My wife, a fairly liberal Christian, is reading a novel called “My Son, the Savior” by Melody Carlson. The book is a fictional account of the Gospel and of Jesus’ life from Mary’s point of view. We get to see her side of the story, how she saw him…how a mother interacted with her son who happened to be God made flesh.
My wife is not Catholic, but as a Christian and a mother, she’s always had a great interest in who this woman was. What sort of woman could actually bring bring God into this world, nurture him, raise him, and then watch him die–not because he’s fighting for his life–but because that was the plan all along.
As a mother, could you watch the slaughter of your son, even if it meant the salvation of humanity?
While a Christian in high school, I held the same misconceptions about Mary’s relationship with the Catholic Church as many others do. I thought (and therefore condemned the Church) that Catholics worshiped Mary and placed her as a divine equal to Jesus. “Why do these people pray to Mary,” I asked. “Don’t they realize that Jesus is the only mediator between us and the Father?”
Trouble is, I never took the time to ask those questions to an actual Catholic. I never asked a Catholic priest or teacher to clear up the matter. No, in fact all of my Catholic information came from Protestants. Isn’t that like asking a cat what a dog is like?
The simple fact is that Catholics are not taught to worship Mary. It just isn’t part of Church teaching.
“By her [Mary] complete adherence to the Father’s will, to his Son’s redemptive work, and to every prompting of the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary is the Church’s model of faith and charity…indeed she is the ‘exemplary realization’ of the Church.” –Paragraph 967 of the Catechism of the Church
The Catechism is the official teaching of the Church. Here we see that she is the model and example of the body of Christ. She shows how to surrender to the will of God freely, without coercion, and how to participate in God’s plan. As I explained regarding our prayers with the saints, Mary is held in esteem because of her proximity with her son, Jesus. She isn’t worshiped, but adored. Catholics pray for her involvement in their own lives through prayer in the same way we pray for help from our family of saints. Indeed only God can answer prayer and only Jesus paves the way to salvation, but it is Mary who leads us to Christ through her humble and extraordinary example.
“Thus the Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross. There she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, enduring with her only begotten Son the intensity of his suffering, joining herself with his sacrifice in her mother’s heart, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this victim [Jesus], born of her: to be given, by the same Christ Jesus dying on the cross, as a mother to his disciple, with these words: ‘Woman, behold your son.‘” –Paragraphs 534, 618 of the Catechism of the Church
Mother’s feel the pain of their children. Mother’s die when their children die. Can you imagine Mary’s pain, watching her son die on the cross because he had to?
On my trip to Mepkin Abbey with my Catholic Mentor a few days ago, I saw this statue of Mary with the baby Jesus and it changed my whole perspective on Mary forever.
As I stood beneath this sculpture, every became clear in one moment. Look at the tenderness here, the love, the serenity between mother and child. This could be any mother with her baby. Is there any stronger bond? This is why Mary is the one who comforts mothers, especially one’s who’ve lost children. She has experience with that.
So often we focus on Jesus the man, grown and strong, the savior among us. But we’re forgetting his fragility. We are forgetting that once upon a time, the creator of the universe was a helpless babe who needed protection, who needed nurishment, who needed a mother’s touch. And it goes deeper. God, who laid the foundations of the cosmos, who according the Christian theology schemed and planned the salvation of mankind thousands of years before the event, trusted both Himself and the entire plot for salvation to the arms of a woman.
In the relationship between Mary and Jesus, we see the relationship between God and mankind. Trust. God is showing how much he trusts us, because isn’t that what relationships are all about? We are still active parts of our salvation because like Mary, we must consent to allow Christ–to allow God–to live inside us, grow, and then blossom from our hearts into the world.
That is why Mary is regarded as the Mother of the Church. That is why anyone can honor her without fear of idolatry. She is held in high esteem because frankly, moms should always share in the credit and glory of what their children do because after all, they shared in the pain to get us there in the first place.
“From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me–holy is his name.” –Luke 1: 48-49
What are your thoughts on Mary? Did you once believe that Catholics worshiped her?