A Woman Crowned with Twelve Stars
Revelation is a strange and wonderful book, full of wild apocalyptic images yet imparting messages for those who have ears to hear, interpret, heed. We are often tempted to box our religious beliefs and practices into a kind of domesticity, safe, ‘saran-wrapped and odor free.’
The revelation of John reminds us that we are part of a story that enables us, if we choose, to unravel the mystery of God’s powerful presence among us even as the chaos of our times threatens to overwhelm and destroy us.
The image of the woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and crowned with a diadem of stars is meant, I think, as a sign that we are dealing with matters of cosmic significance.
Just as our NEW STORY is emerging, this vision of the Woman reminds us that the holy web of connections reaches beyond the elemental energies of our planet, even our galaxy, indeed is part of the blessing of the universe bestowed by our creator God.
For some scholars, the WOMAN is Israel, for others, the Church. Let us accept that the woman is Mary, daughter of the one, mother of the other. She is, in the scripture passage, magnificently pregnant. See her courageously facing the great dragon who seeks to slay her unborn child. She gives birth to the ONE who will put an end to injustice and tyranny and bring peace to all the nations. Only when her son is safe does she herself escape into the desert.
These images are the mystic’s way of telling the story of our salvation. This is Star Wars, with the fate of humankind hanging in the balance. And our Luke Skywalker is a young woman chosen from among all others, upon whose ‘yes’ all depends.
The force field surrounding her is a clue to the immensity of God’s protecting embrace. Her clothing is sunlight, symbol of the power emanating from within our solar system. The moon, feminine symbol of receptivity, provides her a resting place. Crowned by twelve stars, pinpricks of ancient light illuminating the vast darkness beyond, she cries out to the Lord of the universe to come to her aid.
This encounter is symbolic. And it reminds us that Mary has met this great enemy before.
In Matthew’s account of the infancy of Jesus, the enemy is there in the guise of merciless power. King Herod has been alerted to the presence of a possible rival to his throne. Urged on by the lure of a maverick star, the Magi have traveled westward and have come to Jerusalem, city of peace, in search of the prince of peace. Their visit precipitates the senseless slaughter of babies caught in the crossfire between the forces of evil and innocence.
Protected by the cloak of night Mary flees with her child and brings him out of harm’s way to the safety of the desert, to the safety of an alien soil. Stars guide her journey. She takes sanctuary in a place where she lives in the obscurity of the dispossessed, with no traces left to mark her passing.
She becomes for a time an undocumented person living among Israel’s ancient masters. In giving up what she knows of security and custom, of family and the consolation of religion, she is the exemplar for all women fleeing oppression.
She is the role model of who they need to become, what they need to do to save their children from the slow and painful death of body, mind, spirit, imagination, imposed on them by the tyrants of their time and place.
Matthew creates this early story of tragedy as a foreshadowing of the still-distant death of another Innocent.
The ultimate encounter between Mary and her primordial enemy is at the foot of the cross. Here evil surrounds her, unparalleled and pervasive, and its triumph seems assured. Even the elements grieve with her: the sky darkens, the sun withdraws, the moon and stars refuse their light, the earth opens up and reveals its secrets.
This is the moment of truth Mary has been awaiting her entire life. As her son’s side is pierced with the soldier’s lance, her own soul is pierced with the long- foretold sorrow.
She could not know when she placed her child in Simeon’s arms and heard his prophecy that what would be demanded of her was the death of her son.
Children should not die before those who give them life. Mothers should not have to watch in silent agony as their children die before their time, weighed down by crosses not of their own making: crosses of betrayal, of lost hopes and shattered dreams.
But things are not what they seem.
Mary has kept all in her heart. As her son’s life blood is being poured out, she shows us the way out of the no-way of unspeakable evil, pondering in silence and dignity the mystery of redemption.
In the end it is Mary’s faith that enables her to wait in hope for the third day. She never falters in her belief in the saving power of God. On resurrection morning the ultimate victory of life over death, of goodness over evil, is assured for once and all.
Something eternal has happened.
The Mary of Revelation is crowned with twelve stars. She comes to us as light in darkness, forever the mother, powerful and holy, given to us by Jesus on the cross. And he, he is the only son who has come to bring us home.
—Mary Mc Cormick, SC
Sr. Mary E. McCormick is a spiritual and retreat director, writer, and presenter on topics of spirituality and the Charity charism.