Let’s look more closely at the role that Mary plays as the Mother of all Christians.

There is a fascinating aspect of Mary, the Mother of God (a title that the Catholic Church formally bestowed on Mary at the Council of Ephesus in A.D. 431, going on 1600 years ago), in light of her appearance in the Gospels. When the Archangel Gabriel greets Mary at the Annunciation (see Luke 1:26-38), his greeting of “Hail…” is the only instance in the entire Bible – between all of the Old Testament and all of the New Testament – in which an angel praises a human being.

This is no insignificant factor. In all of the other angelic interactions, there is a message delivered to someone, or some act is undertaken, but they are all devoid of laud. In other words, the scriptural implication is that Mary is someone of great import: she is informed not once, but twice, that she has found “favor” with the Almighty. If Mary is celebrated in God’s eyes, it is probably safe for her to be celebrated in man’s eyes as well. As such, the role that Mary plays in salvation history is rhetorically incontrovertible.

However, Catholics, despite our vivid understanding of who Mary is, must not hold some special claim on her in a way that would prevent dialogue with those external to Catholicism. As a relevant aside, although Christians and Muslims have numerous beliefs that greatly differ (an acutely distinct conversation for another day), Islam’s reliable respect for Mary, although regarding her in a variant context, is commendable, and is likewise an opportunity for interreligious dialogue between these two prominent faith traditions.

However, returning our focus to Christianity, in order to foster ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Protestants (recalling distinctly that Orthodox Christians typically already have a strong devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary), we can honor and admire – which is far removed from “worshipping” or “idolizing” – Mary for the inspirational role that she plays in the Christian life. After all, Mary was the only figure to remain unquestionably, undeniably, unwaveringly, unflinchingly, fearlessly faithful to Jesus Christ from the moment of his conception until the culmination of his earthly ministry (and then beyond, since she survived him, continuing to fellowship among the remaining disciples). Would that Catholics and other Christians of all affiliations have such a devotion to the Lord.

Thus, her model discipleship has garnered her the position as the Mother of all Christians. And Mother Mary wants nothing greater than to show us – and inherently draw us closer to – her glorious Son and [her own] Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Christians need to find common ground before looking for differences. The differences, the “lines in the sand,” are evident, but if unity is our goal, we must rely on the implications of John 17:21, “that [we] may all be one...”

There are numerous success stories. Read, for instance, John Stegeman’s article “One Body in Christ: Glenmary’s 78-Year History Making Mark on 500-Year Rift” on pages 11-14 of the electronic edition of the autumn 2017 issue of Glenmary Home Missioners’ Glenmary Challenge. Such success stories are more prevalent than one might realize.

There is also the recent article by my friend Kelly Sankowski of the Archdiocese of Washington’s Catholic Standard: “On 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, UMD’s Catholic Student Center Receives ’95 Reeses’.” This story is laden with humor, yet the palpable love displayed between Christians is profound.

As an alumnus of the University of Maryland – College Park, I can attest to the formative role that Fr. Bill Byrne and all of the staff at the Catholic Student Center – where “Hail Mary Land” is a common refrain – had in enriching my faith while a student there, an enrichment that included the importance of ecumenism and interreligious dialogue in the 21st  century.

Basking in Mary’s maternal love for her spiritual children must remain in the midst of efforts toward unity between Catholics and other Christians. She can therefore continue to draw Christians together, toward her Son, as we reflect on the significance of Christ’s words on the cross, as they relate to how Mary wishes to unite us all as the Lord’s followers: “Then [Jesus] said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother’” (John 19:26a).

Mary is the greatest promoter of Jesus Christ, and subsequently the most devoted proclaimer of her Son’s very Good News. Our love expressed to Mary, perhaps particularly via the Rosary (a reflective tour of the Gospels in accordance with their connection to the rest of the Sacred Scriptures if ever there was one) and other Marian devotions, leads us more and more to her Son.

Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of All Christians, pray for us to be steadily united as brethren of Christ your Son!