Archive for June, 2011

There’s Something About Mary (with some help from a Fransiscan Brother)

Until a few days ago and a few post by Brother JR on CAF, I did not have a good outlook or view of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Now, I didn’t have a problem with her being the mother of Jesus or being ever virgin or conceived without sin.  I understand and accept all the Church’s teachings on Mary.

I did have a problem with people who claimed the Rosary was a “magic cure-all” and that just praying it once would fix all the problems in your life and you would be so holy and perfect afterwards.  I am not a big fan of the Rosary and it is nice that it is a private devotion that is not demanded of us.

As I have posted before, my  mother abused me while I was growing up so I have a problem with mothers and yes, the Blessed Virgin Mary is included in that.  She’s someone else’s mom.  NOT mine.  Yet, I would read and hear about people who supposedly had problems with their mother (I love the ones that compared her having a fight with her mother to the severe emotional, physical, and sexual abuse another poster mentioned and said that after praying to Mary once her relationship with her mother fixed and everything was better and that the abuse victim just needed to pray the Rosary and ask Mary to be her mother and her real life mother would be healed and they would become best friends) (gag me with a spoon) saying that they went to Mary and their own relationships with their mother was fixed or they took on Mary as their mother.  Abuse is hard and it takes an extreme toll on its victims.  We are not healed magically by saying a prayer and asking someone we have no interest or connection to to be our mother and heal all the damage that was done to us by someone who was supposed to love and care for us.  So when people told me that I could have the Blessed Virgin Mary as my mother, all I could think, was no, she’s somebody else’s mother and I’m without a mother who will love me.  People just don’t understand what that means.  It’s not like I can snap my fingers and everything will be fixed and healed and there will no longer be abuse in the world.  It doesn’t work that way.  I want my own mother but I’ll never have one because the one I had didn’t want me and didn’t love me and there is nothing that will change those facts.

Then there is the whole idea that Mary did nothing beyond give birth to Jesus and then led a quite life hidden in the background and was a two-dimensional background character.  Many Catholics, especially traditionalist Catholics, see Mary as someone who was practically invisible and the only model for women. They say that women need to be Mary-like and to them that means: quiet, servile (not in the loving service to others but more like a slave), inferior to men, baby-factory, stay-at-home mother, no emotions, no personal opinions, no education, passive, no personality, does everything that a man tells her to do, basically not even a real person but a robot.

Then there are the posts by Br. JR, a Fransiscan Brother of Life that tell the truth about Mary (and about women in general).  I’ll let his words speak for themselves.

First:

In fact, the Catholic Church was probably the most liberal institution when it came to women. Long before there was a women’s movement, Catholic women were very independent and powerful. It’s just not that noticeable in light of today’s culture. However, if you look at it in light of the world prior to Vatican II, Catholic women rather liberal compared to their Protestant counterparts.

We have a long history of women founders of religious congregations, monasteries and even some orders. Men did not govern these communities. In women’s monasteries, the Abbess ruled and no man ruled over her. In a religious congregation the Mother Superior ruled. In Catholic schools, hospitals, orphanages and other Catholic institutions the sisters ruled.

These women ran their own institutions, managed their own property, had money and budgets, made laws that governed them, traveled around the world without permission and supervision from men. Some abbesses ran dioceses. A few wonderful examples are: Teresa of Avila, Mother Teresa, Frances Xavier Cabrini, Katherine Drexel, and Elizabeth Ann Seton. These women were missionaries, pioneers in their fields of ministry and leaders in the Church. Mother Teresa was the most recent of these powerful women and she began her work in the world circa 1946, during the WW II era, but long before Vatican II.

No one dared to contradict them, not even the bishops. They were a force to be reckoned with. Teresa of Avila had a wit that could outshine any bishop or Jesuit. Mother Teresa made Pope Pius XII and Pope John Paul II nervous, though they loved her.

Elizabeth Ann Seton gave Archbishop Carroll a run for his money. When he gave her the statutes that St. Vincent de Paul had written for the Daughters of Charity so that she could model her congregation on St. Louise de Marillac, Elizabeth gave them back to the Archbishop and said that she would not lead the new congregation because there was no place for a mother in the statutes. Elizabeth simply told Archbishop Carroll, “I’m a mother first.” Archbishop Carroll had to add to the statutes that those sisters who were mothers could keep their children and raise them. As I understand it, there were two widows with children in the original group.

About Mary:

I’m not sure if I agree with the image that some people paint of being like Mary, because I would never say that Teresa of Avila or Mother Teresa were unlike Mary. I believe the opposite. They were very much like Mary. Like Mary, they conformed to Christ in all things.

If we look at Mary, she was a very strong figure, not a retiring figure at all. We know that she lived in different cities, that she followed the Church as it grew. She did not spend her life in retirement in Nazareth. We see her in Jerusalem when Jesus is crucified. Jerusalem was more than two days away from Nazareth in those days. Why was she there? She did not live there. The only conclusion is that she followed her son and his disciples to Jerusalem. We hear from the Church Fathers that she was in Ephasus after the Ascension. Why? She was with the Church, probably with John, according to Polycarp. Luke tells us that she went to the Hill Country to visit Elizabeth. Scholars believe that this may be the area that we call the Golan Heights, which is quite a distance from Nazareth. Regardless of Elizabeth’s physical address, she did not live in the same city. Mary goes out to her. Back then, women did not travel without their husbands. But tradition does not mention Joseph being present in Elizabeth’s home or at John’s birth. However, it tells us that Mary was present and probably three months pregnant when she returned home and rejoined Joseph.

We also see Mary in Cana. From the wording of the story, one can extrapolate that Jesus was with her, not the other way around. She was the invited guest and Jesus and his friends went with her to the wedding. This is inferred in the familiarity between Mary and the servants. No one approaches Jesus with the concern about the wine, as would have been the proper thing to do. Mary speaks to the servants with authority, “Do whatever he tells you.” It is probable that she died in Ephesus, which is a long way from Nazareth, if not in Jerusalem.

We tend to paint Christian women, especially Mary, as more demure and retiring than is historically true. I’ve often wondered if it may be a cultural influence, more than a Catholic influence. The Orthodox have the same stories about Mary, independent of the Western Church. They also have ancient legends that portray a more dynamic Mary and their nuns are also very independent and very influential in their Churches.

My answer to your question is that this absence of women in the forefront has nothing to do with the Extraordinary Form of the Mass or even with being Catholic. It’s really the culture or preference of a community. If you begin to tell women that they cannot do things that are not prohibited, that’s when you fall into gender discrimination. If women want to assume a more retiring role, of their own free will, there’s no rule that says they cannot do so.

And then there’s:

To understand how St. Therese understood Mary, you may want to read what I wrote in Post 33. St. Therese is identifying with Mary the contemplative, which is very true. She is not implying that Mary lived a hidden life or an inactive life. That is contrary to Carmelite Tradition. Carmelite tradition teaches us the opposite . . . Mary was very involved in the life and ministry of her son and the early Church. At the same time, she was also the contemplative. If we could blend Bl. Mother Teresa, St. Teresa of Avila and St. Therese into one person, we would have a more complete picture of the historical Mary.

We have created an image of Mary that is more consistent with out imagination than with history. Our image of Mary is the quiet woman who is in the background and who is demure, says and does very little because she is humble.

Mary is humble. However, humble means honest. She is certainly that when she says that all generations shall call her Blessed. That’s not a demure woman speaking. That’s a woman who is very confident about herself and her role in Salvation History. She is very active in Jesus ministry. She’s present at many events, times and places outside of Nazareth. History tells us that she did not remain in Nazareth, but traveled with the Church as far as Ephesus. We’re not sure whether her last day on earth was at Ephesus or in Jerusalem, but we know one thing for sure. It was not in Nazareth in the quiet of her home. We also know that the Apostles refered to her as Mother. St. Polycarp gets this from St. John. The early Eastern Christians, who would later become the Eastern Catholics and Eastern Orthodox have a long oral tradition of Mary as an active participant in the life of the Church during Apostolic times.

We can see a woman who is very much a contemplative, a woman of intense prayer, silence and dedication to the Lord, but also a woman who was a missionary, an intercessor, and even a source of consolatioin for the early Christians. In other words, she was not hidden as we use that word.

Hidden, as St. Therese uses the word is more like her spiritual mother, St Teresa of Avila who did what she had to do and at the same time tried to do it without calling too much attention to herself. The truth is that she attracted a lot of attention, but Teresa tried very hard not to do so. The same is true for Bl. Mother Teresa and St. Therese. That’s the true meaning of hidden in Christian Mystical Theology.

Plus:

This is Mystical Theology speaking, not history. The Mystical Theologian focusses on the activityof grace on the soul. What was kept hidden from her contemporaries was the nature and scope of the activity of grace on her soul and the anatomy of her soul. God works on Mary in the secret and silence of her soul. Mary does not share that with the world. We can only assume and extrapolate from the bits of information that we have through Christian Tradition. There is the silence of Mary found in the writings of St. Louie and St. Therese.

St. Therese does this very well, because she’s a cloistered nun; therefore, she understands the whole concept of a hidden life, without being in obscurity. I think that many very traditional Catholics believe that being like Mary means being almost anonymous. That is not Mary. That is not the Mary of St. Therese nor St. Louie. Catholics to the other extreme, I hate to call them liberal, because in my book liberal has a very positive meaning, these other folks to the left, believe that Mary was a passive figure who did not do much. That’s not Mary either.

That’s why I said above, if we could blend the three Teresas: Teresa of Avila, Therese of Liseux and Teresa of Calcutta, that’s the real Mary.

Notice, that she’s such a complex person and there is so much richness to her soul that it would take three of our giants to give us a glimpse into the historical Mary. As far as the anatomy of Mary’s soul, you can forget that. Everything that God did there will remain hidden to us until God wishes for us to know it and only as much as he wishes for us to know.

There is a wonderful book about her by a Capuchin Franciscan Friar The Silence of Mary by Ignacio Larañaga. This book and the writings of St. Louie changed my life.

These posts were really helpful in giving me the first, real picture of Mary and what women mean to the Church.  NOT the burqa covered robots that some Catholics want and agitate for.  Mary was and is a real human woman and this is the first time I saw her this way rather than a lofty figure that was unreachable.  I am grateful of Br. JR’s words.

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