In an interview with Newsday, Hugh McGowan described his daughter Anne Marie Murphy, fifty-two, the married mother of four children, as “witty”and “hardworking,” an artistic and fun-loving painter. The world would know nothing of this special education teacher were it not for the place she taught, Sandy Hook School, and the manner of her death.
According to The New York Times the body of Anne Marie Murphy “was discovered in a classroom covering the smaller bodies of several of her students. She had tried to shield them from a gunman’s bullets but there were too many.” The body of one child, Dylan Hockley, was found in her arms. A twenty-first century Pieta. In terms of biography, we don’t know much about Anne Marie Murphy, do we? Yet we couldn’t be more sure about who she was in the eyes of God, could we? The manner of her death reveals all that one needs to know about her life. When the moment came, the time of trial we ask so often ask to face with courage each time that we pray the Our Father: “and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil,” Anne Marie proved herself worthy of the Lamb who was slain. Some moments determine destiny.
Mary of Nazareth’s biography is equally sparse, and yet the Church praises her as the highest exemplar of our race because of a single moment, one that determined her destiny and our own. The facts are as simple as they are salient. We were alienated from God, our own deepest reality. God would undo the separation caused by sin but not at the cost of human freedom. God would assume our humanity to erase our estrangement, but first a daughter of Israel must needs have said “yes” to the loving initiative of God. Mary did. We confess that Christ was the spotless Lamb of God, not because we know each moment of his life among us but because of who he is: Emmanuel, God-among-us. In like manner, we do not praise Mary, or call her ever-Virgin and sinless, because we have exhaustively examined her biography. We do so because of her intimate, but freely chosen, link to Christ. Most of the moments of her life are lost to us, but one instance of deep faith remains: her “yes” to God. That surrender determined the course of her life, and of ours as well. “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption (Gal 4: 4-5).
When she learned of her daughters’ death, Alice McGowan, Anne Marie’s mother, “grabbed her rosary and wept.” How did she know where to turn in her sorrow? How did she know that the rosary was her access to a love and compassion without limit? Because, like Anne Marie Murphy, when the time came, the woman from Nazareth, whose name Anne Marie bore, surrendered everything to God in a single moment. Numbers 6: 22-27 Galatians 4: 4-7 Luke 2: 16-21