And whose model of womanhood leads to happiness
I ended my last column by saying, “The shining and lived answer to those questions is found in Mary, Virgin and Mother.” Let’s look at that suggestion — one that would have been unexceptional a few generations ago, but is now problematic even within some Catholic circles, and typically scorned by large segments of secular feminism. Surprisingly, there are startling parallels between the Catholic diffidence regarding Mary and the outright rejection of her by some secular feminists.
The sticking point is Mary’s traditional titles as Virgin and Mother. Virginity as a term of praise, and even an ideal, has fallen upon hard times, even in some environments self-identified as “Catholic.” Why? Let’s be frank — in the contemporary Western world, we’ve all been immersed for 50+ years in the culture of “Everybody’s doing it!” (Here, of course, “it” refers to sex apart from marriage.) Saying that Mary-as-Virgin is a key to restoring the happiness God intends for women would be a hard sell in these circles. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Some years ago, Sarah Hinlicky wrote a delightful essay proving that she had wisdom beyond her years: “Subversive Virginity.” (She later penned a fine essay on masculine virginity.) There she summarizes the view of secular feminism on sexuality, a view that has taken hold within some self-identified Catholic individuals and communities:
In other words, female sexual expression is an act of personal and political power. Virginity, on this view, is a witless and feckless failure to exercise that power. Hinlicky’s response to that assertion is incisive:
Hinlicky makes clear that the virgin is nobody’s fool, nobody’s toy and nobody’s possession. She is secure in her identity and integrity. Above all, she has the genuine power and inarguable freedom to declare “Yes” or “No.” Mary-as-Virgin is the exemplar of that freedom. Her “Yes” to the divine invitation, her “Fiat!” to the call of the Holy Spirit is the highest and most vivid illustration of the freedom of the virgin. Hers is a free, powerful and uniquely-sought-after “Yes.”
That freedom to answer God’s call is oh so much greater than the thoughtless jumping onto the bandwagon of “But everybody’s doing it!” The “Yes” spoken to the angel Gabriel by the Virgin Mary is the model of the interior freedom necessary to give a full and genuine “Yes” to Divine Providence. The “Yes” to God that can flow only from such an interior freedom, a hallmark of the self-possessed Virgin, is an essential element in the restoration to women of the happiness God intends for them. Mary’s Virginal freedom, her independence from whim and trend, enabled her to become uniquely fruitful as the Mother.
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