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Episode 4 – “A Handmaid of the Lord – Mary/Joseph, Mary/John” – “A Handmaid of the Lord”: The life and legacy of Adrienne von Speyr with Dr. Adrian Walker, Ph.D.
With Dr. Adrian Walker, we reflect on various aspects of Adrienne’s insight on the Mother of God as described in her book “A Handmaid of the Lord”. In part two of our conversation on the work, Dr. Walker reflects on the meaning of the “Mary and Joseph”and “Mary and Joseph” relationships. We explore Adrienne’s meditations and how she presents vocation and the “religious state” through the lens of Mary.
Mary and Joseph’s life together was wholly bound to the earthly way of life—the form human existence has had ever since man was driven out of Paradise. Their life was mutual service in housekeeping, breadwinning and everything involved in the toilsome and harsh scraping out of a life. But even this common labor had its focus in the divine Child, who threw open everything earthly and drew it into the eddy of his mission. Out of this breaking open there arose much later the new form of community between Mary and John, in which everything previous is translated into the supernatural and the spiritual. Now the whole fruitfulness of the community lies in the spirit; the fruit is therefore no longer visible and measurable. The material element certainly continues to exist in some way even in this community, but so secondarily that it is now only a prerequisite of the new community, not an essential component. Thus John, in his care for the Mother, is not to be regarded as Joseph’s successor. Mary has, of course, remained the same; she walks a straight path along which her assent develops. But community with John does not mean for her the continuation of the same task. The first time her assent had been used to fulfill a call to marriage; the second time it is shaped to the fulfillment of a call to the “religious life”.
Joseph and John, as well, are bound to Mary in different ways. In her assent Mary was led by the angel immediately to the Lord, without the intervention of her husband’s consent. Joseph, who is warned by the angel that he should not divorce Mary because she has conceived of the Holy Spirit, is bound directly to the human person, Mary, in order to become through this bond a servant of the incarnate Lord. John, however, is first claimed by the Lord for himself and only then brought together with Mary and given over to her. If Joseph attains to God and to holiness only through Mary, God draws John immediately into his friendship and binds him as the Lord’s friend to the Mother of the Lord. The man, the male, possesses autonomy in the natural realm and is opened to God primarily by the Christian woman in marriage. In this lies the woman’s reciprocating gift to her spouse, who has initiated her into the mystery of the natural community. Conversely, the Son gives his Mother to the priest, John, whom the Son already possesses as a saint, and Mary now submits to the priestly mission of the Apostle. In the family Mary was the focal point since she carried the Child in her womb. Joseph could not be the focal point; he could only serve, even when, as foster father, he commanded. But in John the word of the Lord lives on; as a priest he bears the office, gives shape to the solid, supernatural framework into which the Mother is now incorporated, with her living fruitfulness of grace. Once she had brought the Son physically into the world. Now the Son dies and disappears, but he lives on in the Spirit and in the office of John, whom he makes a bearer of the developing Church. And because the Mother is entrusted to the Apostle John, the certainty exists that the official Church remains fruitful and that the Mother’s fruitfulness is not exhausted in earthly temporality. Her life knows no limited time period of fruitfulness; her fruitfulness has no end; rather, it returns in the end to her mission, which no longer has the form of the Child she bore but of John, who is himself the fruit of the Lord’s redemption and represents, by virtue of his office, the love and continuing life of the Son in his work, the Church. Once the Lord had chosen his Mother, but he had to adapt himself to the earthly framework of the family and Joseph’s authority. Now Mary must adapt herself to the new framework of the Church, embodied in John. John does not go into Mary’s house but takes the Mother with him to his own home. She will have to adjust herself to the law that rules there. The woman forms the worldly home of the family; in the “cloister”, however, she conceals her personality under the veil, in order to let herself be formed by the objective Rule.
von Speyr, Adrienne (2012-03-09). Handmaid of the Lord (Kindle Locations 1706-1730). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.
Adrienne von Speyr was a Swiss convert, mystic, wife, medical doctor and author of over 60 books on spirituality and theology. She’s inspired countless souls around the world to deepen their mission of prayer and compassion. She entered the Catholic Church under the direction of the great theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar. In the years that would follow, they would co-found the secular institute, the Community of St. John.
Adrian Walker is an editor of the journal Communio, an International Catholic Review, who received his doctorate in philosophy at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. Dr. Walker has served as a translator for the English edition of Pope Benedict XVI’s, ” Jesus of Nazareth”, as well as numerous other theological works, including those of Hans Urs von Balthasar and Adrienne von Speyr.
Our series recorded at “Casa Balthasar“, a house of discernment for men located in Rome, Italy. The Casa, was founded in 1990 by a group of friends and is directed by Rev. Jacques Servais, S.J.; Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) has been closely associated with the Casa Balthasar from the very beginning as its Cardinal Protector.
Many of Adrienne von Speyr’s books can found through Ignatius Press