Prior to becoming Catholic, I had my misgivings about Mary. There was a deeply Protestant reservation that I carried about the veneration of the Virgin Mother of God. I had the mistaken notion that Catholics worshipped Mary, when in fact they only approach her for her loving intercession. Believing that Catholics had made Mary a goddess, I soon realized that she is forever pointing to her son saying, “Do whatever he tells you.” And just when I scoffed at the notion of Mary being conceived immaculately, I realized the Divine logic that Christ was born free of the taint of Original Sin (product of Spirit and sinless woman).
Though enshrouded in mystery, the intellectual reasons behind Mary’s sublime holiness were beginning to make sense to me.
But it wasn’t until years ago, on Good Friday, that the true essence of Mary came into sharp relief for me. High school kids at my parish church were re-enacting the Stations of the Cross when a young, weeping Mary approached her wounded, dying son. It was a moment both tender and haunting. That was the moment I saw her, perhaps for the first time, and understood who Mary really is.
Mary is Mother. She is a model of humility, chastity, discipline, faithfulness and strength. Mary shows us how to listen to God, how to follow his Will and how to faithfully embrace mystery and suffering with an eye towards God’s unfailing Grace. She is not God. Neither she nor the Church claim that she is. She is simply the perfect disciple. Greater than Peter or Paul. For she not only bore and raised Christ, but she suffered as both disciple and mother. Every image of the disciples with the crucified Christ is dwarfed by the immense pain of the Pieta.
In The Ball and the Cross G.K. Chesterton writes of a young man from the faraway highlands walking through the London streets. During an idle moment, he happened across a plate glass window in which was posted an atheistic screed against the Virgin Mary. The young man, a devoted Catholic unaccustomed to such deep violence against Our Lady, did what he thought was necessary: He smashed the window.
Later, when interrogated by the haughty magistrate about his “outlandish behavior” in the name of religion, the young man simply answered,
If [the atheist writer] had said of my mother what he said of the Mother of God, there is not a club of clean men in Europe that would deny my right to call him out. If he had said it of my wife, you English would yourselves have pardoned me for beating him like a dog in the market place. Your worship, I have no mother; I have no wife. I have only that which the poor have equally with the rich; which the lonely have equally with the man of many friends. To me this whole strange world is homely, because in the heart of it there is a home; to me this cruel world is kindly, because higher than the heavens there is something more human than humanity. If a man must not fight for this, may he fight for anything? I would fight for my friend, but if I lost my friend, I should still be there. I would fight for my country, but if I lost my country, I should still exist. But if what that devil dreams were true, I should not be—I should burst like a bubble and be gone. I could not live in that imbecile universe. Shall I not fight for my own existence?
Perhaps, as a Catholic, I would do a bit better to say a good word for Our Lady.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.
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