October 2023 Allocutio
Fr. Paul Churchill, Concilium Spiritual Director
Some of the Saints (and others) have commented that Our Lady spent most of her early life hidden in Nazareth and that once the Holy Spirit had descended on the Apostles she went back to the hidden life. Save for one man in particular who got her to share her memories, St. Luke. The most solid tradition has it that he was a gentile physician from Antioch. There he encountered the early Christians and he goes with St. Paul on part of his missionary journeys and eventually dies at 84 years of age in Bythnia.
There has never been any serious doubt about his authorship of the Gospel that bears his name and Acts. His style of writing shows him as an educated man with the best Greek. Those who are experts say however that the first two chapters of his Gospel, apart from his prologue (Lk 1:1-4), is notably more Semitic, indicating a Hebrew or Aramaic source. And that gives us confidence that what he writes there are memoires revealed to him by a firsthand witness. Effectively these are the accounts by Mary herself of the events that led to the birth of Jesus and significant events in his early life.
So thanks to St. Luke, who took the trouble of meeting up with her, we have the joyful mysteries of the Rosary: the Annunciation, the Visitation, The Birth of Jesus in the manger at Bethlehem, the presentation in the Temple and the Finding of the child Jesus in the Temple. We can also add that the mysteries of the Ascension and the Descent of the Holy Spirit have a content they would not have had if Luke had not written what he did in Acts. Indeed we might not have been aware of the central role Mary played in those events but for him.
In the public ministry of Jesus Luke records that woman in the crowd who said, “Blessed the breasts you suckled” and he replied, “Blessed rather the one who hears the word of God and keeps it!” That particular Gospel passage is found in no other Gospel. It makes sense that that event would have been remembered by Mary when others only saw it as one of the many other moments.
That passage also about Jesus seeing Satan fall like lightening from heaven and Jesus giving authority to trample on serpents (Lk 10:17-19) does remind us of the Woman of Genesis. Interestingly it is only found in St. Luke’s Gospel.
The story of Jesus raising the son of the widow of Nain (Lk 7:11-17) only appears in Luke but is not unlike the story of the Widow of Nazareth losing her son on the Cross but who also gets him back in his Resurrection.
It is true that Luke was not present at the events of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Commentators say he relied a lot on St. Mark’s Gospel—or at least on the tradition that gave us that Gospel—but his account of the Passion shows content not in the other Gospels. And so if he had some meetings with Mary in doing his research—and he did say he inquired carefully into matters (Lk 1:3)—then we must look carefully at those inclusions in his Passion account to hear some of Our Lady’s own recollections. She was a direct eye and ear witness.
Mary may well have been allowed entry to the High Priest’s house with Peter and John (an idea also used by Mel Gibson in his Passion of the Christ). Luke records there something in no other Gospel: “… the cock crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter … and he went out and wept bitterly”. That phrase “looked at Peter” is not mentioned in any other Gospel. While everyone else was focused on the maid’s challenge of Peter, Mary had her eyes on Jesus and was attentive to his suffering. She may well be the source for that detail. She saw that it was that deep look into Peter’s eyes that caused him to go out and weep bitterly.
Luke mentions that Pilate sent Jesus over to Herod. No other Gospel mentions this. In the light of how things turned out it was a small side-show. But I suggest that Mary could not but remember how the same Herod had allowed the death of her nephew, the Baptist. She sees the same mistake being made by Pilate. Herod did not want the Baptist killed but got himself trapped by self-interest. Pilate knew that Jesus was innocent but finds himself in a similar trap of what public opinion would think. She sees the parallel between the two events and alerts Luke to this.
The meeting of Jesus and the women of Jerusalem also only appears in Luke. Might Mary, a woman, be the source of this detail? For whatever reason these other women stuck in her mind. Maybe it was Jesus’ compassion for her species who are often the innocent victims of male mistakes?
Certainly St. Luke’s version of the Passion does show the compassionate Jesus. Only in St. Luke do we hear the words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!” Only in St. Luke do we hear Jesus engage with the good thief, “Truly I say to you, this day you will be with me in Paradise”. I suggest that the remembrance of these words speaks volumes about how Our Lady grasped the central message of Jesus, the Lamb who died for sinners, who didn’t condemn sinners but only responded with the compassionate heart of God.
There is one other passage in Luke’s Gospel I must refer to and that is the appearance of Jesus to two of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. How come only St. Luke has it? Might he have got that from Our Lady? That is not impossible. St. Luke names one of those two disciples as Cleopas. St. John refers to one of the women at the foot of the Cross as the wife of Clopas. Some speculate that Clopas-Cleopas are the same person while others are unsure on this. We cannot rule out that the couple on the road to Emmaus were a husband and wife team. The phraseology of St. John’s Passion has another woman at the foot of the Cross who by blood is a close relation of Our Lady. There is no doubt but that this event would have been a huge memory in the family of whoever this couple were. And thus it is really possible that this very special event came to Luke through Our Lady who had heard it as part of the family folklore and, as she so often did, pondered so much in her heart.
There is a tradition that St. Luke painted the first picture of Our Lady. And some paintings on canvas are suggested. But science is not supportive of this. The truth is more that St. Luke, using the information he got from Our Lady painted not just a picture of her Son for us but also paints an image especially of her inner soul way beyond what the other Gospels gave us.
I began by saying that Our Lady has a hidden life after Pentecost. In her act of charity to Luke, helping him in his project, she opens up and reveals much about herself. Where else do we get the Magnificat from? Thank you, St. Luke!