Today is Mary’s birthday!!! And I’m so happy that it is. But I was not always Mary’s fan girl.
From my book, Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious…
I was slow to follow Mary’s example in my life. Earlier, I did not trust her example. I’ll share the roadblocks I’ve had, in case you’ve had some. So let’s consider my early misgivings about Mary.
I mentioned how I came to know Jesus in my teens, and as I did, I read the bible more and more. Of course I came across Mary in the New Testament. Broadly speaking, I never discounted Mary’s role in God’s plan. I just never included her in any of mine. I kept a cordial distance and never openly disparaged her or the people devoted to her. I adopted a kind of live-and-let-live attitude towards her devotees.
Mary had little influence on me in my teens and twenties. Even though I had a Catholic upbringing, I have to say that the socio-political influences often held sway. The culture stressed a powerful feminism; it preached a woman’s empowerment. I was schooled in the cultural cliché that told women that you are what you do. My generation was among the first expected to compete with men––not rely on them or trust them. “I am woman, hear me roar” was a common mantra. There was so much to achieve, and I was an eager achiever.
There was very little appreciation for the Blessed Virgin Mary in me, let alone an urge to follow her example. I had no personal connection to Mary save that I had inherited my grandmother’s Rosary beads. (I had little gratitude for that gift until years later.)
From the gospel accounts, I knew Mary was necessary for the Incarnation to take place so that Jesus, who is God, could become a man. Mary also showed up at the foot of the Cross when Jesus died. Other than that, Mary and I had a passing acquaintance. I saw her as a religious figure in history rather than someone significant to me.
I loved Jesus although I lived as if Mary, his mother, were optional. She was outside my radar. I dismissed her as unnecessary to my spiritual growth and life. Jesus was enough for me.
My dulled ideas about Mary came through the opinions of others. It was like I believed gossip about Mary, never giving her the benefit of the doubt. Looking back and pondering Mary’s role in my life now, I regret my mistakes. I would never want people to trust gossip or falsehoods about me, but I easily adopted others’ opinions of Mary. No questions asked. I claimed I loved scripture, but my impressions were neither rooted in scripture nor Church teaching.
My misconceptions about Mary came from three sources.
First, some Catholics treated Mary as “old school,” a relic from the past. After Vatican II, in the New York area where I grew up, many churches dropped formal devotions to Mary and the saints. The Rosary and other prayer practices like novenas and chaplets were not emphasized. Basically, I ignored Mary.
Second, there was the feminist argument. What could a first-century Galilean woman possibly have in common with a woman like me? What did Mary know about my life? What did she know about going to college, getting a job, and having to earn a living? After all, she lived in a repressive patriarchal culture. She had no power. These days, women are powerful. We need strong heroines, not “handmaids”, as Mary had called herself. I viewed Mary as weak.
The third source of my disregard came from non-Catholic friends and colleagues. A few accused Catholics of worshipping Mary. The Ten Commandments prohibit false gods, and that would include worship of any creature. Since I did not know much about Mary, I could not defend her against such accusations.
Today I know that the Catholic Church teaches that we worship Jesus alone. Mary is not some goddess. She is a flesh-and-blood human creature created by God. Indeed, the Church teaches that Mary worships Jesus like we do. We worship Jesus with Mary and with the saints and angels. The honor we give to Mary and the saints is veneration. Therefore, we hold them with the highest human esteem, with a special kind of devotion and love that is lower than our worship. Adoration is reserved for God alone. Catholics don’t pray to Mary. We ask for her intercession, just like we ask a good friend to pray for us and with us. Catholics pray with Mary.
Eventually, as I pondered my own conversations with Jesus, I learned two things. One, that my early ideas about Mary were incorrect. And two, I was ignoring someone Jesus loved.