By Laura Ercolino
Pope John Paul II used 4 words to describe how men and women are called to respond with the gift of themselves to the love of Christ as spiritual brides: free, total, faithful, and fruitful. This is the language of spousal love – human and divine.
Think for a minute of the Mysteries of the Rosary, the events in the lives of Jesus and Mary. They gave the gift of themselves totally, freely, faithfully, and so fruitfully in every moment, every circumstance, every joy and every sorrow. At the Cross, Jesus the Bridegroom held nothing back. He gave every drop of Blood for His Bride, the Church, so that we, His brides, might have eternal life with Him, forever celebrating the wedding feast of the Lamb.
It was through the Rosary that Mother Mary began to lead me on the journey from my head to my heart. Several months after my divorce, my oldest daughter, who knew nothing of my desire to grow into my identity as a spiritual bride, sent me the book, Theology of the Body Rosary Meditations. What a kiss from heaven! Praying the Rosary with reflections from St. John Paull II’s Theology of the Body was to truly be a daughter of Mary, Mother of the bride, as she prepared me to enter more deeply into a spousal relationship with Christ the Bridegroom. In fact, Mary is our perfect mother who wants to teach us all we need to know to prepare for our eternal wedding, the wedding feast that awaits us in Heaven when we will see our Divine Bridegroom face to face.
I would take this book and pray in the Adoration Chapel or before the Tabernacle in the empty church several days a week. Like a rose slowly unfolding its petals in the summer sunshine, I could feel my broken and fearful heart gradually opening to the incomprehensible truth that Jesus was the One Whom my soul had been seeking and longing for and that He loved me with a faithful and trustworthy love.
As I learned more of the theology of Christ as Bridegroom and Mary as Bride and as my heart began to heal, I was ready to dive into The Song of Songs. All of Scripture resounds with nuptial imagery. God calls His people His bride, His wife throughout the Old Testament. And John the Baptist and Jesus, Himself, refer to Him as the Bridegroom. But it is in The Song of Songs that God has used the beauty of poetry to describe His perfect and everlasting spousal love for each soul-bride and in the figure of the Bride helps us to understand how He desires for us to respond as bride to His gift of love.
Naturally, after my experiences with fallen, less than perfect and pure spousal love, I was hesitant, actually rather terrified to begin journeying into The Song. And then 8 months after my divorce, Jesus sent me to Christ the Bridegroom Monastery in Burton for a 3 day private retreat. I brought a slim journaling edition of The Song of Songs and St. Bernard’s smallest volume, On Loving God, with me. On my first evening there, Mother Gabriella knocked on the door to my poustinia and handed me a copy of the book that is now at the heart of the Hope’s Garden Ministry, The Cantata of Love: A Verse by Verse reading of The Song of Songs. She said, “I think Jesus wants you to have this.” Wow was she right!
As I have studied The Song, I have learned so much about Christ’s spousal love for us and how much He longs for us to become all-teachable and let Mary show us how to respond to His love. There are two events in Mary’s life that best exemplify her role as the Bride: The Annunciation and the Crucifixion. Scripture tells us about these two pivotal moments in the life of Mary. We can see how her response to God’s love was free, total, faithful and fruitful as we study the Gospel stories and meditate on the corresponding Mysteries of the Rosary.
When the Archangel Gabriel proposed to the young virgin of Nazareth on God’s behalf, Mary, as the ambassador of humanity, said “Yes.” She became the bride of God and conceived Jesus, the God Who is Love, within her most holy womb.
The Blessed Virgin Mary at the Annunciation teaches us all that is necessary to enter into this spousal relationship with God. Our Consent. Our Fiat. Our Yes. Like Mary, we can open our arms and our hearts and respond to God’s invitation to be one with Jesus by saying, “Let it be done unto me according to your word.” She gave her free, total, faithful “yes” to the will of God with the gift of her body, heart and soul – her entire being and life. She held nothing back. And look at the fruit of her bridal response, truly the fruit of her womb, Jesus!
When we say “yes” to God’s will, “yes” to receiving His love and grace, and “yes” to loving Him with all our heart, all our soul, and all our might, we become like Mary and Jesus is conceived again, in the womb of our hearts.
We, too, are called to birth His love into this world that is thirsting and hungering for His pure love and living water.
In the Annunciation, Mary, so perfectly exemplifies for us, her daughters, the virtues of humility, docility to the Holy Spirit, submission to the will of God, trust in God, and the feminine gift of receptivity. She shows us how blessed we are when we open our hands and our hearts to the love of God in whatever circumstance He packages it. These same virtues of Mary, exemplified at the moment Jesus’ Sacred Humanity began, are also evident at the moment when His Sacred Humanity was crucified.
Mary, the ever-faithful Bride, stayed at Jesus’ side until the very end. At the Annunciation, she was the trusting, hopeful Bride who gave the gift of her virginal womb and heart to God and became the Mother of Jesus. At the foot of the cross, she is the ever-faithful, trusting and still hopeful Bride whose heart was the purified and emptied chalice that received the Bridegroom’s gift of self, the Blood and Water flowing from His Side, on our behalf. At the foot of the Cross, Mary became the Mother of redeemed humanity and Mother of the Church. .
In the book “Beholding Beauty” Father Gregory Cleveland writes, “Mary experiences grace as an openness and receptivity to receive the Lord’s gift of self and to give herself in return. God, as the Bridegroom of his people, is the supreme lover who gives himself totally, Mary, representing the bride, receives his love completely and reciprocates it with her gift of love. Her experience of complete surrender to her loving Lord is meant for us all.”