The Bright Maidens‘ Topic 9: Mary, Our Guide
We three are from the oft-mentioned, widely-speculated upon demographic of young, twenty-something Catholic women. We’re here to dispel the myths and misconceptions- please join us for the discussion!
Last night, Dad and I went to the grocery store after work, to pick up vegetables, bread, cheese and a few more gallons of milk. We were in the bakery section, and Dad was looking at the bread called “Ecce Panis.”
“Do you know what ‘ecce’ means in Latin, Dad?” I asked.
“What is that,” he replied, humoring me.
“‘Ecce’ means ‘look’ in Latin, so ‘ecce panis’ is ‘look, bread!’ The word for bread looks like it is in the nominative case, but really it’s the vocative, which is supported by ‘ecce,'” I rambled on to him.
“I think it also can be translated as ‘behold,'” said Dad. “As in, ‘behold- bread!'”
I liked that translation, but more because I began thinking about Mary, the Theokokos, the Mother of God.
Behold, Our Lady! Loving and sanguine, I always imagine Mary half-smiling at Jesus at the wedding in Cana, when he told her his time has not yet come, and she, gentle mother, flicking her wrist and saying to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Just as Jesus is our Savior, wholly part of God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, who will come back to earth to judge the living and the dead, Mary is our mother, and de facto, our liaison to God. Her earthly comings are always with the purpose and intent to bear messages from Jesus. She is a reminder of our need for the spiritual, through her vibrancy and consistent persuasion for us to follow her Son, who is the way, the truth and the life. Mary always points towards Jesus, which makes her our own guide in this life, if we are to play the role of Dante.
Marina Warner wrote, in her 1976 book Alone of All Her Sex, “Whether we regard the Virgin Mary as the most sublime and beautiful image in man’s struggle towards the good and the pure, or the most pitiable production of ignorance and superstition, she represents a central theme in the history of Western attitudes to women. She is one of the few females to have attained the status of myth– a myth that for nearly two thousand years has coursed through our culture, as spirited and often as imperceptible as an underground stream.”
I have been reading Judith Dupre’s Full of Grace: Encountering Mary in Faith, Art, and Life and give it cannot be more highly recommended. Dupre offers 59 meditations, equal to the number of beads on a rosary. She writes, “This text is a three-part invention: narrative, visual narrative, and marginalia. In the main text, I offer short essays, sometimes personal, sometimes theological or historical, on Mary’s place in our everyday lives. The imagery and captions form a ‘book within a book’ that traces Mary’s influence on Western art. The selections from history, poetry, and prose in the margins offer additional insights into Mary and are formatted after the midrash commentary on the text of the Hebrew Bible, which is used also but to a lesser extent in the New Testament and the Qur’an.”
One of the most beautiful elements this book has truly brought to light for myself is Mary’s ability to penetrate the hearts of many religious traditions. Charlene Spretnak says in Missing Mary that, “Mary saves us from denying the kinship among Judaism, Christianity, and Islam: All three live in her spiritual presence.”
Though I wrote in my last Mary post that many Protestants reject Mary so as to reject the temptation to idolatry, the very idea that one would idolize such a woman is apt evidence of her power. Dupre writes,
In a 1952 essay, Archbishop Fulton Sheen opined that Mary chose to appear in the sleepy backwater of Fatima, Portugal, in 1917 as a “pledge and sign of hope to the Moslem people.” Despite the evangelical nature of Sheen’s opinion at the time is was made, the idea of reconciliation through Mary is worth considering anew. Muhammad, who has tirelessly warned Muslims not to deify him, embodied his faith, virtue, and surrender to God so wholeheartedly that he forged in his own person a living link between heaven and earth. Like Mary, his will was only to do God’s will. At a time when the need to reconcile differing culture traditions has never been more urgent, there has probably been no symbol or concept in Christendom that can mediate and build bridges with more success and amplitude than Mary.
It should not be surprising then that Catholics so whole-heartedly take on a devotion to Mary, Mother of God, and our Mother in Heaven. I’ve always been amused by the viewpoint taken in True Devotion to Mary, when St. Louis De Montfort states that the Devil fears Mary more than all angels and men, and in a sense more than God Himself, because it is mortifying to be overcome by such a small woman.
Mary cannot forgive sins, but she teaches us how to live without them, as she did. She guides souls to God by teaching them how to love, and anyone who loves God cannot be taken by the Devil, even if they will be tempted by him. Even Jesus was tempted by the Devil, so, in many ways, our trials are compliments. And Mary is there to help.
Behold, Mary! Full of grace, help us also to be filled with grace, to say “yes” to God, and to accept our trials. Let us never forget that Mary was not spared from the worst kind of suffering, be it scorn from neighbors or watching her son unjustly put to death. Still she stands benevolent, the Queen of Heaven, with her hand outstretched. As the Rev. Patrick Ward said in a 2008 homily, “When Mary says, ‘Let is be with me according to your word,’ what she is really saying is, ‘Lead me on, Lord. You have more in store for me than I can possibly imagine.'” Behold Mary, joyfully and lovingly guiding us souls to God.
Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto you, O Virgins of virgins, my Mother! To you I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O mother of the Word incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in your mercy hear and answer me.
–The Memorare prayer, attributed to St. Bernard of Clairvaux