit i.e., with big spirit. Just how big or encompassing this spirit is cannot be measured for spirit is something invisible. In what manner could we say that Mary was con grande animo? She conceived within her God who is in Himself uncontainable. Or another image is that of the burning bush that burns without being consumed by this inextinguishable or unquenchable flame. Are you con grande animo like that of Mary? Is your spirit or soul so magnanimous, that God could find a dwelling place within you? There is this Old Testament Greek word that was only found in the Psalms "agalliasis" (ἀγαλλίασις [ag-al-lee'-as-is]). It is translated as exceeding gladness, exuberant joy. Because of such exceeding emotion the person who rejoices could not help but accompany her gladness with a body movement. This is the reason why Mary’s Magnificat is in the form of a song and the Greek word "agalliasis" is used fittingly to describe Mary rejoicing. “My soul magnifies the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices [con grande animoin God my savoir.” She then moves in haste to visit her cousin. Do you allow yourself to be moved by God like that? The Magnificat is like a soundtrack that accompanies the kind of life that Mary lived. There is another instance where our word "agalliasis" is used—at the Visitation when the fetus John the Baptist leaped for joy inside Elizabeth's womb. The body language of both Mary and Elizabeth speaks so much of their being con grande animo.

2. Ladder rung of humiliations but not curses: Luke’s beatitudes put side by side what blessings really mean… Blessed are you poor, for the kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are the hungry, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are the weeping, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate, exclude and insult you… Rejoice and leap for joy for your reward will be great in heaven... Luke contrasts this with the following curses: Woe to you who are rich… you who are filled now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now… when all speak well of you for you will grieve.

What, in your experience, do you consider your true blessings? Popularity, prestige? Riches, poverty? Victories, failures? To serve as a ladder like Mary, we must learn to celebrate too not only victories but also failures, not only strengths but also our weaknesses. Mary pondered how the humiliations she went through and understood how God understood things. She, con grande animo, was able to grasp God's wisdom that seemed foolish in human understanding. St. Ignatius of Loyola, for one, came to get to know God when he was at the lowest point of his life. The movie Sea Biscuit reminds me of this line that I will never forget, “It is better for a man to have broken bones than broken spirit.” St. Ignatius came very close to the breaking point of his spirit. He was humiliated after losing in a battle, but out of it came a breakthrough. Mary went through humiliations in her life but she held on to God. This is why Mary is not simply to be depicted as an overly sentimental person. She is a paragon of courage and strength, with magnanimous spirit in choosing to be the Mother of God not expecting to be glorified but she chose as any ordinary mother would choose to love and care for her own child. No wonder so many are drawn towards her in pilgrimages around the world to ask for various needs and support.

3. Ladder rung of selfless joy. Mary's joy was always the joy of another: This is the reason behind her blessedness and fullness of grace. If we make a survey, she is the most commonly depicted person in the whole history of art. Mary did not like to be the focus of attention; she did not say “yes” to be the Mother of God while at the same time thinking of her legacy or how she will be remembered. Like most mothers, Mary did not think of herself when raising her son. Mary had only in mind Jesus, how to raise him up well as her own son and prepare him to stand on his own two feet. Mary shied away from the spotlight. How else could we say that for Mary? At the apparition in Lourdes to the 14 year old Bernadette. At first she introduced herself simply “the lady” or even much humbler “that one.” It was enough for her to just accompany this poor, unsassuming girl in praying the rosary. It was only after Bernadette mustered the confidence to ask the lady about her real identity. Finally, the lady, considering Bernadette’s persistence, revealed her name by saying, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” Pope Francis quotes St. Bernard who said that no praise is enough to talk about Mary, but that in the end, nothing is as representative of her “humble discipleship” more than “being faithful to her master, who is her son, the only redeemer.” [Pope Francis on the occasion of the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019].

To this day, the poor Jewish girl con grande animo continues to offer herself as an instrument of God’s plan of saving humanity. She does not like to be extolled but every time, God extols her, more people are brought closer to her son. When people remember her, they remember Jesus, whose memory alone is all that matters to her. Do you, like Mary, con grande animo, allow yourself to be God’s instrument to touch other people's lives? Do you count among your blessings humiliations and defeats? Is your joy the joy of another? Let us give to Mary what she deserves for being the woman whose joy is the joy of our God. Amen. Fr. JM Manzano, SJ