"Hear and let it penetrate into your heart, my dear little son: let nothing discourage you, nothing depress you: let nothing alter your heart or your countenance. Also do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else that you need?"
Mary’s appearance catalyzed the conversion of hundreds of thousands in Mexico and Central America. It also signaled the end of human sacrifice, a well-established practice not just among the Aztecs, but also in many religions throughout the world and throughout the ages. When the true God ordered Abraham to sacrifice his son—not just any boy, mind you, but “your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love”—it may not have sounded so strange in that historical situation. Nevertheless it struck his father’s heart like a dagger, for wrapped up in this child were all the promises that this God had made to him, of countless descendants and fruitful land. The Lord calls off the slaughter at the last minute not to build His credibility (He needs nothing of the sort), nor simply to reward Abraham’s faith (as praiseworthy and vital as it was). Above all God wanted to reaffirm His consuming desire that no one be lost forever, and to point to One who in time could and would satisfy the just consequences of sin.
In the fourth installment of the series Catholicism, the host Fr. Robert Barron cites Rene Girard, a cultural anthropologist and philosopher, who says that there is something about our nature that, in times of tension, seeks to discharge all its anxieties upon some individual or group in order to experience relief and to recapture a sense of unity. In biblical terms this is called the “scapegoat.” In Leviticus 16 we read of the ancient ritual in which the priest Aaron selected a goat, laid his hands on it, and confessed the sins of the Israelites over it. Then an assistant would lead the goat to an isolated part of the desert and leave it there. This sort of sacrifice enabled the people to go on with their lives. Is this not, to some extent, the way of all human groups on every scale—to find someone to blame, a rallying point for us in our misery, fear, and shame?
Mary’s Son surpassed the role of the scapegoat, especially as He conducted His entire mission in the freedom of self-giving love; and yet He who alone is innocent suffered the sins of the guilty for our deliverance. By this tremendous gift Jesus wants to form us in the same love—to choose the good with freedom, understanding, and joy, to accept and encourage responsibility. Alongside this love Jesus fosters an assurance of God’s abiding presence, that “He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all…[will] also give us everything else along with him”—everything we need to live in the freedom of His Kingdom.