Tuesday, February 26, 2013

There's Something About Mary: 13 Practical Reasons Mary Deserves Special Veneration

Just about every deviation from Christian orthodoxy (which includes other religions) inevitably involves some form of denial of the Incarnation. What I mean is that in general it is a doctrine that is accepted in principal, but not in practice. The doctrine of the Incarnation is simply the belief that God became flesh in every way except sin. This, however, is not the most challenging part for Christians. What seems to challenge Christians of varying stripes is just how much God becoming flesh has changed our flesh. A prime example of this is in the Catholic teaching on Mary and the veneration of saints. For many Christians, this is a dangerous notion because it seems to imply that we should devote our spiritual attention to someone other than God. Yet this is precisely where the Incarnation challenges us most, for it is one thing to believe that there is a God in heaven that is all-powerful, and quite another to believe that "what is bound on earth is bound in heaven." Case in point: the Virgin Mary. The only ones who fears this Lady's role more than the ancient serpent are my Protestant brethren. This is certainly a sad state of affairs, and it is true that in some instances well-meaning Catholics have only contributed to the problem by seemingly substituting Mary for Jesus. In any case, my goal in this post is to demonstrate in a most down to earth fashion why it is little more than common sense to give special credence to the Virgin Mary. If we truly believe that the Incarnation happened, then we must also accept its subsequent implications. Protestants will allow that she is special, but then just as quickly say that she shouldn't be treated any different than anyone else. They see the need, but fear the consequences of giving her a special role/title. Thus, they ultimately treat her as though she were just another cog (though a very special cog) in the wheel of salvation. Below I have provided 13 reasons why I believe that Marian piety is not simply acceptable, but is in fact the only appropriate response given the uniqueness of her relationship to Jesus.

13. It is misogynistic to believe otherwise. Up until the medieval period women were not viewed as having an active role in the creation of human life. At best, they were believed to be little more than glorified incubators. Unless we want to go back to that view of life as opposed to accepting what the Incarnation revealed long before biology, we should reject this view of Mary's pregnancy (and any other women's pregnancy). What an insult to motherhood! Indeed, how much more are mothers than simply pods for birthing babies. The world would be a cold horrible place were it not for this magnificent maternity. I cannot do justice here to the level of importance that a mother brings, not only in the womb, but also during the early stages of childhood development and beyond. So please, do not suggest for even a second that Mary was little more than a holy incubator, interchangeable and useful only to the extent that she was a warm body for Jesus to use. Say that about anyone else's mother and expect to get jacked in the jaw. Say that about the mother of Jesus and expect a different reaction? I wouldn't bet on it.

12. Mary loved Jesus more perfectly than any other human being. If the goal of the Christian life is to love our Lord perfectly, then certainly Mary has no rival. Maybe you could argue that she had an unfair advantage (being his mother and all), but remember that love cuts both ways. Because she loved him like no other, she also suffered for him like no other. There is no record of her receiving the stigmata, but I would hardly be surprised if a doctor examined her heart only to discover that she had mysteriously incurred wounds similar to that of the crucifixion. Mary is the biological and spiritual mirror of Christ, bearing in  her own body what the flesh of her flesh and bone of her bones bore on the cross. For this reason, the prophetic words of the high priest Simeon seem like anything but pious platitudes; "And a sword will pierce your own soul too." Such is the nature of perfect love that it would be less painful for Mary to be crucified than to watch it happen to her Son. And indeed, other than divine love, no greater love is there on earth than a mother's love for her child. Ultimately, this Marian crucifixion reveals that if we are to take up our own cross and follow Jesus as he intends, we too must do so with a Marian heart.

11. She said "yes" to your eternal life when she could have said "no." God put a remarkable amount of power into Mary's hands. It was left up to her as to whether she would cooperate with God's plan for our salvation or not. Interestingly, this may be another reason to argue for her holy and Immaculate Conception, both because you wouldn't want someone inclined to selfishness to be in a position to make such an earth-shattering decision, and secondly, because it would make her decision all the more perfect and selfless if she herself, like Christ, hadn't been obliged to make it (notice that the angel's greeting to her does not seem to be contingent upon her response; "Hail, full of grace. The lord is with you..."). At the moment when Gabriel addressed her in this way, she became the representative and intercessor for all of mankind. There is not one person that ever lived, or ever will live, that she was not speaking for at that moment. This is why we call her the new Eve, the new mother of all the living, for without her consent, none of us would be living with the hope of eternal life. It is easy enough to make Mary's decision seem inevitable, but being that she was free to reject the plan, we should not be so quick to presume it. Is there no special gratitude for the lady who humbly agreed to bring my light and my salvation into the world? In ordinary life, when someone does something nice for me, I do not ask God's permission to thank them, I just do it. Why should this unparalleled act of kindness go ignored? I would argue that to do so is a tremendous offense against the virtue of gratitude.

10. Mary is the perfect herald of the Gospel. Anyone who preaches the Gospel sincerely is doing the will of God and keeping his command to preach to all nations. One of the reasons saints are canonized is because they have accomplished their preaching more powerfully and eloquently than most others (both by their words and their actions). Yet there is only one individual in history, other than Jesus himself, who has preached the Gospel immaculately. You may ask yourself when and where Mary did her preaching. Indeed, there is no record of her globetrotting with the good news of Jesus Christ. Yet in one sense she did it better than all of the saints combined. By giving birth to Jesus, she truly delivered the immaculate homily, a sermon so utterly sublime and perfect that at her anointed words the Word became Flesh.

9. If Jesus is our brother, then Mary must be our mother. If we accept the Biblical notion that Baptism makes us all brothers and sisters in Christ, then would it not also make sense to say that Mary is our spiritual mother? This leap of logic seems all but confirmed by the events at the cross wherein Jesus tells John; "Behold, your mother"; and then tells Mary; Woman, behold your son!" (notice he doesn't just say, 'hey, take care of ma, would ya?'). Once again, if we take the implications of the Incarnation seriously, then how can we just dismiss this idea as too literal? If we do that in this situation we may as well declare that the Incarnation itself was merely an allegory which had nothing more than a symbolic effect on human nature. The alternative is to recognize that the Incarnation really did change our relationship with God, and that what happened in the flesh really happened- not just in the flesh- but in the spirit as well.

8. In God's house, or any house, you better give momma her due. A student asked me the other day if as a Catholic it was necessary to have any kind of relationship with Mary. I think what she was asking was whether or not it was really necessary to pay her special attention? I told the student, 'I don't know, but if you come to my house and fail to treat my mother with the proper respect, you can expect to be shown the door'. I responded perhaps a little brusquely, but I was trying to make a point. All of these signs of respect on earth, especially as a consequence of the Incarnation, are translated into the divine realm. Throughout Scripture hospitality is considered paramount. How much more gracious should we be when we are not the ones receiving a guest, but rather are the recipient of said hospitality? A mother often answers the front door when guests arrive. Do we just walk right by her and ignore her entirely, or do we regard her with a kind of holy respect and reverence? One of Mary's special titles is "gate of heaven". I suspect in her case a similar rule applies.

7. Other than the Father, no one else has begotten the Son except Mary. I must admit, I understand the concern of some Protestants when they observe the exalted status of Mary, because when you look at it a bit closer it seems that the role God gave her is something bordering on blasphemy. What I mean to say is that God, who is all-powerful, made himself impotent and dependent on a woman as if she were the all-powerful one (perhaps this is why Calvin viewed humanity as a little more than a puppet of God). At any rate, when you look at the role God gave Mary, you cannot help but notice the stunning novelty of her vocation. She is the only one, other than God the Father, in all of eternity to give birth to God. Yes, it is a sentence worth repeating, and it is a sentence that should make all men tremble with gratitude and awe at the unimaginable humility of God.

6. Mary is the only one who is a biological member of God's family. In other words, Mary was baptized by virtue of her vocation, whereas we must be baptized with water and the Trinitarian formula in order to enter the family of God. In this sense then (by virtue of the Son she was to bear) Mary was baptized from the first moment of her conception.

5. To fail to honor Mary and the saints is a violation of the 4th Commandment. Just as Scripture says that Jesus was obedient to Mary and Joseph (after the little temple incident), so we must honor our own parents, both spiritual and biological. In the old Testament, even the prophetic super stars invoked their fathers in faith in order to appeal to God; "As you promised of old to Abraham our father..." In the same way, as Catholics we honor our spiritual mothers and fathers who have brought Jesus Christ to us down through the ages. And yes, in the order of time we really do have to "go through" them to get to Jesus. Neither the Bible nor the historical Church ever upheld a notion of Jesus disconnected from our spiritual ancestors. The point is we honor them because they have finished the race and we have not. They are champions, and we are still yet competing. This alone deserves our respect, but even more important than our respect, our acknowledgement, that without their "yes" to God, we would never even know who He is. Consequently, how much more does Mary's "yes" deserve our "thank you", for without it, all other attempts to bring Christ to the world would be immediately rendered void. She is our spiritual mother par excellence.

4. Mary shares a special communion with God. If one only considers the significance of the role of Mary from the Nativity on, then one misses part of what is most remarkable about Our Lady's vocation. The truth is if we are to heed the laws of biology, then we must say that Mary, by virtue of an unspeakable grace, had the capacity to bear the immaculate God from the start. Like a New and glorious Eve, she is quite literally flesh of his flesh and bone of his bones. In fact, in her, "Eva" becomes miraculously transformed into "Ave". As for the rest of humanity, we enjoy communion primarily through the Sacraments; she, on the other hand, was married to his flesh from the very first. If this were not the case, then how is it that the One who gave her flesh is now the recipient of hers? It is true that someone might accuse me of being too earthly minded when I say this, but I can only follow the logic where it leads. Thus, if it is shocking to declare that Mary looked like Jesus, then how much more shocking is it to say that Jesus looked like Mary, had her eyes, and perhaps even her smile? Call it blasphemous if you like, but just remember that it was God who committed the blasphemy first.

3. If Gabriel, the Messenger of God felt compelled to give Mary an exalted greeting, then who the heck am I to do otherwise? No one who is Christian would deny that the Archangels are some of the most terrifying and powerful angels among the angelic host. Was it not St. Michael who put a whooping on the rebellious and similarly powerful Archangel Lucifer? Thus, when an angel who can undoubtedly squash you like a tsetse fly, treats you as if you are the "cat's meow", it is only reasonable to take note. According to Scripture, Gabriel addresses Mary with these startling words; "Hail, full of grace (highly gifted), the Lord is with you." There is a lot going on in that small phrase, but then again messengers of God are not much for small talk, nor do they heap praise where it is unwarranted. At the Jordan after Jesus' Baptism the Father only says; "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased, listen to Him!" That certainly isn't a Hallmark moment. God says what needs to be said when communicating to humanity. Therefore, if an unimaginably powerful spirit from another realm gives a nobody from Nazareth a greeting generally afforded to only the highest dignitaries (i.e. Hail Caesar, All Hail the Queen, Hail Hitler, etc.), then maybe, just maybe, I should not be so audacious as to deny that same reverence to that person. Remember, the words of angel are the Words of God Himself. This type of exalted greeting is extended to no other earthly figure in Scripture. As a matter of fact, most of the time angels seem rather cold and terse to their earthly charges, even when it is good news. With Mary, the Angel is not only reverent, he is downright exuberant. Furthermore, he is compelled to state something else rather unique; "The Lord is with you." This statement suggests a completed action in the past- as opposed to the typically used "may the Lord be with you" which suggests that the blessing is contingent upon whether or not God concurs. In this passage there is no doubt that God concurs!

2. We should give her special reverence because the Bible does. Apart from the Archangel addressing her with the greeting "Hail Mary", there are other passages in Luke (and other Gospels) which very specifically point to Mary's special role. Mary herself even says in her magnifying prayer of praise to God that "all generations will call me blessed." Apparently Catholics are the only ones who got the memo on that one. By saying this Catholics are not doing something wrong, rather they are fulfilling a prophecy of Scripture, a prophecy that Mary's cousin Elizabeth only re-iterates. Upon seeing Mary, Elizabeth declares; "Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me? Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!" Is it wrong for me to imitate a pious woman's actions in Scripture? Are these not God's words to men? Then why should I be ashamed of using them? As for those who insist that Mary is only the mother of Jesus' humanity and not the Mother of God, I have to object on two fronts. First, Elizabeth plainly gives Mary this title (assuming that the term "Lord" here is interchangeable with "God"). Secondly, reducing Mary to being simply the mother of Jesus' physical form is a theological idea so utterly foreign to Christian thought that it was condemned as a heresy at the council of Ephesus. That is not to say that Mary was there in the beginning with the Word, but only that if we take the reality of His humanity seriously, we must say that in the order of time she did give birth to God whole and entire. To claim otherwise is to declare that Jesus is/was something less than fully human, and that within him there is a kind of divine/human schizophrenia.

1. Without Mary, our Faith would look oppressively male. The more we diminish the role of Mary, the more we tend towards two extremes. One type of extreme would have us diminish the importance of sex altogether and so embrace spiritual androgyny. Another extreme would be to embrace a vision of faith that is hyper-masculine. The Church's approach is to avoid both of these pitfalls by embracing an image of Faith which elevates both the masculine and feminine elements of humanity. The point is how can we say that Mary was the center of Jesus' universe as a baby (and vice versa), and then say 'thank you, but don't let the door hit you on the way out?' If motherhood plays such an integral role in a child's development, not to mention throughout the child's life, then how could such a sublime role be jettisoned and ignored in the afterlife? Is one really prepared to say that heaven is little more than a Muslim paradise for men? As for Mary, what makes her particularly divine is the fact that she herself doesn't grasp after divinity. Mary's motherhood is divine precisely because it is so down to earth. The book of Revelation spends some time speaking about this remarkable Woman. It seems, according to this prophetic writing, that there is only one clear and obvious individual that is fit to don those mystical and magnificent shoes. May this marvelous motherhood of Mary be ever exalted- not only for "all generations"- but for all of eternity.


  1. A gift is now delivered and proven to the whole world as a witness.Satan who has deceived the whole world until the woman of Rev 12 delivers the true word of God. This woman is not a church, nor Mary, nor Israel, she is the prophet like unto Moses and Elijah Matt 17:3, Acts 3:21-23, Luke 1:17 commanded to restore the true word John 1:1 from the wilderness Rev 12:6 to prepare a people. God our true Father will not put any child of his into a hell fire no matter what their sins, no matter if they repent in this life or not. It never entered the heart or mind of God to ever do such a thing Jer7:31, Jer 19:5. Turn your heart to the children of God. Begin here http://minigoodtale.blogspot.com. The proof is in the hearing, prove all things.God chose a woman.

  2. Catholics need to read these "Chapters of WISDOM" as well as non-Catholics.

    Particularly appreciated Chapter 8!!!