Monday, March 26, 2012

40 Things #29: Mary

***This post is part of my 40 Things I Love About Catholicism series.  Click here to read more!*** 

Day 29 and I'm just now getting to the Blessed Mother?  What kind of Catholic am I?

Don't worry, there's a method to my madness.  Today is the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord.  (It's usually celebrated on March 25 -- exactly nine months before Christmas -- but because that day was the fifth Sunday of Lent this year, the solemnity was moved to today.)  It's considered a Marian Feast in the Catholic Church because it celebrates an event in the Virgin Mary's life: namely, when she was visited by the Angel Gabriel, who told her she would conceive and give birth to Jesus, "the Son of the Most High" (Luke 1:32).

Yes, Catholics love our mother Mary.  We consider her the Ark of the New Covenant; just as the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament bore the Presence of God, Mary bore God himself in her womb.  We also consider her the New Eve, the sinless, obedient virgin whose offspring freed us from sin.  We believe she was immaculate -- preserved from sin -- from the time of her conception (that's what "Immaculate Conception" means).  We also believe she was assumed body and soul into Heaven at the end of her earthly life.  (See Joe's post for more on the Immaculate Conception and Assumption.)  We call her the Queen of Heaven, the woman described in the Book of Revelation:
"A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth. Then another sign appeared in the sky; it was a huge red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on its heads were seven diadems. Its tail swept away a third of the stars in the sky and hurled them down to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman about to give birth, to devour her child when she gave birth. She gave birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was caught up to God and his throne." Revelation 12: 1-5
We also see this image of woman both in Genesis:
"She shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man." Genesis 2:23
and in the Gospel of John:
"And Jesus said to her: Woman, what is that to me and to thee? my hour is not yet come." John 2:4
"When Jesus therefore had seen his mother and the disciple standing whom he loved, he said to his mother: Woman, behold thy son. After that, he said to the disciple: Behold thy mother. And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own home." John 19:26-27  
Just as the original "Woman," Eve, through whom sin was brought into the world, is the "mother of all the living" (Genesis 3:20), the "Woman" Mary, through whom our Redeemer was brought into the world, is the mother of all those living in Christ -- our Blessed Mother.

Now before I get into why I love Mary, a couple notes:

1. As I mentioned in my posts about saints (Mary is the Queen of them!), Catholics worship no one but God.  We honor Mary, we revere her, we love her, but we do not worship her.

2. I think some people misinterpret the Catholic belief in the Immaculate Conception to mean that we do not believe Jesus' salvation on the cross applied to Mary.  That is not the case; we believe that it was miraculously applied to her from the moment of conception, and that she was free from original sin.  I heard an analogy once that I think helps a lot: imagine Jesus' salvation of each of us as him digging us out of a pit, one by one.  Mary never fell into that pit in the first place, but it was because Jesus stopped her from falling in it.  It still wasn't something that she accomplished herself; Jesus just saved her in such a way that she was never spoiled from the stain of sin.  (That doesn't mean that she lacked free will.  It means that she was put back into humanity's original position, like Eve!  But Mary chose to be obedient to God, where Eve chose to be disobedient.)

Why I Love Mary:

1. Because she loves me.  She is my spiritual mother in Heaven.  I love this because I think it helps us no matter what our earthly mother is like.  If we have a wonderful, caring mother on earth, we can imagine our Blessed Mother being very much like her.  If our earthly mother is not so wonderful or caring, we can take comfort in knowing that our Blessed Mother is always there for us, taking our petitions to her Son.  If our earthly mother is deceased, we can take comfort in a very similar way, and also pray for our Blessed Mother's intercession for our earthly mother's soul.

2. Because she is the perfect example of how to live the Christian life.  We look to all of the saints for their example, but none of them lived a completely sinless life except Mary.  Five years ago, I attended a seminar for lectors at my parish back in Ohio, led by a a Dominican priest who was a fantastic speaker.  He reminded us that the most important thing we could do as lectors, and as people, was to say "yes" to Christ.  Mary, of course, is the perfect example of complete obedience to God's will, to always saying "yes" to Christ.


3. Because she helps me to be a better woman.  It's not easy for a woman to know where to turn when looking for examples and advice.  The post-feminist world sends us messages that are conflicting and often harmful: you're empowered, but your body and your love aren't worth the vows of marriage; you can do anything you want, as long as you avoid motherhood, reject your femininity, and try to be the same as a man.  Sigh.  Got Truth?  Obviously, my life is different from Mary's in many ways, but I look to her example as a wife, mother, and woman who was completely devoted to her vocation.  The very best way to live out our womanhood is to completely embrace who God has made us, and to seek to do his will in all things.

4. She was incredibly courageous. She said "let it be done to me" knowing that she would be suspected of adultery.  She traveled to visit and help her cousin Elizabeth, who was six months pregnant with John the Baptist, during her first trimester of pregnancy (when, if her experience was like mine and most, she felt exhausted and sick most of the time).  She fled to Egypt, a strange and foreign land where she knew no one, with Joseph and Jesus after the birth of Christ.  She watched her Son get beaten, scourged, spat upon, and crucified.  A few days ago, I was having some of the extreme-worrywart mother thoughts that I have every now and then ("what if Elise was terminally ill?"), and I had the thought that watching my child get tortured and killed was the most horrible thing I could imagine happening.  It was only after I thought it that I realized: that's exactly what happened to Mary.  "And thy own soul a sword shall pierce" (Luke 2:35).

How about you?  What do you love about Mary?

Further Reading on Mary:
Beautiful like the moon by Jen of Conversion Diary
There's Something About Mary by Dwija of House Unseen
How Mary brought me back to Jesus Part 1 and Part 2 by Elizabeth of elizabethesther.com

4 comments:

  1. Louise, thank you for sharing your love of Our Lady. How fitting that the "Queen of the Angels" comes after your angel post!

    I think of Mary as God's most beautiful creation and his gift to mankind. She is usually the one I run to when I am particularly scared and need comforting, especially now that I am a mother myself.

    I loved your insight about her being courageous. I knew that she was extremely obedient to throw herself into the will of God with such abandon, but the word "courageous" conjurers images of Joan of Arc, shining, something like Alice in Tim Burton's Wonderland movie. I think it's easy to get wrapped up in the idea of "womanhood" as something mild and complacent, when really it takes nerve.

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    1. I also think of Mary as God's most beautiful creation! What a gift we have in Mary. :)

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  2. I've always loved Mary! I went to a high school called "Assumption." Obviously Mary played a huge role in our time there. But now as a mother, I call on Mary often. She is my role model as a mother and as a follower of God.

    There is SO much to love about our faith! I just love every one of your posts!

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    1. I call on Mary often as a mother, too. Our parish here is called Our Lady of Victory, so Mary plays a huge role for us, too!

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