Hi again, fam! I think I can speak for our other contributors when I say that we hope this summer has been treating you well and we are glad that you continue to journey with us in this safe, spiritual space. It is still so needed, isn’t it?
I am writing today at the encouragement of my blogger sisters about a woman that Catholics have long been associated with for better or for worse: Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Even though I am Catholic, I have long struggled with my personal relationship to Mary and often had to contemplate for myself why I should hold her in such high regard.
My journey with Mary probably starts with images of her around the homes of family members, around Church, and around my Catholic school. Oh, wait. Scratch that. I actually played her in a pre-school play when I was 2, so it probably starts there.
Awww. I wasn’t quite as angelic as I looked, but I was a good kid.
I have statues of Mary given to me from each of my grandmothers. One of which, I actually remember being quite taken with when I would visit my maternal grandmother’s house. I think I even asked her if I could have the small statue, and my grandmother gave it to me. I still have both statues and have accumulated more along the way, not because I had a particular devotion to Mary, but because I was Catholic and that’s apparently just what we do: collect images and icons of the Blessed Mother.
And this has gotten us in trouble in the past, right? “Why do you Catholics worship Mary?” seems to be the common outcry. She is kind of everywhere in our Churches. Even from a young age, I always knew that we didn’t worship her, but that we pray to her, because she gave birth to God’s Son and therefore, she was really special to God. She had a close relationship with Him.
But I, like many others, have had to turn that concept around in my head over and over for many years. What does it mean that Mary is special to God? That is she close to Him? Why? Why her?
As you probably have gotten to know by now, I am a Scripture girl. In my last post, I used Scripture to talk a little about my relationship to St. Paul (another problematic character to some. It seems that I have a thing for the troublemakers!) Mary is certainly not seen as a troublemaker in Scripture, though. Far from it. This, perhaps, was even my problem with her for so long. I wanted her to be flawed because I am flawed. We are flawed. And I was always taught that because she was “special”, she was without sin. I couldn’t wrap my head around this, so I simply decided that I could not relate to her.
Despite this, though, I would pray my rosaries and spend time in her chapels (I went to The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception is on its campus. There are literally dozens of chapels in that basilica devoted to the different images of Mary). I will say, one thing that I learned in my Catholic school upbringing and that I liked about Mary, was that she did seem to translate well into other cultures. Catholics believe that she has appeared in a variety of ways and taken on the appearance of many different cultural women throughout centuries. Our Lady of Guadalupe, for example, is where she takes on the form of an indigenous Mexican woman. I do like that she appears as a mother to “children” of all races and seems to take on or embody the image of that race.
Speaking of race, Mary, of course, would have been a young, Middle Eastern, Jewish girl. Growing up, however, I often only saw the blond, Renaissance painting versions of her which also made her seem un-relatable to me (even though I am blond and of European descent). She still just always seemed too perfect! But interestingly enough, it has been this administration that has been drawing me closer to Mary and making me see that she is not so meek and simple and perfect, but rather vocal and complex.
Think about all of the qualities that actually apply to Mary, not just the ones that we put upon her through the Church: she was young. Jewish. From the Middle East. Pregnant, but not yet married. Poor. Female. She was pretty much as powerless as it gets both in her culture at the time AND (sadly) our culture today.
And yet, God- our God- meant to bring about salvation through someone like this, like Mary. He chose a poor, seemingly weak, powerless, culturally diverse WOMAN to begin to enact the plan of salvation on earth. AND she had a choice!
Our loving God gave a woman a choice in a time when options were limited for women.
We all know the story. (If not, go ahead and look up Luke’s Gospel Chap 1, verse 26 or so). God sends angel (not unlike many times God has sent angels or messages to women who didn’t have children before: think Sarah, Rebekah, Hannah, Elizabeth via Zechariah just to name a few) to young woman to tell her that she will have a child. The child will be special. In fact, this child is going to be the Son of God.
And here, HERE readers, is where Mary shows her boldness. She questions the angel. She asks “how can this be?” She speaks up. She won’t just take this at face value. She wants answers.
Now, earlier in Luke Chap 1, Zechariah- a man, and a man of the Temple at that- also gets bold and questions the angel sent to him (same angel, btw. Gabriel gets around) but Gabriel is not so compassionate to Zechariah. Zechariah questions the angel and Gabriel promptly mutes Zechariah so that he cannot speak until his son is born! The reason as to why I could get into in another blog post at a later time. The point of me telling this story here is that Gabriel ANSWERS Mary’s question. And then she gets to choose. She gets to think. She ponders. And then she ultimately chooses yes: “Let it be done to me according to your word.”
The more I think about Mary in THIS way- as a young, powerless girl who asks questions and gets to choose her fate- the more I see her power and her strength. We don’t hear from Mary very often in the Scriptures. We hear from her a little more in Luke’s Gospel when she prays her famous prayer to Elizabeth called the “Magnificat.” It’s a beautiful prayer, but that’s not necessarily the Mary I can relate to. I can relate to the Mary who ponders in her heart when Simeon tells her later in Luke’s Gospel that her “heart will be pierced like a sword” (paraphrasing Luke) because I would certainly ponder a weird prophecy like that, too. I can relate to the Mary who makes Jesus perform his first miracle in John’s Gospel at the Wedding at Cana. Mary as the pushy Jewish mother telling her son what He should do- the woman behind the first miracle of Jesus- that is a woman I can get behind! Not necessarily the silent, Renaissance figures I had seen growing up.
Another image we get of Mary at her strongest is in John’s Gospel when she is at the foot of her Son’s Cross. Jesus says to St. John : “Behold Your Mother” and He says to her: “Woman, behold Your Son.” We as Catholics believe that Jesus in that moment is giving Mary to all of us as our Mother. I can believe that, but what I really believe in this moment is that she was a strong-ass woman who could stand there in the face of her Son’s death and not turn away when things were really, really, really seemingly bleak and hard.
I hope, dear readers, that this gives you a little insight into the big deal about Mary for some of us. (Perhaps a missed opportunity for the title of this post is “There’s Something About Mary.” Ha!) As a feminist, I get why she can seem un-relatable if we look at her as this quiet, obedient little thing. But as I have gotten older, I have come to appreciate her not so quiet moments and that her “yes” meant yes throughout her life, even until the very end.